Long and Short-Term Effects of Emotional Abuse

May 20, 2020
Emotional abuse is a type of mistreatment and aggression. Additionally, it can have very damaging consequences for the personality of the mistreated person: from depression to thoughts of suicide. Because of that, this type of mistreatment should be reported just like physical abuse.

Maybe, at first sight, the effects of emotional abuse aren’t as evident as those of physical abuse. However, its aftermath exists and lasts as long, or even longer than that of physical violence. Nevertheless, it’s hard for many people to classify it as a form of abuse, mistreatment, or violence.

Emotional abuse

As the name implies, emotional abuse is a kind of abuse that one person enacts on another. It can come in many forms, normally characterized by:

  • Attitudes, actions, and words intending to humiliate or demean the other person
  • Insults
  • Disapproval
  • Isolating the other person
  • Discrediting

So, just like physical abuse, emotional abuse is a type of violence and mistreatmentIn this sense, it’s aggression toward another person, generally verbal, in which the abuser uses harmful expressions to try to humiliate or demean the victim.

Additionally, since it isn’t as easy to see, it usually lasts a long time, so that the victim ends up with very low self-esteem and a bad self-image that can even lead them to believe that the abuser is telling the truth.

Psychological abuse doesn’t have preferences. In reality, it can happen to kids, teens, adults, or older people. Likewise, there isn’t one specific environment it happens in, meaning it could happen in a family, between friends, in a relationship, at work, etc.

We should keep in mind that there can be witnesses to this type of abuse. So, for example, children can witness incidents at home, or co-workers could see a boss denigrating an employee in a humiliating way. This can also affect the emotional health of the witnesses.

We recommend you read: Emotional Bullying: How to Detect and Fight it

Effects of emotional abuse

Effects of emotional abuse.
The abuser always tries to undermine the self-esteem of their victim, creating emotional dependence in the relationship.

The consequences of prolonged emotional abuse are, in many cases, invisible. For this reason, it’s very difficult to detect them, even for the victim of the abuse.

Low self-esteem

Low self-esteem can be one of the causes of abuse, but also one of the consequences. That is, low self-esteem can be a factor that motivates the abuser to start their abuse and, at the same time, through mistreatment, they will lower the self-esteem of the victim.

In fact, the weakness of the victim is one of the things that attracts abusers, so they will hit them right where it hurts. The abuser will constantly repeat that the victim is worthless, humiliating and demeaning them. At the same time, the victim will start to believe it, strengthening the relationship of dependence.

Stress and anxiety

People who suffer emotional abuse show high levels of stress and anxiety. This is due, mainly, to the fact that they aren’t able to see what’s really happening. In fact, they often aren’t aware that they’re being abused, and that the behavior of the abuser isn’t normal or acceptable.

Feelings of guilt

As we mentioned before, the victim has low levels of self-esteem and self-worth, worsened by the attacks from the abuser. Because of this, they can often blame themselves for the abuse. That is, they can justify the abuse by saying that it’s their fault.

Along those lines, the abuser – especially in a relationship – starts to encourage that feeling of guilt in the victim, which is known as emotional blackmail.

We recommend you read: Don’t Let Others Make You Feel Guilty

Other effects of emotional abuse

Other effects of emotional abuse.
You should always report any kind of abuse, as well as paying attention to the possible effects on the victim.

There are cases of abuse in which the effects can be even more serious than those we mentioned previously. Among them are:

  • Depression. A consequence of prolonged abuse and lack of self-esteem.
  • Thoughts of suicide. This happens in extreme cases but, unfortunately, it happens and often through bullying at school.
  • Abuse of drugs or alcohol. Using these substances can help victims avoid reality and overcome emotional abuse, refusing to see reality.
  • Aggressiveness. Rage and anger can build up causing an aggressive personality. Especially in children, it can turn into a serious problem during adolescence and adulthood.
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships with other people. The abuse, low self-esteem, and lack of confidence can cause the victim to be unable to maintain healthy relationships with other people, preferring emotional isolation.

For all of these reasons, emotional abuse should be considered to be as damaging as physical abuse. It’s important to set limits and distance yourself from abusive people or relationships, reporting the situation as soon as possible.

In the case of children and adolescents, they depend on their parents or guardians to notice the signs of emotional abuse to be able to prevent worse consequences.

So, if physical abuse should be reported, then so should emotional abuse. After that, the victim should start a process of therapy and recovery that helps them to recover their self-esteem and self-confidence.

  • Erin E. Burns, Joan L. Jackson & Hilary G. Harding (2010) Child Maltreatment, Emotion Regulation, and Posttraumatic Stress: The Impact of Emotional Abuse, Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 19:8, 801-819, DOI: 10.1080/10926771.2010.522947
  • Cortina, L. M., & Magley, V. J. (2003). Raising Voice, Risking Retaliation: Events Following Interpersonal Mistreatment in the Workplace. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1037/1076-8998.8.4.247
  • Shelley A. Riggs & Patricia Kaminski (2010) Childhood Emotional Abuse, Adult Attachment, and Depression as Predictors of Relational Adjustment and Psychological Aggression, Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 19:1, 75-104, DOI: 10.1080/10926770903475976