Emotional abuse—also referred to as psychological abuse—is defined by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) as the continuing emotional maltreatment that seriously damages a child’s emotional wellness and development. Children who often experience such abuse—terrorizing, bullying, humiliation, coercive control, threats, severe insults, isolation or neglect—are deliberately abused emotionally. Healing after emotional abuse can be difficult and takes opening up to professionals and friends or family.
Usually, children who suffer from emotional abuse also suffer from other types of abuse, including physical or sexual. The US Children’s Bureau said nearly 3 million children experience a form of this maltreatment every year at the hands of a family member or caregiver.
Emotional Abuse Not Limited to Children
In a study published by the American Psychological Association in 2014, childhood psychological abuse was found to be as harmful as physical or sexual abuse. However, this type of abuse is often neglected in prevention and treatment programs. Healing after emotional abuse, whether it is psychological or physical can be a daunting task.
Adult women and men are also prone to emotional abuse. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 48.4 percent of women, and 48.8 percent of men experienced psychologically aggressive behavior from their partner. Forms of emotional abuse among adults include humiliation, controlling the victim, withholding information, isolation from friends and/or family, stalking, denying access to basic resources including finances, and undermining of self-esteem and self-worth.
Whether it is due to childhood trauma or abusive relationships, emotional abuse can cause the victim to engage in self-destructive behaviors or display symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Statistics also show that women who experience psychological abuse are more likely to incur poor physical and mental health.
Opioid Abuse and Child Abuse
In 2017, the University of Vermont published a study that linked adult opioid misuse to childhood emotional abuse. The researchers said the emotional abuse inflicted on the victim brands the victim as the “problem”. The feeling of being “not good enough” undermines a person’s ability to cope in difficult situations. This kind of emotional state prompts an individual to find coping strategies, including opioid use.
A person who is experiencing anxiety and depression due to trauma brought on by emotional abuse is more prone to substance use disorder and alcoholism since they often try to ease their anxiety through self-medicating with alcohol and drugs. The victim of emotional abuse is more likely to get trapped in the vicious cycle of substance use disorder and anxiety.
Consequently, even when a child or an adult is freed from an abusive environment, recovery from the trauma will take time and be doubly challenging because the victim has already developed substance abuse. Emotional abuse is devastating and causes long-lasting damage to a person.
Consequences of Emotional Abuse
Aside from showing signs of depression, a person who has experienced emotional abuse may exhibit other problems, such as a lack of empathy, low self-esteem, estrangement, and troubled relationships. Emotional abuse, therefore, is doubly important to consider since it produces other societal problems, such as drug use, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and the inflicting of emotional abuse on other people.
Healing from emotional abuse is very difficult but it is very important that may help prevent the victims from engaging in other self-destructive behaviors, such as getting addicted to a substance and decrease the chance they will replicate and perpetuate the forms of abuses they experienced on other people, especially his loved ones.
The first step to heal from emotional abuse is to recognize that there is a problem, also an urgent need to get out of the abusive relationship. For those victims who are more vulnerable, other family members and friends should immediately intervene to put a stop to abuse and remove the victim out from the hostile environment.
Once freed from the relationship, the victim should be afforded with immediate therapy sessions to process the traumatic event. During the counseling, the victim should be able to get past self-blaming and recognize that the problem is not his or hers, but the abuse.
This initial stage could be very difficult to admit or face since the usual perpetrators of psychological abuse are the people closest to the victims, such as their husbands, wives, parents, and other family members.
It is important to make the victims understand that their feelings of anger, embarrassment, and guilt are natural and that they have an ability to overcome these emotions once they are ready to accept the situation and move on with the treatment program. In this case, those who are providing the intervention should be ready to equip the victims with the skills to help them cope with their emotional trauma.
Victims of emotional abuse feel helpless in many instances and lack confidence that they can get away from the causes of the trauma or overcome its debilitating effects. But support—such as the strong sense of community found in drug recovery houses—can play a large role in empowering the victims of emotional abuse.
Seek Help in Healing After Emotional Abuse Today
If a victim of emotional abuses develops a co-occurring substance use disorder, his or her treatment must be able to address the disorders simultaneously but separately, as these disorders require different interventions. In these cases, it is important to choose a good treatment facility that is capable of determining and treating dual diagnosis cases, as not all drug rehab treatment facilities are so equipped.
Dual diagnosis treatment usually involves medically-assisted detoxification to help the patient cleanse his body of harmful substances and prepare him for the subsequent treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy to help the patient understand and process his experiences.
Group therapies, individual therapies, and counseling usually are included in the treatment. There are also treatment programs that offer holistic care for victims of emotional abuse who have substance use disorders. Holistic therapies may include meditation, yoga, massage, among others. All comprehensive treatment centers also offer aftercare programs. There also are faith-based therapies for those who seek spiritual healing.
Healing after emotional abuse takes time and may require re-living traumatic moments. It may seem impossible now, but healing after emotional abuse is possible and help is out there.