Verbal Abuse and Depression: My Story
The link between verbal abuse and depression is well known, but I didn't realize I had depression until my verbally abusive relationship ended and I felt suicidal. It's hard to write those words because they feel so alien to me now, but it shouldn't be. It's the truth -- a truth that will resonate with anyone who's ever been told by the person they love most that they're not enough: not thin enough, not funny enough, not smart enough, or not enough to make someone happy. But was I always prone to these feelings of depression and hopelessness, or were they triggered by the verbal and emotional abuse in my relationship?
Abuse and Depression: What Comes First?
Depression is an illness, so suicidal thoughts are a symptom of that illness, just like pain is a symptom of a broken leg. For me, depression is simply a condition that gets worse when I don't look after myself, just like my recurring bouts of tonsillitis or the pain in my lower back. It's genetic. It's in my bones, my blood. Yet, my symptoms were never as marked depression when I was in an abusive relationship -- when suicidal thoughts genuinely took hold.
According to experts, depression in domestic abuse victims is well-documented and is thought to be caused by stress signals to the brain that can alter its chemistry. In other words, while depression can be a genetic illness or can appear from nowhere, it can also be brought on by stressful life events such as grief, loss or trauma.
Considering the prevalence of both verbal and physical abuse in relationships, it's easy to assume that the abuse is the source of depression and suicidal thoughts. However, new evidence suggests that the abuse-depression connection could be more complicated than it first appears.
Are Depression Sufferers More Susceptible to Verbal Abuse?
Research from a 2013 trial found that the connection worked both ways: that depressed people (in this instance, women) were more likely to endure domestic violence than those who were not depressed. The study, which involved 36,000 participants, found that women who struggled with depression had almost double the risk of becoming victims of domestic violence. These findings suggest that some women struggle with a cycle of depression and verbal or physical abuse that can be hard to escape from.
Does Depression Disappear After Verbal Abuse?
Being someone who is predisposed to depression, I find that the illness tends to get worse during times of stress. The two most severe bouts of depression I've experienced were after my abusive relationship ended, and a few years later when I had a baby -- both of which provoked stress for very different reasons.
I don't think verbal abuse was the cause of my depression. On the other hand, sometimes I ask myself if my mental health would have suffered quite so much if I hadn't been in an abusive relationship. I suspect not (Verbal Abuse and Depression vs. Unhappiness).
In the same way that I'll never really understand why my depression is there, I'm not sure if it will ever disappear. To think that way would be to label depression as something finite, rather than the sliding scale I believe we all belong to in some way or another.
In the last couple of years, I can count my depressive episodes on one hand and they're becoming less frequent and severe every time. I don't know whether this is because my abusive relationship is behind me or whether I've just got better at managing my symptoms --probably a mixture of both.
Whenever I think about how depressed I was during that relationship, my therapist's words spring to mind: "The work we do here won't make the slightest bit of difference if you go home after every session to an emotional battering."
Depression requires a safe space to heal and patience from those who love you, neither of which you get from an abusive relationship.
Depression And Domestic Violence Linked, Study Finds, But Which Comes First? by Susan Scutty, Medical Daily, 2013.
Smith, E. (2018, January 23). Verbal Abuse and Depression: My Story, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, October 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2018/01/depression-and-verbal-abuse-my-story
Author: Emma-Marie Smith
I really feel the same as you said. I started being depressed when my relationship got worse but I didn't realize. When we broke up, I broke down and I wanted suicide. The suicidal thoughts just came after the worst episodes of my relationship and kept happening when I moved to another relationship honestly to simply forget my ex. The thing is, now i'm single, but i still have episodes of depression. Nothing is compared, but I'm not really sure how to cope with all this, still feel confused.
My depression started several years after marrying who I learned was a narcissistic spouse with every trait. They psychologically abuse you so subtly at first al in “trying to make you better”, with the criticism and belittling that I slowly took to heart as being to blame for everything and anything he thought I should do better, be better at, you name it. Then the constant accusations of cheating started when he didn’t like where I worked or who I worked with. All unfounded. I learned that cheaters blame the other to take the spotlight off of themselves. Wish I’d seen all that years before I actually did with help oh good counseling and. psychiatrist who cared and asked questions to get to the root of my issues when medications weren’t helping. A pill or all the counseling in the world can’t fix what’s going on in your life when the emotional pain is such a burden each day. Even after being separated/divorced for 6 years now, I’m still in a major depression. It didn’t end with divorce. He brainwashed my only daughter/adult child from my first marriage into believing I was not the mother she believed I was. (We were the very closest), and it served his purpose to do exactly that to keep me weak and down. I have no contact and no reaction to any of his still manipulating things he does just to harass me. Things that are not illegal nor things I can change. Some people are cruel and find pleasure in this and he’s the perfect example of evil. Inhuman I believe. Incapable of loving anyone but himself and must win no matter how large or small. I was left financially ruined after 18 years of marriage with most of those years being employed until major depression got the best of me and lost a great paying job.
Like Elliot above, I’m disabled due to things that simply aren’t going to go away when the emotional pain is unbearable most every day. I’ve lost nearly every friend I’ve ever had plus family that’s told me I’ve chosen depression and abandoned my family. I have NO support, and I’ve becime agoraphobic over the last few years when it’s so hard to make myself just get ready to leave to do anything unless it’s already past the urgent stage. I hate this is in myself and know I must try harder but with no one who sees me or cares any longer it’s easy to make every excuse in the book to myself, only hurting myself more. I have a wonderful dog who’s my life and she’s aging and I’m already worried about how I’ll go on without her when I know she’s responsible for my still being here. I ache with physical problems brought on by taking improper care of myself and things only get worse with time and I know that too, yet I don’t feel there’s anything to look forward to as there hasn’t been for years now. Every holiday every birthday for the last 7 years spent entirely alone but my dog. It’s fact that loneliness is z huge symptom of depression/suicide, and I’m the perfect example. It scares me because my thoughts are so dark. My biggest fear is that something will happen to me or my daughter and will never have reconciled and her know that I’m not the person he painted me so well to be. He made me into who he is, and made himself the victim as most do.
Sorry for rambling so long, it’s not often I speak to anyone who listens to hear me, or comment on a page because I get discouraged when there isn’t a reply as I often see others don’t get when they’re reaching out.
Hi Nancy, thank you for commenting.
I am the author of this post and one of the co-authors of the Verbal Abuse in Relationships blog, and I'd like to say that I'm glad you have reached out, and please feel free to do so again.
There's so much I can relate to in your comment about relationship abuse: being told YOU'RE the problem, that you need fixing, being accused of cheating or wanting to cheat. These things had a lasting effect on me after a two-year relationship, so I can't imagine how you must feel after 18 years. All I can say is that you're incredibly brave and strong to keep fighting everything life has thrown at you -- it may not feel like you're putting up much of a fight, but you are, simply by getting through each day when it feels impossible.
I also agree with you that counseling and medication can only do so much when you're still exposed to the source of your emotional pain. I'm so glad you managed to break free from your abusive husband, but it saddens me to hear about what you're going through now.
Depression is not your fault. You didn't choose depression -- it's an illness. It sounds as if your family doesn't understand the condition and you have a lot to work through with your daughter. Would any of your relatives accompany you to family counseling? Perhaps a mental health professional could help them be more compassionate about what you're going through.
I know that depression breeds isolation and loneliness, but cutting yourself off from the world is the very last thing you should do to help yourself. Can you find a depression support group in your local area? Or one for anxiety/agoraphobia? More people suffer from these conditions than you think, despite how it feels when you're entrenched in them.
Do you read much? If so, I can recommend some fantastic books about depression that have helped me through some of my lowest points: Shoot the Damn Dog by Sally Brampton and Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig are my personal favorites.
Lastly, while I feel you could benefit from some ongoing support from a therapist or counselor, I should also point out that you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-TALK if things feel desperate.
Take care, Emma
Thank you Emma, I appreciate you and your words which validate what I’ve been through and still am going through. The isolation and loneliness have been almost unbearable. There are very few groups any longer in my area as our local hospitals have done away with their psychiatric wards and professionals. Unfortunately, many have totally left the area. I’m near a big metropolitan area and have found some groups but with my anxiety and agoraphobia issues, I’m afraid to make the decision to go or join one because just getting myself to Dr’s appts is nearly impossible. When I say I’m alone, (I’m 110% alone other than my dog). My family is small, mother is a narcissistic controlling woman I stopped contact with at the same time my marriage was really crumbling in every way. My mother had never once asked me how I was, knowing I suffered with depression, (although denying it was real), and all the blame was put onto me, and circled back to her like most everything did and told me that I shamed her, embarrassed her, I was raised better, how could I do this to HER, and finally, that I couldn’t keep a man. The same man that she outwardly told several family members that she hated. (Both narcissists, both competing for control at every family function, etc ). There’s no one who would want to or agree to go to any kind of counseling with her and I if I did get her agreement). I’m 57, my daughter 37), and with what’s taken place between my mother and I makes it harder. Although nobody can stand my mother, they still think what I did by stopping contact with her was wrong. I did it solely for my health. She’s 92, and yes I feel guilty for leaving her to my brother for her needs, but between what I’ve been going through with an ex to this date keeping my daughter from me, I feel like I have to tread very carefully and not disrespect her feelings, since she did choose my now ex husband, (her now ex step dad), as the person she believes she has a relationship with. She’s a grown woman afterall, and I would never want to treat her as badly as my mother has treated me. It’s an awful thing any way you look at it, BUT, our relationship was rock solid until my now ex purposely decided to make me into the person that he in fact is. The abusive sides to him were rarely or never seen by anyone but myself. He was very careful about that. Has made me look and sound like a fool for years now as they often do. It serves their purpose and he’s done it perfectly. That’s my biggest fear is that I’ll not find the strength to finally go up to her and tell my side of things without making him into the liar that he is. Emotions are very very high for me still and it doesn’t take much for me to breakdown when thinking of all the time missed with her and my granddaughters. I can’t ever get these years back with those innocent girls but I have to find a way to start. Thank you so very much for taking the time to read my story and comment back. It means the world when someone does.
Hi again, Emma. I wanted to thank you for your suggestions on the above books. I’ve already contacted my library down the street. They have one and will get the other upon my request. Thank you again!
I've been depressed for a long time and medication helps but th sources are not going to leave. It helped me become 100,percent disabled .
Hi Elliot, thanks for your comment.
I feel you. It often feels like depression is a lifelong affliction that leads to other problems. Medication does help (it pretty much saved my life; I've been taking it for years) but it's not the whole answer.
Are you getting much support for your disability?
Take care, Emma