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Effects of an Abusive Relationship on Mental Health

Abuse comes in various forms. Different types of abuse may be physical, sexual, emotional, financial, or verbal in nature. Physical abuse involves hitting, punching, kicking, pushing, choking, throwing objects, or using objects against another person. Sexual abuse is when one person forces sexual acts in any form onto another person.

Emotional abuse may include tactics like manipulation and isolation or it may involve insults, intimidation, gaslighting, threats, and other types of toxic behavior. Financial abuse is not discussed as frequently as other types of abuse. However, it is just as harmful because it can keep people trapped in abusive situations and cause a person to be tied to their abuser. Financial abuse is when one person controls access to money or causes financial ruin for another person.

All types of abuse threaten the well-being, physical and emotional safety of an individual.

Recovering from Abuse in Intimate Relationships

The outcomes of surviving abuse are extremely harmful. Anxiety disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, suicidal ideation, or suicide attempts are some of the damaging mental health effects of being in an abusive marriage or intimate relationship.

Women are at a higher risk for experiencing abuse within an intimate relationship or marriage. Statistics show that one in four adult women versus one in seven adult men have experienced physical abuse from a partner or spouse. Rates of ongoing emotional abuse are higher. Over thirty percent of female homicide victims were killed by a partner or ex-spouse. Children who witness repeated violence within the home are more inclined to become victims of abuse or abusers themselves.

The Effects of Abuse in Adulthood

Effects of being in an abusive relationship may result in mental health illnesses in adulthood, even if the abuse occurred as far back as childhood. Severe anxiousness, persistent self-loathing, agoraphobia, panic disorders, paralyzing fear, avoidance, paranoia, disassociation, and more are all possibilities of the dangerous illnesses survivors may have.

Emotional abuse that may have occurred in an intimate relationship, between a parent and child, among peers, or between siblings can also have disastrous effects on mental health. This type of abuse picks apart an individual’s confidence, self-worth, and autonomy.

However, when a victim breaks free they must work to regain their physical wellness, independence, and mental health every day. They will most likely be addressing one or more mental health and health issues. Research shows that, “emotional abuse and neglect may be contributing factors to the development and/or severity of illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia…over time, emotional abuse can be as powerful a control tactic as physical abuse.”

Mental health therapy along with other routines and boundaries can restore mental health and wellness. It is important to talk about those experiences regardless of how painful that may be.

Leaving an Abusive Relationship

After a victim leaves an abusive relationship, it is important for them to treat the damage left by the abuse. Starting mental health therapy can help victims avoid entering another dangerous abusive relationship. Victims of abuse are often drawn to dominating and abusive figures for a variety of reasons, some of which they may not realize. Other reasons may extend as far back to childhood. It is important for the abuse victim to uncover and comprehend the reasons why they are drawn to certain figures. A skilled therapist will provide guidance and support as the victim works through deciphering painful trauma.

Dealing with trauma and abuse demands a large amount of trust. Because of this, therapy may occur over an extensive period of time. It is important that the patient feels comfortable with the therapist in order to maximize the potential for positive results. Many therapists offer free phone consultations as a way to get a feel for what to expect. Take advantage of that opportunity and never feel strange for searching for another therapist if one consultation does not feel like a good fit.

While it may be intimidating or even scary to share the some of the most painful and traumatizing experiences of your life, there is no need to be worried. Mental health therapy is a non-judgmental space. Actively participating in session, by listening and speaking is crucial for healing.

Mental Health Therapy and Ongoing Healing

When a victim comes out of an abusive relationship of any kind, they will often experience psychological, emotional, and physical shifts in their mind and body. When danger threatens our safety repeatedly, the body engages in flight or fight mode. When abuse occurs over multiple years, the mind and body use up its energy to withstand the abuse. Shock, numbness, and other involuntary reactions stay with a person long after the abusive relationship has ended.

Work closely with your mental health counselor, do your best to stay engaged in session, and do not shrink away from facing painful trauma. The real work of healing from abuse occurs in releasing pain that may have been suppressed or avoided. While this challenge may seem impossible, it is important to try, repeatedly. Your therapist is trained to handle the residual effects of abuse and all facets of mental health recovery. They will be there with you for these difficult moments in session.

Making changes every day like finding a positive network of support, engaging in calming physical exercise, setting firm boundaries, and regularly working with physicians and other mental health professionals are all beneficial, healing steps.

Do Not Fear Grief

A survivor of abuse may not pay attention to grief. In therapy, he or she may be working through a flood of emotions: blame, anger, or shock to name a few. It is important for an abuse victim to not rush past grief. Healing from abuse should not be viewed as a task to race through.

For lasting and sustainable wellness, adult survivors need to engage in self-examination and rigorous therapeutic work. Do not avoid or discount your memories or pain. Your past needs to be brought to the surface, faced, and understood. This is the way to get to a safe and healthy place, for good.

 

 




Chris Massman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. Chris' training includes Family Systems Theory along with numerous other theories. She believes therapy is an art and chooses the theory she feels will most benefit the individual sitting in front of her. Her specialty lies is in the field of Chemical Dependency and Addictions. Chris is currently seeing individuals, couples and families. Chris is a Clinical member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists as well as the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Chris has two locations including Tarzana and Agoura Hills, CA.