Emotional Abuse and Anxiety: How Are They Related?

October 29, 2018

Anxiety is a common symptom that people who have suffered from abusive relationships get. However, not all abuse in relationships is physical. There’s another type of abuse that’s also very common: emotional abuse.

This type of abuse has serious and significant consequences for the victim. In this article, we’ll take a look at how emotional abuse and anxiety are related to one another. We’ll also look at the effects of emotional abuse.

“Violence, no matter how it manifests itself, is a failure.”

-Jean-Paul Sartre-

What is emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse is a term that describes behavior that someone uses to hurt, control, manipulate, or frighten their partner. Emotional abuse is abuse against someone’s emotions rather than their physical body. However, there are more subtle forms of emotional abuse that can occur in relationships, so it can be difficult to tell when abuse occurs.

Emotional abuse in a relationship.

Some very clear forms of emotional abuse are:

  • Threatening to kill yourself if your partner leaves you or does something that you don’t want them to do.
  • Frequent hurtful insults, humiliation, and statements.
  • Trying to control the other person’s behavior, including their appearance, who they can see, and what they can do in their daily life.
  • Threats or intimidating behavior.
  • Manipulation.

Here are other much more subtle ways of emotional abuse:

  • “Silent treatments” where one person refuses to speak to the other. 
  • Refusing to have sex with their partner until they get what they want.
  • Negative jokes without any compliment or attempt to boost the person’s self-esteem.
  • Threatening to leave a relationship or leave home after a small fight.
  • Not allowing the other person to talk to someone else of the opposite sex.
  • Checking their partner’s phone to see who’ve they’ve been calling, messaging, etc.
  • Being frequently jealous, even for no apparent reason. 
  • Blaming the other person for things that are going poorly in their own life.

Very few people can say that they’ve never been emotionally abused by their partners, children, parents, or other people. However, if these behaviors happen frequently and affect the way that you or your partner think, feel, or act, you may find yourself in an emotionally abusive relationship.

Emotional abuse and anxiety: Effects of abuse that you can’t see

Emotional abuse may not cause any physical bruising or put you at risk of serious physical injury. But the effects of emotionally abusive relationships are significant. In fact, they can cause lasting emotional consequences.

People who live in an emotionally abusive relationship may feel that they’re worthless since their relationship can eat away their confidence and self-esteem. They may also become sad or depressed, even feeling pain for no apparent reason. In addition, they may feel afraid that their partner might leave them.

However, not everyone experiences these symptoms. Everyone is different. For example, because emotional abuse can be bilateral (that is, both are emotionally abusing one another), both partners may have similar behaviors such as anger, silent treatments, or screaming, among others.

A woman looking into a cracked mirror.

Signs of emotional abuse

There’s also a symptom that can last a lifetime if left untreated: anxiety. In fact, anxiety is perhaps one of the most common symptoms of emotional abuse. Sometimes, anxiety can be limited to the relationship. Other times it can even spread to other situations or relationships, such as in the workplace. It can also persist even after you end the toxic relationship.

Emotional abuse often causes anxiety, since it’s almost the perfect storm of events that produce anxiety: 

  • It causes chronic stress, which is one of the most common causes of anxiety.
  • Emotional abuse causes excessive thinking.
  • It leads to low self-esteem and self-confidence.
  • It makes people feel nervous and worried because other people might hurt them again.
  • Also, it takes away social support because it’s caused by someone they need for support.

This combination of different problems implies that emotional abuse can easily trigger anxiety symptoms in those who experience emotional abuse in the short and long term. In severe cases, it can lead to a combination of anxiety and depression or even panic attacks.