Emotional Healing after Domestic Abuse
- Signs of emotional trauma
- How domestic abuse affects mental health
- Acknowledging your trauma
- Embracing your self-worth
Identifying the signs of domestic abuse can be difficult, and it can take a lot of time to really “see” the abuse for what it is. Abusers become skilled at manipulation, coercion, and controlling the relationship, making it seem like the abuse isn’t real or that it’s your fault.
The first step in healing yourself (and your children, if you have them) is developing a safety plan and becoming physically free from the abuser. The second step is long but just as important: emotional healing.
Signs of emotional trauma after domestic abuse
Domestic abuse is defined as behavioral patterns exhibited by one partner to gain control or power over another. Abuse can look like many things and can include any or all of the following:
- Physical abuse such as hitting, punching, and kicking
- Emotional abuse such as put-downs, manipulation tactics, and name-calling
- Sexual abuse, including unwanted sexual advances, touching, and kissing
- Financial abuse, such as wrongfully taking money or controlling it
Domestic abuse is not always physical; it can also be emotional. What’s more, abuse survivors can harbor mental and emotional scars as well as physical ones. While the physical effects of abuse may look like bruises or other apparent signs of injury, the emotional effects can linger longer.
In the abuse cycle, coercion and controlling behaviors are commonly exhibited by the abuser. When a victim of domestic violence is being coerced or controlled, the feelings of loss of freedom and fear may lead to emotional scars. Some controlling behaviors that an abusive spouse or other abuser may display include the following:
- Controlling where a person goes, who they go with, and for how long
- Isolating the abused person from their family and friends
- Tracking a person’s mobile devices, email, or other types of accounts
- Using intimidation or manipulation to force someone to change a behavior
- Controlling how a person dresses, where they work, who they talk to, or their money
- Limiting or controlling a person’s access to necessary services such as healthcare and mental health therapy
- Verbal put-downs as a way to make them feel worthless
How domestic abuse affects mental health
Abuse may affect every person differently, but there is enough evidence to support the long-term mental health impacts an abusive relationship can have on survivors.
The cycle of abuse is tricky, as individuals are usually caught up in abusive situations long before they realize the behaviors are abusive. It is usually because of this that it can take some time to work up the courage to create an exit strategy for themselves.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is commonly seen in abuse survivors. In fact, it’s seven times higher than it is in those who have not experienced abusive behavior. Other mental health conditions experienced by those who have been abused include anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.
Many may not fully realize the internal emotional turmoil of abuse survivors. There is a process they go through during the abuse where they understand the abuse is wrong yet still feel like it is their fault. Abusers can be highly manipulative. They can break down their victim to such a point that the victim feels worthless and like they can’t leave. The cycle can take years to break, especially if the abuser successfully isolates the abused, leaving them with little outside support.
Once an abuse victim comes back up for air, realizing they are in a toxic relationship and environment, they must consider an exit strategy. But if their abuser has isolated them from friends and family and/or they control their money, the situation can lead to panic, fear, and perhaps hopelessness.
A question many abuse survivors ask themselves is, “How do I leave?” They feel they have no money, resources, or support.
Acknowledging your trauma
Trauma acknowledgment is essential for healing and moving forward. While you may like shoving what happened to you in a box and never looking back, in the long run, it could prevent you from healing correctly and completely. Trauma is experiencing physical violence or something else that is harmful, overwhelming, and negative without adequate support or help to process it. Abuse is a form of trauma. You didn’t ask for or deserve it, which was not your fault. But, once you can name it, it can be time to do the work necessary for proper healing. Let’s help you get your life back!
Embracing your self-worth
Self-worth may seem like a foreign concept to a victim of abuse when freshly leaving an abusive situation. But you can (and will) come out better on the other side. Your healing is essential. Therefore, finding a sound support system and therapist and leaning on them is essential. Having a therapist can help you navigate your trauma, change your mindset, and work through the hurt to start the healing journey.
Remember to be kind to yourself. If you have been abused, you have gone through something hard and traumatic. It is okay to feel confused, scared, and defeated at times. Try to restructure those negative thought patterns and focus on positive self-affirmations and self-care. The time has come to focus on your well-being and what you need to heal and move forward.
Suggested: Worksheet: Create Your Self-Care Plan
Other Tips For Healing
Move your body
Experts have demonstrated that physical activity is a great stress reliever. Physical activity and exercise release endorphins. Though many people dread getting up and doing the exercises, most (if not all) report feeling better afterward. Some easy ways to move your body to reduce stress include:
- Group fitness classes
- Hop on a treadmill during your favorite TV show
- Play with your kids at the park or beach
Don’t forget to grab a fitness tracker to help promote activity awareness!
Create something new
For many people, channeling creativity is therapeutic. Experts say that art therapy has shown promise in helping trauma survivors (especially those with PTSD) find different methods of expression.
Another healing method for some is finding ways to help others in similar situations. This could look like volunteering at a domestic violence shelter, donating supplies, becoming a support agent, or volunteering at a call center. Sexual assault survivors may later become sexual assault advocates or nurse examiners so they can continue to help others with similar trauma.
FAQ about emotional healing after domestic abuse
Will I be damaged forever?
Though it may feel like you are “damaged,” you are not. You experienced a traumatic event (or multiple events). We all process trauma differently, but processing that trauma and learning how to heal still needs to happen for each of us.
Therapy is a beautiful support tool to help you process acute trauma and adopt new thought patterns. It isn’t intended to be a quick fix; it takes time to work through issues and begin to heal. Give yourself that time.
How can I stop the cycle of abuse in my family?
Experiencing abuse yourself is hard enough; having children involved makes it even harder. Of course, safety is the top priority. If you share a child with an abuser, document everything, and seek legal counsel. If you fear for the immediate safety of yourself and/or your child, consider seeking an emergency protection order (EPO). This will allow you to have emergent full custody while waiting for any potential legal or custody proceedings.
Once you and your child are safe, seek local resources for other avenues for help (shelter, financial assistance, etc.). Then, start scheduling appointments for your child's therapy.
Abuse and trauma are hard to deal with. In various ways – physical, mental, and emotional – abusers can inflict harm on you, your children, and even your family and friends. Try not to get caught up in feeding the part of you that may feel fear when seeking help or going through the divorce process. Help is available. You can move past this and find happiness on the other side. Head on over to Hello Divorce for more resources.
About the author
Krystle Maynard is the creator of Innovative RN Solutions and has been a nurse for over a decade. She has specialized in medical-surgical and critical care nursing and has a long-standing history of being an adjunct faculty member for a college of nursing. Innovative RN Solutions focuses on healthcare content writing (such as blogs, E-books, emails, academic coursework, and educational content for healthcare personnel and patients). Krystle also offers tutoring and mentor services for undergraduate and graduate nurses. She lives in Kentucky with her husband and children. If you would like to connect, you can reach her on LinkedIn or visit her website at Innovative RN Solutions.
ReferencesUnderstand Relationship Abuse. National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Abuse Isn't Always Physical. This is not an excuse.
How Domestic Violence Impacts Women's Mental Health. Step up for Mental Health.
5 Powerful Self-Care Tips for Abuse and Trauma Survivors. National Domestic Violence Hotline.