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The Recovery Expert
with Sharie Stines, Psy.D.

Victims of Emotional Abuse

To determine what emotional abuse is, please see my previous article: Recognizing Emotional Abuse.

If you are a victim of emotional abuse it is important for you to realize you are suffering from a trauma and need help from others in order to heal.

How are victims of emotional abuse affected?

All types of abuse hurt emotionally. Whether it’s physical, sexual, spiritual, financial, psychological, or mental – emotional damage results.

Emotional abuse causes interpersonal damage. Some call this type of abuse interpersonal violence, which seems appropriate.  \Emotional abuse causes interpersonal trauma, which is a form of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), known as Complex PTSD.

Complex PTSD and emotional abuse damage are hard to identify, which causes more problems for victims. While physical or sexual abuse can be more readily identifiable and more blatantly obvious, emotional abuse goes undetected, minimized, and dismissed by the abuser, victim, and others. This is abuse upon abuse, leading to serious emotional trauma.

Victims can develop a variety of coping mechanisms – dissociation, addictions, “deadness,” anxiety, depression, eating disorders, etc.

Victims tend to lose their sense of self and – definitely – their sense of personal value.

They lose their identity and ability to trust their feelings or intuition.

Usually victims are convinced that the abuser’s poor behaviors are their fault.

If physical abuse is preceded by emotional abuse, would you say that part of the damage of emotional abuse is priming them to stay in a relationship that could get more abusive?

Physical abusers are emotional abusers. Sexual abusers are also emotional abusers. Emotional abuse occurs alongside all other types of abuse. When the very first act of emotional abuse occurs, let’s say a rude comment is made, how the victim responds is paramount. If a victim stays in the relationship and “puts up with it” he or she has just taught the abuser that he/she is “willing” to be victimized. The occurrences and levels of abuse will increase over time.

The abuser “manages down” the expectations of the victim to the point that the victim stays in the relationship even though the abuser provides no real nourishment to it.

In the end, the victim, like a heroin addict, stays merely because he/she is holding on to hope for a feeling that they once felt for the perpetrator. This is caused by intermittent reinforcement, which becomes less and less over time. Stockholm syndrome occurs.

How do I get help if I suspect I’m in an emotionally abusive relationship?

In order to recover from emotional abuse, you need to first realize you are a victim, find help and support, and begin the process of recovery. You cannot heal from emotional abuse alone because it is a relationship injury. In order to heal from any type of relational injury, you need relational healing. I recommend you find a support group and a good therapist.

Recovery requires holistic healing. That is, you need to find help for yourself holistically: spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally. Recovery is a process. In order to heal from emotional abuse you need to:

  • Get away from your abuser
  • “Detox” from the abuse
  • Find safe people to process your thoughts and feelings with
  • Write your feelings in a journal
  • Exercise
  • Implement self-care actions into your daily life
  • Change how you view yourself

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Victims of Emotional Abuse

Sharie Stines, Psy.D

Sharie Stines, Psy.D. is a recovery expert specializing in personality disorders, complex trauma and helping people overcome damage caused to their lives by addictions, abuse, trauma and dysfunctional relationships. Sharie is a counselor at LIfeline Counseling & Education Inc., in Southern California ( Lifeline Counseling is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3) corporation. Sharie is also an abusive relationship recovery coach -


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APA Reference
Stines, S. (2017). Victims of Emotional Abuse. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from