PTSD From Emotional Abuse: Everything You Need to Know


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD affects nearly 3.5% of Americans every year, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Now, mental health experts realize that PTSD can be caused by emotional abuse as well. PTSD from emotional abuse can be treated in various ways, such as prescription medication or other evidence-based forms of psychotherapy. 

Our team at Southern California Sunrise Mental Health can help you or a loved one get the help needed. If you’re hesitant to take the next step towards recovery, keep reading to learn more about PTSD from emotional abuse, its signs, symptoms, treatment options, and more.

What Is PTSD from Emotional Abuse?

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is often associated with physical sources of trauma. Examples of physical sources of trauma include physical or sexual assault, a car accident, and war. Now mental health experts realize that PTSD can be caused by emotional abuse as well.

Emotional abuse is when someone, or multiple people, manipulate another person in an emotional way. This manipulation can include words or actions aimed to control, frighten, insult, or isolate.

Examples of emotional abuse include:

  • Frightening you with anger
  • Isolating you from loved ones, work, and activities
  • Humiliating and belittling you
  • Taking away your freedom and privacy
  • Demanding to know your whereabouts and activities at all times
  • Threatening you and those you love

Emotional abuse and the psychological trauma that it leads to can have a similar impact on the nervous system as physical trauma.

PTSD From Emotional Abuse Symptoms

Everyone can experience different signs and symptoms. You may experience some of these signs, or you may even experience none; everyone’s experience is different. These are some common signs and symptoms of PTSD that you might recognize.

Avoiding feelings or memories

This can include:

  • avoiding anything and any situation that reminds you of the trauma
  • feeling like you have to keep busy
  • difficulty remembering details of what happened
  • feeling detached from your body or physically numb
  • feeling cut off from your emotions or emotionally numb 
  • being unable to express affection
  • using alcohol or drugs to avoid memories
  • self-destructive or reckless behavior

Reliving aspects of what happened

This can include:

  • intrusive thoughts or images
  • nightmares
  • vivid “flashbacks,” which feel like the trauma is happening right now
  • physical sensations such as trembling, nausea, or pain
  • intense distress at triggers of the trauma (real or symbolic)

Alertness or feeling on edge

This can include:

  • being jumpy or easily startled
  • being easily upset or angry
  • panicking when reminded of the trauma
  • extreme alertness, also sometimes called ‘hypervigilance’
  • irritability or aggressive behavior
  • disturbed sleep or a lack of sleep
  • struggling to concentrate on simple or everyday tasks
  • other symptoms of anxiety

Difficult beliefs or feelings

This can include:

  • blaming yourself for what happened
  • feeling like nowhere is safe
  • feeling like you can’t trust anyone
  • feeling like nobody understands
  • overwhelming feelings of sadness, shame, anger, or guilt

What Are Flashbacks?

A flashback is a vivid experience where one relives aspects of a traumatic event. These flashbacks can be so vivid that they feel like the trauma is happening right now.

Flashbacks differ from person to person. For some people, it may feel like watching a video of what happened or reliving the events from start to finish. In others, they might experience any of the following:

  • experiencing physical sensations, such as pain or pressure
  • seeing full or partial images of what happened
  • feeling emotions that you felt during the trauma
  • experiencing sounds, smells, or tastes connected to the trauma

Particular places, situations, people, or even words and phrases can trigger a flashback for someone suffering from PTSD. These triggers happen when something reminds someone of past trauma in some way, even if very little.

In some people, flashbacks can happen at random and seemingly out of nowhere. Some flashbacks last for only a few seconds, while some can last for several hours or even days.

What Treatments Are Available?

There are many different psychological treatments and types of psychotherapy for patients suffering from PTSD from emotional abuse. These treatments are proven to be effective in helping patients find ways to manage and cope with the effects of PTSD and its accompanying symptoms.

Some of the regularly used treatment options for individuals struggling with PTSD include:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy primarily focuses on identifying the different ways someone processes and responds to specific situations. A cognitive-behavioral therapist works with the patient to assess and evaluate their thoughts and feelings. Then, the therapist helps identify harmful or negative behaviors as a result of those feelings and thoughts.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a highly effective therapeutic option recommended by many mental health specialists for treating individuals struggling with PTSD. During an EMDR session, a therapist asks you to reflect on and think about the traumatic experience.

While the patient does this, the therapist simultaneously asks them to focus on a flickering light, a finger moving back and forth, or other outside stimuli. EMDR is a unique treatment because it helps patients develop new and more positive connections to a traumatic memory.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is mainly aimed at reducing anxiety and fear. Exposure therapy is frequently used to treat the symptoms of PTSD.

If a patient exhibits unstable and destructive behaviors that may harm themselves or others due to PTSD, this form of therapy helps them stay away from the negative thoughts that do so.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and commitment therapy is relatively new compared to the other forms of behavioral therapy on this list. Escapism is one of the most common signs of PTSD from emotional abuse. This form of treatment is based on the idea that a patient’s feelings of suffering and pain don’t necessarily come from a specific experience but rather by the actions done to avoid those painful emotions. 

What is the ultimate goal of acceptance and commitment therapy? The goal is to help the patient manage their traumatic thoughts and feelings rather than escape or avoid them. This treatment for PTSD from emotional abuse results in healthier and more meaningful lives.

Do You Suffer From PTSD From Emotional Abuse?

Whether it’s you or your loved one suffering from PTSD from emotional abuse, no one has to be affected by their horrible experiences any longer. We at Southern California Sunrise Recovery Center offer top-of-the-line treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Our skilled staff is here to help you find a solution, no matter your situation. Contact us today, and we will answer any questions you may have regarding our treatment options!

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