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Effects of emotional abuse
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Effects of emotional abuse

If emotional abuse has affected your life, you can heal over time by practising self-care and staying connected with positive and supportive people.
effect of emotional abuse, anxiety from emotional abuse
Representational image | Shutterstock

Emotional abuse often goes unnoticed, yet its effects can weigh heavily on one’s mental and physical well-being.  Its immediate effects are not visible as the signs are so subtle that it is hard to recognise them. If not treated on time, it can have lasting effects. Experts talk about the many short and long-term effects on a person and how to cope.

Research conducted by Professor Veena Kumari at Brunel University in London indicates that despite challenges in recognising and measuring emotional abuse, self-reported data from adults suggests that about 36 per cent of the population has experienced childhood emotional abuse. This prevalence is significantly higher than that of physical abuse (about 18 per cent), sexual abuse (8–18 per cent), or physical neglect (about 16 per cent). Additionally, childhood emotional abuse, which may be underreported in some cases, is still reported by approximately 18 per cent of the adult population.

Immediate effects

Sanjana Guha Roy, an emotional wellness coach and psychologist based in Bengaluru at YourDOST, says that experiencing emotional abuse can lead to immediate feelings of confusion, shame, fear, and hopelessness. “If left unaddressed, these emotions can change into psychological effects such as anxiety, insomnia, social withdrawal, low self-esteem, and even chronic pain,” she says.

The long-term effect of emotional abuse extends beyond immediate feelings, as Roy highlights the age-dependent variations in its effects. While both children and adults may experience the psychological effect, childhood exposure intensifies the risk of emotional regression.

Roy points out that the effects vary amongst different age groups, depending upon their own psychological and emotional growth. The common effects are regression resulting in eating disorders, substance abuse or obesity as well as other mental health disorders like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). “Adults, too, may face these effects, but childhood exposure intensifies the likelihood of emotional regression,” she says.

According to a research by a team led by Dr Sabine Maguire, honorary lecturer, Cardiff University, UK, children going through emotional abuse can show signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and sometimes become abusive toward other children. Suicidal thoughts and self-harm are additional consequences of emotional abuse on young children.

Aditi Tulshyan, marriage and family counsellor and certified trauma therapist at XpressIt Mental Health Services in North Delhi says if individuals experience emotional abuse, they may have disturbances in sleep, gastrointestinal issues, and difficulties in setting boundaries. “Navigating social situations becomes a daunting task, with avoidance and nervousness becoming prevalent,” she says.

Long-term effects

Roy says that the idea of being in a healthy relationship change for people having a history of emotional abuse. “Fear of abandonment is one of the major outcomes that one faces after being emotionally abused for long,” she says. This leads to many other behavioural concerns such as people pleasing, co-dependency resulting in difficulty in being true self. Apart from this, emotional abuse makes a person empathetic towards others.

A research by Dr Heather Dye, an associate professor at East Tennessee State University in the USA, stated that individuals who reported emotional abuse are more likely to show increased levels of depression, anxiety, stress, and neuroticism as personality traits. This study emphasises the lasting effect of early childhood trauma on normal development. These effects can extend to adulthood.

Ways to cope

To prevent the effects of emotional abuse, self-awareness is important. Identifying its negative effect is crucial, but the challenge lies in taking proactive steps. Seeking professional help, talking about the experiences, and developing healthy coping mechanisms are vital towards developing a healthy relationship. Healthy coping mechanisms include practising self-care, establishing boundaries, rebuilding self-esteem, and staying connected with positive and supportive individuals

Emotional abuse can cause lasting damage. However, with perseverance, courage, and proactive measures, one can start the process of recovering and taking charge of one’s life.

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