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Emotionally Damaged: How People Get That Way, 26 Signs & How to Heal From It

Emotional damage makes all factors of life more difficult. Here’s how people get this way, the signs, and how to move past it so you can be happier in life. 

emotionally damaged

We have probably all been through tough times in our lives that leave us feeling scorned. Whether it was a breakup, just a generally bad experience, or maybe an event you didn’t even realize was traumatic at the moment, our everyday lives can leave us emotionally drained and damaged.

While everyone has something that keeps them from living their life exactly the way they want, some of us might have a harder time than others. The consistent nagging of something in our past lives can put a damper on the good things happening right in front of us.

Many people know how it feels to get lost in a tub of ice cream while mascara stains their face, wondering why they seem to fail at every relationship—or friendship—they’ve ever had.

What makes someone emotionally damaged?

Maybe you think that you’re emotionally damaged, or maybe you think you know someone who is emotionally scarred. But you’re probably wondering, what causes this? How does someone become this way? Here are some common causes of emotional damage. [Read: Emotional numbness – 23 ways you could slip into it and how to snap out]

1. Childhood Neglect

If a person was neglected by their parents, *or parent*, in their childhood, then this will definitely damage them emotionally. It could be that their parents didn’t feed them or love them enough. Maybe their parents had substance abuse problems and could barely handle life themselves.

When a child is neglected, they don’t receive the love, nurture, and care that they need to form into a well-functioning adult. As a result, they become emotionally-damaged adults.

2. Rejection

Childhood neglect is horrible, but rejection is just as bad. Maybe their parents didn’t necessarily neglect them, but they rejected them. They might have told their child that they were a loser, lazy, ugly, or a good-for-nothing person who would never amount to anything in life. [Read: How to respond to rejection and do the right thing even if it hurts]

When someone is rejected by the people who are supposed to love them the most, that leaves a very deep emotional scar. Your parents are supposed to be the ones who protect you against the world. So when they do the opposite, it will damage a person, probably for the rest of their lives.

3. Loss and stress

Stress is an emotion that is natural when you lose something or someone important to you. If someone you love passes away, or if you suffer a traumatic experience, it can have a strong impact on your emotions. And it’s difficult to overcome these emotions.

When someone experiences loss, it can break a person’s assumptions about the world and force them to withdraw from the world. The shock of loss is difficult to repair afterward. [Read: How to reduce stress – 17 fastest hacks to a calmer and happier life]

4. Shame and guilt

When someone has been rejected, they experience loneliness and loss. Most people do need a connection with other people, but sometimes they don’t get it. And then it’s common for them to internalize it, which can lead to feelings of shame and guilt.

If a person doesn’t resolve their guilt, it can affect all areas of their life. The reason they feel shame or guilt may or may not even be justified. But if they believe that it is, then it can cause irreparable emotional damage.

5. Living in the past

We have all had bad experiences in our lives. But when someone goes over and over those unpleasant and disappointing times in their lives – whether they are real or just in their head – it takes a toll on their emotions and happiness. [Read: Honest secrets to let go of the past, be happy, and look to the future]

It’s almost like a scar that you keep re-opening, and so it can’t ever fully heal. It will leave a permanent scar until you learn to stop doing that. Since it’s difficult for the person to live in the present, they will perpetuate these feelings that are tied to the bad experiences they had.

6. Failure

If someone thinks that they have failed at something in their life, that can also damage them emotionally. Whether it is in school, at work, in relationships, or just in life in general, when someone feels like a failure, that can damage them emotionally. 

When someone thinks that they have failed at a lot of things in life, then they can internalize it so much that they actually define themselves as “a failure.” It can become their identity. It makes them feel worthless and useless. And obviously, this is a form of emotional damage. [Read: Feeling like a failure? How to find your will and change your mindset]

7. Loneliness and solitude

Most people need human interaction. So, if someone has gone a lot of time without talking to others, then it becomes difficult to reestablish contact with them and/or meet new people. When this happens, a person might think that no one cares about them at all.

Over time, this can spiral into a big problem. It’s like a snowball effect. The more someone isolates themselves, the less likely they are to engage in social interaction. And this just leads to more emotional damage.

How to tell if you’re emotionally damaged

If you’re wondering why you can never be fully at ease or happy in any of your relationships, it could have something to do with the fact that you’ve been hurt so badly in the past that it has scarred you in a way that has affected those aspects of your life. [Read: How to hone and increase your positive emotions in a negative world]

You may be clueless as to how you’re emotionally damaged. These are the best ways to tell if you’re emotionally damaged and how you can try and move forward from the pain.

1. Someone lost your trust in a big way

Somewhere along the way, whether it was your boyfriend/girlfriend, a close friend, or even a family member, someone took your trust and crushed it like an empty beer can. This makes it even harder for you to let people in and trust them, because of your emotional damage.

2. You find yourself comparing your new love interest to the person who wronged you

A sign that you’re emotionally damaged is when you compare someone new that you’re seeing to an ex that may have done you wrong. Their actions left a pit in you, and now the lessons that ex taught you are transferred on to new potential lovers. [Read: Easy ways to stop comparing your new guy to your ex]

3. You keep people at arm’s length

Much like you don’t trust people, you also don’t let people get to know you. This sign of emotional damage stems from someone using personal habits, quirks, or bits of your personality and using them to hurt you, e.g. bullying.

4. You constantly compare yourself to others

Having low self-esteem and comparing yourself to other people is a surefire way to tell if you’re emotionally damaged. Someone once made you feel inadequate, and now you actually believe that you’re not good enough, and you just don’t measure up. [Read: Build your self-esteem – 35 funny questions to ask yourself]

5. Anger creeps into you over almost nothing

One of the side effects of being emotionally damaged is you’re always on edge; meaning you get angered very quickly over the littlest things. This is because, subconsciously, you feel so defensive, and you feel the need to protect yourself from further damage.

6. Anxiety is often present when meeting new people

If meeting new people—whether they could be friends, acquaintances, or potential lovers—puts you in full-on panic mode, you can tell. You just don’t know if you can go through with meeting new people and risk being put through any kind of pain again.

7. You had a traumatic breakup

Chances are if you’ve had a traumatic breakup of any kind, you’re going to be emotionally damaged. Breakups hurt, and that pain has a way of leaving scars. No matter how the breakup happened, if it was a bad one then you’re definitely emotionally damaged in some form or another. [Read: How your self-respect affects you and the relationships you have]

8. You were hurt horribly for a very long time

Speaking of breakups, if it hurt you for a prolonged time, or if any other life event left you in pieces under your bed’s comforter for weeks on end, there is emotional damage. No matter where the pain came from, the fact it was there for so long will leave an imprint.

9. Your friends tell you that you have issues

Other people can see your problems more than you can. If your friends are telling you that you have problems when it comes to getting close to people or coping in social situations, chances are that you really do.

10. You feel depressed

Depression can sometimes be genetic, but it can also stem from other issues in your life. If you’ve never felt depressed before but you are suddenly feeling that way, it’s a sign of emotional damage.

11. You feel better off alone

Nobody is better off alone. The great thing about being a human is we crave other human interactions. If you’re feeling like you don’t need anybody or that you’re better off not being involved with anyone for your own good, it’s a subtle sign that you’re dealing with emotional damage. [Read: Abandonment issues and how it affects your relationships]

12. You abuse substances

Substance abuse of any kind is always an indicator of something wrong psychologically. If you find yourself looking for alcohol or other substances to numb some pain or make things easier for you, you are emotionally damaged.

Getting past emotional damage

Much like it’s nearly impossible to remove scarring after a physically traumatic event, it’s almost the same for emotional damage. You’re left with scars that are more than just skin deep, and it will take time and effort to mend them—notice I didn’t say *heal* because you will never be 100% recovered.

Here are a few ways you can work past the emotional damage and have a fresh start.

1. Spend time working on yourself

Go to the gym, get your hair done, buy yourself some new sneakers, and do SOMETHING that will give your mood and self-esteem a boost. Spending time focusing on bettering yourself will help you get over that pain. [Read: Powerful steps to change your life and find your happiness overnight]

2. Talk to someone

One way to heal those emotional scars is to talk to someone about them. Letting out those feelings and some of the pain by talking to someone you trust is a good way to start moving beyond your heartache.

3. Know you’re not alone

When someone is emotionally damaged, they can feel like they’re the only person in the world going through that pain. The truth is many people have problems with certain aspects of their emotions, and you’re not the only one feeling pain. That thought can help ease some anxiety.

4. Try to keep the past where it should be—in the past

It’s not exactly your fault when you start getting angry at new people for past people’s wrongdoings. However, try to keep what happened in the past in the past. [Read: How to stop ruminating – 18 ways to leave your past and be present]

5. Avoid drugs and alcohol

Alcohol and drug use seem to accompany emotional damage in some people. If you’re feeling any of the above signs of emotional damage, stay away from these until you’re feeling well enough to handle it.

6. Don’t play the blame game

Sometimes you’ll want to blame someone for your pain. And while it may be their fault, blaming them for so long will only prolong the damage and make it harder to heal. Forgive.

7. Realize it takes time

You won’t feel better overnight. That’s a fact. It will take months, and even years, to feel back to normal, and even then, the pain doesn’t go away completely. But that emotional damage is what makes you who you are, and that’s something you should never want to change completely.

[Read: Happy things you need for a perfectly happy life]

Being emotionally damaged is NOT a bad thing. It just means you’ve been through a little more than other people in your life and can still come out strong. This is how to know if you fall under that category.

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Carol Morgan LP
Dr. Carol Morgan
Dr. Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. As a relationship and succes...