A person is ‘emotionally reactive’ when he responds very quickly with very strong emotion – essentially an uncontrolled or ‘excessive’ emotional response. Some men can use less painful emotions, such as anger, to mask the experience of more painful ones like sadness or grief. Being angry, or close to anger, all the time, can lead to a ‘rush’ like those described above and can be psychologically addictive. Other emotions – for example, depression or despair – can sometimes be used in the same way.
Some clinicians consider depression a strategy for conserving resources and protecting deep emotions. If depression goes on for a long time after the abuse has stopped, it can become difficult to move on from it; this can be particularly so if the person stuck in the depression has a lot of negative judgments about it (“I should just get over it”, “I should be achieving more” etc.).
Avoidance and phobias
Avoiding activities, people, or places which remind the survivor of the abuse. The short-term benefit of this is obvious. In the longer term, the survivor’s life will become more and more confined – especially since phobias tend to grow to encompass broader and broader situations over time.
The ‘hypervigilant’ person is always alert for, and expecting, something dangerous to happen. It creates a heightened sense of anxiety and ‘jumpiness’, and may also contribute to difficulty sleeping, lack of concentration, and irritability. Hypervigilance is a good strategy for avoiding real danger such as abuse, but once the abuse is no longer happening, it can lead to a very anxious life, or seeing threats where there are none.
Flashbacks, nightmares, other intrusive memories
‘Flashbacks’ are memories of past trauma which feel like it is happening again in the present. Some clinicians believe that intrusive memories, whether experienced waking or in dreams, are attempts by the mind to begin processing the feelings related to the trauma. Often survivors will need professional help to move past this point.