It can be called emotional abuse, psychological abuse, mental abuse, or verbal abuse; no matter what it’s called, it’s still a form of domestic violence. In fact, emotional abuse is considered the most common form of domestic violence, but doesn’t usually get discussed since it can sometimes be so subtle that we don’t even think twice about it.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states that:
48.4% of women and 48.8% of men have experienced at least one psychologically aggressive behavior by an intimate partner.
Both men and women are just as likely to be subjects of emotional abuse, especially while in a romantic relationship or in a marriage. However, emotional abuse can also occur in friendships, work relationships, and even between family members.
Emotional abuse is defined as a consistent pattern of abusive words and bullying behaviors that wear down a person’s self-esteem and undermine their mental health. The underlying goal in emotional abuse is to control the victim by discrediting, isolating, and silencing them. Someone who is emotionally abused is more likely to feel trapped in their current relationship, have lower self-esteem and difficulty trusting others, and experience depression, PTSD, and suicidal thoughts. No matter how subtle or overt, emotional abuse has the power to strip a person of their worth.
Emotional abuse is not breaking up with someone or arguing with someone–these are considered normal interactions in a relationship. The idea of controlling is what signals an abusive relationship, and the following signs are what you should look out for when deciding if your partner or parent or coworker or friend’s actions are abusive.
Humiliation, negating, and criticizing
- Name calling, derogatory pet names, character assassination, yelling, patronizing, public embarrassment, dismissiveness, “joking”, sarcasm, insults, belittling, put downs, and intentionally pushing buttons
Control and shame
- Threats, monitoring your location, digital spying, unilateral decision making, financial control, outbursts, direct orders, lecturing, treating you like a child, feigned helplessness, unpredictability, walking out, using others
Accusing, blaming, and denial
- Jealousy, turning the tables, denying something true (gaslighting), guilting, denying their abuse, accusing you of abuse, trivializing, blaming you for their problems or anything else, destroying and denying
Emotional neglect and isolation
- Demanding respect, shutting down communication, dehumanizing you, keeping you from socializing, coming between you and your family, withholding affection, tuning you out, turning others against you, calling you needy, interrupting, disputing your feelings, being indifferent
Gaslighting is to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity, and is incredibly common in emotional abuse cases. For example, you and your partner agree to meet up on Saturday. When you text them, they respond by saying it was Sunday, not Saturday. But you swear it was Saturday, and they even put it in your calendar as Saturday. While a tiny example of gaslighting, you are now questioning your memory and sanity.
When you call your abuser out, they may try to oppose you by challenging your perceptions, block you by avoiding the conversation with a topic change, discount, undermine, interrupt, or belittle you, and deny everything.
If you believe that you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, take action. It is never okay for anyone to verbally bully you and wear down your self worth. You can take steps to leave the relationship, set personal boundaries, not take responsibility for the abuse, and create a support network for yourself. Talk to someone you trust, like a parent, friend, counselor, pastor, or anyone else, about your situation and create a support network. Additionally, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or visit their website to start a live chat.3
Also published on Medium.