Can emotional abuse cause mental illness? Yes it can and let’s start by asking what is emotional abuse. Also, what is mental health and mental illness?

Emotional abuse usually starts slowly. Then, before you even know it, you’re hooked into someone who is treating you badly.

Over a long period of time, it gets worse and worse. Eventually is wears you down. It really affects how you feel about yourself and how you relate to others.


If you’re wondering if it’s happening to you, here are some of the signs:

  • yelling
  • name-calling
  • spewing insults or otherwise ridiculing you
  • attempting to make you question your own sanity (gaslighting)
  • invading your privacy
  • punishing you for not going along with what they want
  • trying to control your life
  • isolating you from family and friends
  • making subtle or overt threats

Emotional abuse is never your fault! You can look for these patterns of behaviors. For example, constant criticism of what you say or do. This is done for the purpose of having power over you.

Another pattern that happens is unrelenting blaming and shaming. Meanwhile, abusers deflect their own responsibility for their mean behavior.

Emotional abuse can also include attempting to control the finances. This traps you in the relationship.

Can Emotional Abuse Cause Mental Illness?

You might want to know what mental health is before we talk about mental illness. Mental health is a feeling of having a balanced internal state that allows you to use your abilities out in society and within relationships.

Having mental health means we can think, feel and act in a harmonious way. You can handle stress and make healthy choices. When you are in a situation where you can grow and become your best self, you can thrive. We develop self esteem and well-being.

This does not mean you don’t struggle. When you have good mental health, you have a good support system in place to help you through the hard times.

Mental illness refers to disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples are post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and addictive behaviors. Symptoms of mental illness cause frequent stress, cause you to isolate from family and friends and affect your ability to function.

More than 57 million people in the United States (age 18 and older) suffer from a mental illness. Over 50% of women who live with a mental illness have previously experienced some sort of trauma. Panic attacks, post traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, depression and anxiety are often ignited by emotional abuse.

Emotional Abuse And Trauma: Can Emotional Abuse Cause Mental Illness

Can emotional abuse cause mental illness?  It often leads to trauma, depression and anxiety. Then you are at risk for developing mental illness. Trauma can happen after you experience emotional abuse that hurts you mentally and emotionally.

Short-term effects Of Emotional Abuse

When emotional abuse first starts to happen, you may feel confusion, fear and shame. You might ignore it and tell yourself that your partner just had a bad day. It is common to tell yourself that this isn’t the way he really is. This creates self-doubt. You start questioning your own perceptions. It can be hard to trust your own reactions and feelings. But they are valid and important.

Over time, you might start to feel hopelessness, moodiness and have trouble concentrating. You might feel it in your body in the form of muscle tension, stomach aches, pain or racing heartbeat. You might have nightmares and racing thoughts.

Long Term Effects Of Emotional Abuse

The long-term effects of abuse or trauma can include:

  • Severe anxiety, stress, or fear
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Self-injury
  • Suicide
  • Anger and/or irritability
  • Sleep problems

If you are wondering can emotional abuse cause mental illness, know that it definitely can. Emotional abuse over a longer period of time can cause low self esteem, loneliness, constant negative thoughts, isolation and severe fear and shame. If left unresolved, this can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other types of mental illness.

PTSD develops when you are exposed to a frightening or shocking event that can happen when you are being emotionally abused. High levels of fear and stress over a long time take its toll on your daily functioning. You can start to have angry outbursts and become easily startled.

What should I do if I’ve been abused or traumatized?

The sooner you can get professional help for emotional abuse or trauma, the sooner you can begin to get better. As you start to heal, it will be easier to answer the question ‘Can emotional abuse cause mental illness?’ If you are feeling like you just can’t live your life normally anymore, then reach out to a mental health professional. We can help you make sense of what you are going through.

When you are being emotionally abused, you will have a lot of confused feelings. You will constantly question yourself and your sanity. That’s why it’s so important to have a good support system of people who validate your experience.

If you’re in immediate danger, call 911.
You can also call helplines to talk about what happened to you or get guidance about what to do:
National Domestic Violence Hotline  Phone Number: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
National Sexual Assault Hotline  
Phone Number: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

Can Emotional Abuse Cause Mental Illness?  If So, Then How Is It Treated?

There are some excellent methods for treating emotional abuse and trauma. Talk therapy, somatic therapy, yoga, EMDR and neurofeedback can really help. Therapy with a professional can help you work through all the confusion and distorted thoughts and learn new, healthy ways to see the world and to cope.

Emotional abuse often results in feeling repeatedly scared. This can create fight/flight/freeze reactions that get struck in the body. It is natural that when you feel scared, you will want to either run away (escape the situation), fight back to protect yourself, or freeze up and not say or do anything at all. These stuck body sensations can be worked through in somatic therapy.

EMDR: Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing EMDR is a very good method for processing trauma. It helps feelings of overwhelm, of being right back in that scary moment. EMDR therapy helps the brain process a scary or overwhelming event. You focus on the negative image and way you feel about yourself as a result, while doing eye movements or tapping or listening to sounds. The old negative way you feel about yourself is gradually processed and replaced with a new positive belief.

EMDR sessions lasts from 60-90 minutes. It can be used in conjunction with talk therapy, as needed.


Neurofeedback helps the brain dysregulation that occurs with repeated emotional abuse. This abuse assaults your nervous system and causes you to be out of balance. Then, you just can’t find your sense of calm self anymore.

Neurofeedback helps the nervous system become more resilient and more self regulated. It restores that sense of safety and relaxation that you may have thought were gone for good! Then, it becomes easier to make the necessary changes for a healthy life.

If you think that I might be able to help you, feel free to contact me by leaving a confidential voicemail message at 310-314-6933 or email me at