How to make peace with your past


THERE are several reasons why people fail to deal with emotional abuse or postpone doing so. Emotions that remain hidden and unresolved are a recipe for poor health or an unhappy life.


Emotional or mental abuse is a form of abuse characterised by a person subjecting or exposing another to behaviour that may result in psychological trauma. This can include anxiety and chronic depression, or result in post-traumatic stress disorder. Experts indicate that emotional abuse can happen to anyone at any time in their lives. People who suffer from emotional abuse tend to display a very low self-esteem and show personality changes such as becoming withdrawn, depressed, anxious or suicidal. Move! spoke to Thokozane Chiloane, a mental health practitioner, about how to deal with this situation.


She says symptoms of emotional abuse may vary but can attack any part of an individual’s life. Thokozane says emotional abuse include swearing, intimidating, isolating and humiliating the victim. Emotional and psychological trauma can also be caused by a single blow, a one-time event such as a horrible accident, or a violent attack, says Thokozane.


She says trauma can also stem from ongoing stress such as living in a crime-ridden neighbourhood or struggling with a chronic disease. “Some people rebound quickly from tragic and shocking experiences,” she says. “Others are devastated by experiences that, on the surface, appear to be less upsetting.”


Thokozane says people need to understand why those suffering from emotional abuse haven’t dealt with the challenges from their past, and what could be preventing them from doing so. She cites, first of all, embarrassment. Whether someone has been physically, mentally, financially or sexually abused, it is not easy to talk about such things. But Thokozane encourages people to take the first step and talk to someone. She says another thing that could prevent one from tackling the past is fear. “When someone is a victim, they might keep quiet about it because they fear the consequences of bringing out the issue into the open.” She says the effects of not dealing with these issues can be devastating.  


“One might see themselves as unworthy of love and affection. Sometimes the victim might suffer from severe clinical depression, to anxiety disorders such as anorexia,” says Thokozane.  She adds that insecurity, poor selfesteem, self-destructive behaviour, anger, withdrawal, alcohol or substance abuse, suicidal thoughts or actions, and difficulty forming relationships are all potential results of emotional abuse.


Thokozane says victims of emotional abuse need to be treated with sensitivity. Often, the victim might not be ready to be helped by family or friends, and they should try to be patient with the victim. “When bad things happen, it can take a while to get over the pain and feel safe again. But with the right treatment, self-help strategies and support, you can speed up your recovery,” she says.


 Famsa – 011 975 7106

Lifeline SA – 011 715 2000

Suicide Crisis Line – 0800 12 13 14

South African Depression and Anxiety Group – 0800 12 13 14

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