11 Signs You May Be Repressing Emotional Abuse From Past Relationships
Since it's rife with manipulation and toxicity, it can take a lot of time to move past the effects of emotional abuse. If you were the victim of this type of negative treatment in the past, it's possible you've even repressed it, as a way of coping. But by noticing the signs of how it might still be affecting you to this day, you can begin to move on.
"Emotional abuse is a form of abuse that uses verbal and emotional manipulation in an effort to control another person," Jovica Grey, licensed mental health counselor and founder of Grey’s Counseling Services, tells Bustle. "Some examples of this may include: humiliation, manipulation, verbal aggression, belittling, and intimidation." And it can really do a number on a person.
While not everyone reacts the same way, repressing can be a very natural response. "Often, we repress these experiences because we either minimize the effects of emotional abuse, feel overly anxious or depressed when thinking [or] talking about what we have endured, or want to believe that it can 'just be put behind us,'" relationship coach Jessica Yaffa, tells Bustle.
It's important, though, to recognize the impact it might have had. Going to therapy can be a big help when it comes to uncovering old experiences and working through them, as can surrounding yourself with good people, and making plenty of time for self-care, Yaffa says.
Read on for some signs you might be repressing emotional abuse from past relationships, according to experts.
1. You Aren't Good At Making Decisions
While it may not seem like a big deal, if you honestly don't know what to do with your downtime — and often rely on others to make decisions for you — it may be a small sign of repressed emotional abuse.
This is often the case for people who were once highly-focused on the needs of others, which is often the case in emotionally abusive relationships, therapist Elizabeth Reed, MA, LMFT, tells Bustle. Over time, such expectations can cause you to lose touch with yourself, as you became more reliant and focused on them.
You can, however, regain your decision-making powers by going to therapy, and putting the focus back on yourself.
2. You've Become A People Pleaser
If you're in a new relationship, keep an eye out for signs of people pleasing and perfectionism, as they may be a sign you haven't quite recovered from past emotional abuse.
As Reed says, many people in these situations grow to believe that, if only they are "perfect" in every way, their relationship might improve, or their partner might not treat them so poorly.
It's important to remember, though, that toxic people are going to be toxic, no matter what you do. Their behavior is on them, and being a people pleaser will never change that.
Moving forward, it can help to spot this tendency, recognize where it's likely coming from, and do your best to move on — possibly with the help of friends, family, and a therapist.
3. You Minimize Toxic Moments
While it's an understandable reaction, many folks who have been in emotionally abusive relationships develop the habit of minimizing bad behavior, or "looking the other way."
"The emotionally abused person’s frequent thought is, 'it could always be worse,'" Reed says. But it's important to recognize this habit for what it is. Bad treatment is bad treatment, and it isn't something you need to laugh off or explain away — even if you used to do so in the past.
It can be a tough habit to break. But by talking with a therapist, you can begin to rebuild your idea of "normal," and eventually learn to demand the respect you deserve.
4. You Get Angry Easily
Because you're doing certain things — like people pleasing — as reaction to the toxic situation you were in, and not because you genuinely want to be a people pleaser, Reed says the resentment can catch up with you, and come out in the form of anger.
Of course, there are many other reasons why you might be quick to anger. But if you were in a bad situation in the past, and have yet to move past the habits that developed as a result, you may find yourself getting mad at small situations.
5. You Often Feel Defensive
Similarly, you might notice that you get defensive easily — possibly whenever someone offers constructive criticism. And there's a pretty good reason why.
"People who have experienced emotional abuse, especially those who have experienced continued exposure to abuse, tend to have low self-esteem," Grey says. "So it is not uncommon for someone to become defensive when they receive any feedback that makes them appear less-than."
It can be difficult to take advice or criticism if you were unjustly criticized in the past. This is, however, something you can work on, as you move forward and form healthier relationships.
6. You Tend To View Yourself In A Negative Light
Speaking of low self-esteem, do you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts? This may be another sign you haven't fully moved on from past emotional abuse.
If you were with a highly toxic person, they were likely "chipping away at [your] self-esteem and implanting negative messages by telling [you] things such as 'you are not good enough,'" Grey says.
Emotionally abusive people do this on purpose to get into your head, and make you feel bad about yourself — as a way of controlling you. But it's a type of negativity you can totally overcome, once you recognize it.
7. You Feel Stressed When People Are Upset
While nobody enjoys yelling, if you find yourself feeling particularly tense whenever arguments erupt, it may be because you used to deal with that a lot in the past. And that's totally understandable.
"Emotional abuse makes an individual susceptible to triggers, such as changes in tone of voice," Grey says. "It’s not uncommon to become easily startled or jump when someone raises their voice."
This is, of course, not something you should blame yourself for. With time, you can heal from the past, and feel more capable of handling stressful situations.
8. You Keep Choosing Toxic Partners
Many people who have been in emotionally abusive relationships find themselves gravitating towards the same types of toxic partners, over and over again.
"This is done to gain closure from the original trauma," Gabrielle Applebury, MA, MFT, AMFT, IMF, tells Bustle. And yet, while it makes sense why this might be a knee-jerk reaction, the best way to truly move on is with the support of friends, family, and therapy.
9. You Constantly Question Your Partner's Love
Even if you've moved on to a new and healthier relationship, you may still catch yourself wondering if your partner loves you — or if they'll end up acting just like your ex.
"This indicates you feel unlovable, which can come from being in an abusive relationship, or from an abusive childhood," psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina, LMFT, PhD, tells Bustle.
If you used to worry all the time, or walked on eggshells around a toxic partner, it only makes sense you'd carry that habit with you. Just like everything else, though, you can move past it.
10. You Have Trouble Accepting Affection
In the same vein, you may find that you struggle to accept love from new partners, as well as from friends. As Dr. Tessina says. "This indicates an attachment disorder, which results from abuse." While it can take a lot of work not only to spot this habit, but to move past it, it's definitely possible to do so.
11. You Have Nightmares About Your Ex
If you had a nightmare of an ex, you might still have nightmares about them, even after you've long since moved on. And this can be a sign you're repressing. As Dr. Tessina says, "Nightmares are a symptom of PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder, from being subjected to abuse."
Emotional abuse can really take a toll on a person, so don't blame yourself if you're still carrying that weight around, or approaching situations in a "negative" way.
Once you spot the signs you haven't quite moved on, you can begin the work of actually moving on. Some ways to do that include seeking out therapy, creating a positive support system, and focusing on finding yourself once again.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.