Emotional abuse does not produce cuts and bruises like physical abuse, so its scars are more difficult to recognize and treat. However, emotional abuse can leave deep scars on the psychological well-being of the victim. Also, emotional abuse often leads to substance abuse, low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, isolation, alienation, anxiety and depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Because women are so often the victims, more is known about their psychological injuries. Psychologist Lenore Walker studied female victims and described a “battered woman syndrome.” She found that women who repeatedly experience physical, sexual or serious emotional abuse tend to be affected in common ways, and begin to show similar behavior. These battered women:
- Minimize and deny the abuse.
- Block the abuse incidents from their memory.
- Have anxiety, fearfulness or panic because of constant stress.
- Numb themselves to avoid dealing with the situation.
- Have recurrent flashbacks of battering episodes.
- Have specific fears and are continually watching out for signs of further harm.
Studies have documented that many battered women suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. The likelihood of a PTSD diagnosis and severe PTSD symptoms is correlated with more severe domestic violence experiences.