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Emotional Abuse and Anxiety

Micah Abraham, BSc
Emotional Abuse and Anxiety

Anxiety is common in abusive relationships.

But not all relationship abuse is physical.

Domestic violence remains a serious, significant problem in the world today. Despite all of the anti-violence campaigns, the public shaming, the backlash, and the effort in schools and media to teach domestic violence prevention, it remains an all-too-common, and all-too-serious issue today.

There is no denying that domestic violence is perhaps one of the most serious issues in our time, and this article is not meant to dispute that.

However, there is another type of abuse that is also very common, and it is a type of abuse that gets discussed even less despite having serious, significant consequences to the person on the receiving end of the abuse.

We’re talking about emotional abuse.

Emotional abuse occurs across genders. It is sometimes blatant, but often subtle, and most relationships have “normalized” this type of abuse to such a degree that they have no idea it is happening. Even the abusive partner often has no idea it is occurring, and in some cases, both partners are responsible for it.

What is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse is a term for behaviors that one partner uses to hurt, control, manipulate, or scare their partner. It is abuse against someone’s emotions, rather than someone’s physical body.

It is also present in some form in most relationships.

There are both blatant and more subtle forms of emotional abuse that can occur in relationships, which is why it can be hard to notice when abuse occurs. Examples of more blatant forms of emotional abuse include:

These are some of the clearer forms of emotional abuse. Yet there are far more subtle forms that happen at times in most relationships:

Usually, both parties are at fault for at least a few of these behaviors. Very few people can say they have never given their partner the silent treatment or been jealous of someone for no reason, or even made an insult or two once in a while.

But if it happens often, and it affects how you or your partner think, feel, or act, you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship, and unfortunately, the effects of that relationship can be life-altering. And NOTE: Not all emotionally abusive relationships are with romantic partners. Family and friendships have them as well.

The Effects of Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse may not cause any physical bruises or put you at risk for any significant physical injury.

But the effects of emotionally abusive relationships can be significant. Indeed, they can cause long-lasting emotional consequences that extend for years, sometimes even the rest of your life if they go untreated. Within the relationship, you may feel as though:

Not everyone experiences these symptoms, however. Everyone is different. For example, because emotional abuse can be two-sided (ie, you both emotionally abuse each other), you may also find that you are prone to the same behaviors: anger, silent treatments, yelling, etc. as a result of the abuse.

There is also one symptom that tends to extend outside of the relationship, and one that can last a lifetime when it goes untreated. That symptom is anxiety.

Anxiety From Emotional Abuse

Anxiety is perhaps one of the most common symptoms of emotional abuse.

Sometimes anxiety is limited to the relationship, which is stressful enough because you are with your partner often. But other times it can even extend to other situations as well, like the workplace. It may also last even if you end the relationship.

Emotionally abuse often causes anxiety because emotional abuse is almost the perfect storm of anxiety-producing events:

This combination of different issues means that emotional abuse can and does easily trigger anxiety symptoms in those that experience it in the short and long term, and in severe cases may lead to a combination of anxiety and depression or panic attacks.

What to Do to Help with Emotional Abuse and Anxiety

Treating emotional abuse related anxiety can be tricky. There are several issues that stand in its way. First, as we discussed, emotional abuse can be especially difficult to see. While severe forms of emotional abuse, like those where someone is controlled, intimidated, or threatened are a bit easier to acknowledge, other forms may not be as clear.

In addition, because both partners may be engaging in the emotionally abusive behavior (at least in its less blatant forms), there are many things that may need to change in your relationship before the abuse can be cared for.

In severely emotionally abusive relationships, ending the relationship or seeking immediate couples counseling is very important, because if the abuse continues, there is no way to reduce the anxiety. It is very important to evaluate your relationship and either leave or determine an intervention that will work for you.

In more subtly emotionally damaging relationships, you will still need to address it:

Emotionally abuse will always be damaging in all forms, so until you can address it in a meaningful way, it is going to be very hard to find relief from your anxiety. Learning to handle emotional abuse itself is best left to experts, so you may need to speak with someone that handles abusive relationships if you feel that it has become scary or dangerous.

This is not a replacement for recovering from emotional abuse itself. That can often be so difficult, it requires specific expertise to rebuild the ability to trust, learn to love, and figure out how to rebuild your self-esteem. Do not be afraid to see a psychologist if needed. It can be life-changing.

Here, we can at least discuss how to address the anxiety that happens as a result of emotionally abusive relationships after the abuse itself has been dealt with. For that, consider the following:

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