Sometimes it seems like life would be a lot easier if we were the only ones responsible for our problems. It feels good knowing we have control over things like making mistakes, learning from them, and trying again.
Unfortunately, sometimes life comes with unforgiving characters. They judge us for trying too hard or not trying hard enough. They convince us we’re the problem simply because of who we are. It’s hard to love yourself when you’ve only ever been taught to question and hate yourself.
While we’re not to blame for our pain, we are responsible for recovering from it. Let’s talk about how emotional abuse early on impacts your future relationships and how you can heal from the trauma.
What is Emotional Abuse?
Emotional abuse is any kind of emotionally manipulative behavior intended to control the actions of another person. Direct examples include name-calling, constant criticism, threats, acts of intimidation, and more.
When someone speaks down to you, you can literally feel the lack of respect they have for you. For people with low or developing self-esteem—read: children—this can threaten their sense of autonomy and independence. By believing the abusive message, children learn not to trust themselves. As adults, they may not even consider their own opinion before catering to someone else’s point of view.
Emotional abuse isn’t always this direct, though. Sometimes, it appears in the form of denying. Examples include gaslighting (rejecting reality by convincing the other person they don’t know what they’re talking about) or stonewalling (emotionally and vocally withdrawing from the conversation).
This can create a living nightmare for you, the person trying desperately to make contact with someone they love. It can leave you feeling deeply alone and desperate for affection from whoever’s withholding it.
How Emotional Abuse Shows Up in Relationships
Emotional abuse can come from parents, exes, and even toxic workplaces. You may experience PTSD-like symptoms like flashbacks, feelings of helplessness, social withdrawal, hyper-vigilance, and muscle tension.
You may also feel locked into a cycle of toxic relationships that never seem to work out.
One possible reason is that you find it hard to read mentally healthy people. They may make you suspicious and hesitant to drop your guard and be emotionally vulnerable with them.
As a victim of emotional abuse, you were taught to predict and understand explosive, selfish, and emotionally transactional behavior. Genuine kindness may come across as inauthentic or condescending to you, even if the person genuinely meant well.
Healing with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy
EMDR is a relatively new kind of therapy that reveals just how resilient the brain can be. Some studies show that more than 80% of people with single-source trauma heal from PTSD symptoms after only three 90-minute sessions.
After working with your therapist to focus on a specific memory, you hold the image of the memory in your mind while following a moving target back-and-forth with your eyes. This triggers the brain to start processing new memories and information the same way we do during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.
By stimulating the brain into this space, we allow ourselves to reconsider the trauma in more neutral territory. Holding it there for longer allows us to feel out our anxieties until they disperse, and we become less affected by the memory. It was painful, but it’s over.
When EMDR is successful, abusive painful memories are transformed into positive ones. Instead of believing, “I’ll never be in a healthy relationship,” now you can say to yourself, “I survived a bad relationship, and now I know I am worthy of a better one.”