How To Recover From Emotional Trauma of Domestic Abuse
People wondering how to recover from emotional trauma really want to know how long recovery will take. Unfortunately, there is no solid time frame for recovering from emotional trauma. But, if we can slow down a minute and understand how to recover from emotional trauma, then the how long will it take part will handle itself.
How To Recover From Emotional Trauma When It Is Ongoing
If you are currently in an abusive relationship, I don't want to say you're screwed in your recovery from domestic abuse. But you kind of are. Just a little. Although there are things you can do to recoup from the day's abuses, while living with your abuser, you are continually recouping. You can't get ahead of the emotional and psychological trauma and into recovery when you live with abuse. Yes, you can have great days living with an abuser (see Holiday Madness). But they don't last forever. And for the entirety of the great day you're waiting for the abuse to happen, so it may as well happen. And it eventually does.
As you've probably noticed, when you feel good, your abuser hates it. Abusers do not like you to feel good because happy people are strong people. And strong people have enough self-esteem to leave the abuser's sorry butt. So, as long as you're living in abuse, complete recovery from emotional trauma is practically impossible and at the least, improbable.
Even so, you can recoup some of the mental health you lose each day from psychological trauma by doing things that are good for you. Try:
- Making a visit to your doctor to check for depression or anxiety
- Meditating (or using alternatives to meditation)
- Educating yourself on all aspects of abuse
- Detaching from your abuser
- Calling a domestic violence hotline to vent
- Filling out a domestic violence safety plan
- Building a network of supportive friends (online too), family members, and local domestic violence programs that include support groups
How To Recover From Emotional Trauma When You've Left Your Abuser
There are phases of recovery emotional and psychological trauma victims travel through after getting rid of their abuser. Knowing the phases will help shorten your recovery time because when you know what to expect, you feel less anxiety. And if you're dealing with less anxiety, your recovery from domestic abuse will naturally take less time.
According to the Manitoba Trauma Information & Education Centre, the three stages of emotional trauma recovery are:
- Safety and Stabilization
- Remembrance and Mourning
- Reconnection and Integration
Safety And Stabilization
First, emotional trauma victims should work to regain their feelings of safety and mental stability. Easier said than done, but still doable. What will help you feel safer and mentally stronger? You know yourself best, but here are some suggestions:
- Learn to accept and self-soothe during an emotional crisis as your emotions may bug-out on you at first.
- Pay attention to what triggered your emotional instability so you can avoid or disarm the trigger in the future.
- You might find it very hard to talk about the trauma, so work it out in different ways like meditation, yoga, drawing, writing, running. . . anything that lets your emotions come and go without words.
- That said, get into talk therapy with a professional if at all possible. There's a lot of ground you can cover without speaking of the trauma directly.
- Work to regain worthy connections with friends and family. Don't bother with relationships that diminish or discourage you in any way.
Remembrance and Mourning
Secondly, you've got to work through those memories and mourn the relationship (the relationship you thought it could become, not the relationship as it was in reality). In this phase, you will get to the point where you can discuss your feelings with a wide variety of people in your life. The point is to feel the emotion without allowing the emotion to trick you into feeling the past as if it were the present. Feeling past trauma as if it is happening now is a symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In this phase, you'll still cry or feel angry or miss the good times or any other emotion as you talk about the trauma. That's okay. No one worth spending time with expects you to be flippant about being traumatized.
If you feel your confidence in your safety or mental stability fading, regroup and slow down. Don't push yourself backward when you're trying to move forward. Ways to work through this period include:
- Maintaining the feelings of safety and stability.
- Talk talk talking.
- Journaling, drawing, painting, arts and crafts, writing or any creative activity.
- Including self-care like eating better, exercising more and paying attention to the thoughts going on in your head. Don't let your negative thoughts control you as much as possible (it's an on-going job).
Reconnection and Integration
This phase is all about releasing the trauma to the past and feeling good about the life you are creating for yourself. Your psychological trauma story no longer defines who you are; it is integrated into the story of you. Here are things you can do to aid the process of reconnection and integration after emotional trauma:
- Everyone says to volunteer and I used to hate it. I was recovering from depression too, so volunteering wasn't really an answer. So if volunteering somewhere isn't a good fit for you, find a way to teach what you've learned from the whole mess. That is the way to grow.
- Make yourself more available to meeting new people. Not lovers, but friends. You may find a lover, but if you find yourself feeling emotionally destabilized or wanting to connect with that person very quickly, then perhaps it is too soon to date.
- Decide what you want in your new life, make a plan, and go for it.
Recovering From Emotional Trauma's Time Frame
There is no time frame for moving through the phases except that it is rational to expect it someone who lived with long-term abuse for years to recover more slowly than it would for someone who experienced emotional abuse for a shorter time.
These phases make sense to me. I would say I'm between two and three because I still remember more often than I'd like, but I am working on reconnecting and integrating into this new life. How much time has passed for me? 5 years. I lived with my abuser for just under 18 years.
One more thing about my healing process. I think this last phase will be the longest. It might last the rest of my life, as long as the abusive relationship did or exactly one more minute. I don't know. But I'm okay with that. One step forward, two steps back; I'm okay with that, too.
I can give you only the time frame I know, which is my own. I would tell you how long it will take to recover if I could. Whatever you do, don't hurry the process. Be like Shrek and think of yourself as an onion - peel away layer after layer until you reconnect with the core of who you are.
Jo, K. (2015, May 31). How To Recover From Emotional Trauma of Domestic Abuse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, June 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2015/05/how-to-recover-from-emotional-trauma-of-domestic-abuse
Author: Kellie Jo Holly
Hi Angelica, i just had to write to you. I know this is an old post and i hope and pray you've had the strength & courage to stay away from your ex. You're story is MY story. I'm slowly getting the strength to go see my doctor and to tell them how it is with me. Some days i know i can do it, then it becomes real and i get scared, scared at what his reactions will be, cos he's not bad all the time, but when he is, my life isn't worth a bean. I too picture his funeral, but him dying any time soon jyst wont happen. Please stay strong, reading Kellie's story and everyone else's journey is giving me the strength to leave. God bless and keep you all.
About a week ago, I made the definite decision to leave an abusive relationship, I have blocked his emails and phone numbers and he has moved out of my house. For 6.5 years on and off, I have allowed this monster to emotionally, mentally, and verbally abuse me. I allowed the very little “good things” he did overpower all of the horrible heartless things he was doing to me. He lied to me, cheated on me, beat me, and degraded me over and over again. I loved this man, even through all of the abuse. I was so blinded by love, I always made excuses for him. The first few years, he showed remorse, then he showed none. The first few years he begged me not to break up with him, then it was I who couldn’t let him go, he was a very nasty addiction. I didn’t want to be alone, I didn’t want him to leave me, I felt as if I put so much effort and time to prove my love to him that I couldn’t accept him leaving me and moving on. It was such a nasty addiction. I let it go on for so long that it began to feel normal. He would hit me and I would cry and hurt for a few hours then it was as if I blocked it out of my mind. It took him ruining my credit (720 to 450), a 45,000 dollar car repossed, late mortgage payment, 15,000 dollars in credit card debt and him leaving me when I ran out of money for another woman to realize he USED me and Abused me didn’t care. He didn’t care that he hurt me, he didn’t care that I was hurting, he left for the love of money. I will never forget his words “ I don’t need you, you ugly fat pathetic Bit***, don’t call my phone”. It should have never taken all of this to realize what I was doing to myself, but unfortunately it did. I may be weak and hurt but I know God is going to help me through, I know there is light at the end of the tunnel. I will NEVER allow another person to hurt me the way he did.
hi I am 24 years old and married with five children. I kinda figure that I am in a abusive relationship I have been in denial now I feel enough is enough. I don't know how to get help and where to start. I feel like I have a really low self esteem and I don't have confidence in myself no friends I do have family but they don't deal with me because I choose not to be around them for my husbands sake because they didn't like him because he hits me whenever we get into arguments. its weird to me I don't understand anymore how my life ended up this way I am still soo young. I feel alone
You said you choose to stay away from your family for your husband's sake. That means, to me, that your family would help you if you told them you needed a place to stay to get out of that relationship. It's worth a try.
Your "choice" wasn't really a choice anyway. You didn't want the family to know all the crap that was going on, and he didn't want you to be able to tell them. He isolated you. You have to break that isolation for the good to start up again. <3
Love is NOT Abuse . Abuse is not love. 1-800-799-7233 National Domestic Violence Hotline. 1-888-411-1333 Louisiana. Hotline. This is a free call. God be with you and find resources to help yourself and your kids.
I am so grateful for these comments. I live in Louisiana and I now have a number to call when I am ready to talk.
WOW! I hear you and its like reliving my day to day life with my abuser! Walking on eggshells, scared to upset him. Condoning his behavior over and over. Maybe one week good, then snap, mean, verbal abuse, ugly hurtful words, put downs . Well I'm on my way out,,,plans to sell my things and move on. Ten years of misery. You really made me feel better reading your story Kellie,,,my husband is 49 . I am 54. He's an alcoholic, and everyone would say hes tired, he has so many stresses at work, he is this, he is that? So im just suppose to put up with his abuse? When i worked it was shift work, and i was tired, i didn't come in and abuse him, which i wish i could have. He has verbally abused me for so long, i don't feel any love. It is gone. I read the book, Co-Dependant no more, by Melondy Beattie, she summoned it up for me, we don't worry about them, we worry about us. She also said, she relived his funeral. Over and over, and i started laughing, because that's how i felt. She really helped me in this book, and Madea Family Reunion, show,,,fix him some hot grits and throw it on him if he beats you, and then hit him with the skillet! I volunteer for DART. DOMESTIC ABUSE RESISTANT TEAM. We have signs and t-shirts. That says Real Men Beat Eggs! We raised under a thousand dollars for the shelters for women in Louisiana. I am ready to live my life without a man and go to meetings to teach me the signs, and learn from others how to survive and succeed in my future. I can make it, and i will because i havev family who want to help.
Your worst day in recovery will always be better than your best day with your abuser, because you're not constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop while simultaneously wanting desperately to believe that this time he really wants to do better by you and his bad behavior is over for good.
As long as you're with him it's never over for good. He's already crossed that line with you. By staying there, you've accepted his doing so. He knows he can go at least that far over the line and he can apologize and cry and make promises, and you'll stay. Abusers are like children, continually pushing boundaries. It will happen again and again and again - unless you get out and get help, or unless he goes too far and you don't survive.
And that's not even the worst part about staying. As long as you stay, you are also teaching you're children that it is acceptable to behave the way he does. Even if they choose to never be the target of an abuser, they could very well be seeing their future relationships in only black and white - either they are treated as you were, or they treat the person or people closest to them the way he treated you. - AND -they're learning how to treat you, and much you'll put up with. Hopefully they wouldn't consider putting you through anything more than you've already endured, but don't count on it.
It's best for them if you get out quickly and show them that abusive behavior is just plain unacceptable. Be strong for them if not for yourself. Stop the cycle of abuse from continuing on into future generations of your family.
There IS help available to you. Check into it. Generally a battered women's shelter can put you in contact with anyone that you would need to handle all of the things that you worry about when you think about leaving. The sooner you get out, the better - for all of you. If you think you're not strong enough, think again. Do you realize how strong you have to be to survive all that you've endured? Use that strength to get out instead of staying. Then you can start to recover outside the relationship.
Even if you think you've waited too long, remember: your worst day outside of an abusive relationship is better than your best days in it. Personally, I'm still back and forth between the stages of recovery. But that's ok. I'm a survivor.
To Sally: Go to the link that Kellie sent to you as soon as possible - don't wait.
To Kellie: I can't read all of this right now. It's too much. I've just found this site because I was researching "battered woman syndrome." I felt as though I had never heard of it, but I think that's probably not correct. I heard someone say the phrase "battered child syndrome" on television and was just looking to see if 'battered spouse/woman syndrome' might be "a thing." As I typed that last sentence I realized that I probably am familiar with it, because I know that "spouse" is used in place of "woman" - in ...something? I'm not sure what right now - because there are (some) men that are/have been battered in the same way. I've spent a lifetime perfecting ways to avoid things I can't deal with. I think it has made my memory somewhat "Swiss cheese-like."
I'm responding for 4 reasons right now. The first reason is because when I read an older post of yours that was one of the first responses to a "Bing" search, you mentioned, at first, not feeling as though you qualified as a battered woman because the physical violence was so sporadic (my words, not yours - I don't have yours readily available to quote.) I went through that, too. And even though there were times when I believed he would and/or could kill me, I know that other women have survived far more severe, sometimes horrific, physical attacks. While I knew that what he was doing to me was terribly wrong, I'd hear their stories and think THEY were the abused women. I had simply married someone with serious mental problems. When they started using the word "battered" instead of "abused" for some reason that felt more accurate.
The second reason I'm writing is because, while I feel that we both "qualify" the physical violence in my case didn't progress exactly the way you described it, and it might be important for others to know that the sequence of events isn't cut and dried. It can vary depending on the kind of person the abuser is. I now think the person who used me as a target for his anger and aggression might have been a bona fide sociopath.
I lived with my ex for five years before we married. We already had one child and I was pregnant with our second before he ever actually punched me, and it was only once, in the leg, in that instance. He did, however, have a quick, violent temper and a mean streak from hell. He was also an avid collector of weapons, mostly guns. By the end of our marriage he had a small armory - which gave him a feeling of power in general and made his threats seem entirely viable to me - which was an integral part of the brainwashing. When we met he was overly nice and very aggressive. He was never even mean until we were actually living together. His insults and his threats were indirect at first and he thought that all of my "faults" and "shortcomings" - and my seeing them as insults - were "cute" or "funny," just like my thinking he was threatening me was cute or funny. How silly was I?!! I wasn't, of course. And the yelling at me and name calling, the accusations, the incessant sexual demands, the condescension, and telling me how much I needed him for the things I didn't know about - like how to work on the car(s) - all part of the brainwashing. There would be weeks or more of his being overly accommodating vs. his "reigns of terror" as I called them & keeping me (and by that time, my children) walking on eggshells - which would start right after I finally started to let my guard down. He progressed from in the beginning, just yelling, to breaking and/or throwing things, to throwing things AT me, to shoving me, to pushing me onto something soft, to pushing me without caring where I landed, to pushing me into something hard, to punching and/or backhanding me only once or twice, but hard enough to split my lip once and breaking the glasses I was wearing once (which left me bleeding from a cut over my eyebrow) and making my nose bleed once, etc, to pulling my hair and using it to bang my head into a wall repeatedly, to kneeling on my back & trying to strangle or suffocate me or punching any number of times (not usually more than four) or throwing things at me or picking me up and throwing me into a wall, onto the ground, whatever, - once or repeatedly to any number of mean or humiliating and/or painful scenarios. At the end of 21 years together he had only given me one black eye, but he was clearly abusive - especially toward the end of the marriage.
The brainwashing was successful long enough for him to gain control of our finances and even my money for the first few years. He systematically alienated me from my family and friends and isolated me from anyone who wasn't primarily "his" friend or associate. I was 'allowed' to work. I was young and working at a fast food restaurant. I remember being upset when he would stop in unexpectedly, because I was a whole other person when he wasn't around - the person I couldn't be, maybe even myself, although I still don't know who that is after being away from him for as many years as I was with him - that's 21 years each.
The third reason I'm writing is because in writing about co-parenting you talked about not speaking to him on the phone and advised someone to switch to texting or emailing only. I just want to add a little to that because until he gets help or finds another target for his anger & aggression, the abuser still thrives on getting a rise out of his target - which is currently you. This isn't necessarily true for all abusers, but with some, if they can't get to you directly, they'll get to you through your children. Hanging up on them as soon as they start pushing boundaries is AWESOME. It reinforces that boundary. But be careful about the timing and circumstances of going to text & email only. And, of course there has to be some kind of provision for absolute emergencies - which he will exploit.
The fourth reason is Secondary Wounding. When I can, I'll read what's written above, but I'll bet that it isn't geared toward someone who just keeps getting knocked back down. My ex has been dead for 11 years but I find another little bomb (figuratively) that he left every few years. My children who have been everything to me their whole lives, and who would have had nothing if not for my struggling to ensure their happiness and comfort, worship him and won't have anything to do with me now. Plus, since so very much happened right before I left, I had to seek medical assistance. My doctor insisted I see a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with Major Depressive Disorder w Severe Chronic Anxiety (CPTSD.) I was prescribed medication. I saw it as treating the symptoms while I learned to deal with what had happened - something that wouldn't be necessary after some therapy and hard work. It would have been if not for secondary wounding. The general public is doing a terrible disservice to people like me, people who want to work through our issues and get to the point where we no longer need the medication. By eschewing the entire science and branding it nonsense and unnecessary, they are only keeping people who need help from getting it and moving on with their lives.
So, many years later, I'm suffering and I just keep getting kicked in the teeth. You'd be surprised at the severity of my condition and how alone I am and what I have to deal with. Anyway, I never see anyone addressing Secondary Wounding and how to recover while you're still having your self esteem knocked down a notch nearly every day. I'm sorry this is so long. I really just meant for Kellie to read this, and don't have a problem with it being deleted once you've seen it.
Good luck with your journey. I'm glad you've found your niche - you're doing a good thing here.
Thank you for sharing your story. So similar to my own. :( You are so correct about the stigma attached to both mental illness and domestic violence. People don't like to talk about uncomfortable things. They would rather pretend they don't exist than address the issues.
Sometimes I wonder if "abuse" isn't the cause of all the world's problems, starting with the family unit. If we could learn to relate healthfully with one another, then in a few generations, perhaps there would be peace. Idealistic, I know. But I can't help but think about the generational abuse. If that exists, then couldn't generational love?
What circumstances are you in that cause your self-esteem to crash every day?
Thank you so much for telling your story! I been going through mostly everything you talked about and have no support system!
I'm so exhausted by the recovery process. I was married for 20 years and he was verbally, emotionally and sexually abusive. I've been sort of doing ok but recently he filed some court docs that I couldn't afford to fight so I lost the rest of the settlement money he owed me. Now I'm trying to figure out a way to support our son on my own. In theory, that shouldn't be too hard. I'm starting a part time job on Monday but I am freaking out. I feel so incapable. So many things have gone wrong since I asked him to leave 3 years ago. I feel like I can't really function the way I need to. Is this common? Am I crazy? I don't understand what's wrong with me. With the legal issue, it brought up so many bad memories...I'm a mess!
Yes, it's completely normal to feel like you're a mess. The court documents stirred up the old crap and put a damper on your financial future. Since I left my abuser, I've been through TOO much to recount - and none of it would look good to an outsider.
But you and I are insiders. We know the hell that was the marriage. We know what we withstood. There is nothing in the world harder than living with someone who hurts you. You survived HIM. It's okay to feel like a mess when he re-enters your life (in this case, via the court documents).
It's great that you connected the feeling to the trigger. That is healing.
My bet is that after a few days at that new job, you'll remember how capable you really are.
I saw my oldest daughter start to go through this with her now ex, we put a stop to it very quickly. I left my abuser at the first sign, my mother was murdered by hers. Get into a support group for victims of abuse if you don't have a good support group. Please. You're worth so much more Sally.
Iv gon throgh so much i n my life with one thing another & to find
This has helped me, iv been struggle so long withe what iv gone no one wont's to help me ??? at all.
Sally, keep looking. Don't give up. There is someone who can and wants to help you. Why don't you call a crisis line? There are many to choose from and not one of them will say, "I can't help you." Check this page: http://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-referr…