How to Identify and Address of Emotional Abuse

Published on: 06 May 2020
Clinically Reviewed by Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW

While you may not believe you are experiencing abuse if you are not being physically harmed, it’s quite possible that you are. Below we’ll explore what constitutes emotional abuse, the signs of emotional abuse, the effects of emotional abuse, and how you can find help.

What is the Definition of Emotional Abuse?

Emotional and verbal abuse involves another person’s efforts to insult, scare, isolate, and control you through persistent and unrelenting words and actions. An abuser can be a spouse or romantic partner, as well as a parent, caretaker, or even someone with whom you work, and often, it is far too easy to miss abusive behavior while you are living through it.

No matter the context, emotional abuse is never a victim’s fault, and understanding both the signs, as well as the resources available to escape the emotional abuse, is vital.

What are the Signs of Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse can be harsh and unrelenting, as an abuser’s tactics are intended to cut down a person’s self-esteem and increase their feelings of isolation.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, you may be experiencing emotional or verbal abuse if someone:

  • Demands to know what you are doing all the time and requires constant contact.
  • Wants passwords to your social media, phone, email, and other private platforms.
  • Threatens to call the authorities to report you for wrongdoing.
  • Acts extremely jealous and may regularly accuse you of infidelity.
  • Prevents and discourages you from seeing friends, family, and other loved ones.
  • Threatens to harm themselves when they are upset with you.
  • Tries to stop you from leaving the house to go to school and/or work.
  • Gets angry in a way that is frightening to you.
  • Has control over your finances and how you spend your money.
  • Stops you from going to the doctor.
  • Talks down and humiliates you in front of other people.
  • Calls you insulting names, such as “worthless” and “stupid.”
  • Threatens harm to you, those you care about, or your pets.
  • Says things like “if I can’t have you, no one can.”
  • Makes decisions for you that you should decide on your own.

What are the Effects of Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse follows the same cyclical pattern as that of physical abuse — it occurs when a partner uses a consistent pattern of behavior to maintain power and control over another partner in a relationship. This type of abuse can be just as painful as physical abuse, and although there may not be any visible marks left behind, the implications for your well-being can be just as damaging.

Staying in an emotionally or verbally abusive relationship can have long-lasting effects on your physical and mental health. Over time, you may experience chronic pain, depression and anxiety, as well as question the legitimacy of your own thoughts and motivations (known as gaslighting). In addition, you might begin to question your memory of events or even change your behavior for fear of upsetting your partner and wanting to restore or maintain the peace.

Other common effects of emotional abuse include:

  • Believing you are unwanted and unloved.
  • Feeling ashamed or guilty of the abuse.
  • Constantly experiencing fear and anxiety.
  • Feeling powerless and hopeless in your current situation.
  • A belief that you are being manipulated, used, and controlled.

How Do You Break the Cycle of Emotional Abuse?

When you feel something isn’t right in a relationship and believe you are being emotionally abused, trust your gut. Know that you do not have to live this way and support is always available. While your choices reflect the specifics of your situation, there are four general steps to take when ending and getting support for verbal or emotional abuse:

  1. Understand and accept that the abuse is not your responsibility to resolve.
  2. As much as possible, disengage with the abuser and begin to limit your exposure.
  3. Cut all ties to the relationship or circumstance wherever you are able.
  4. Seek support from loved ones and explore therapy options.

Therapy provides a victim with a place to vent, receive support, heal, and forgive — all necessary aspects to end, or recover from, emotional abuse. Online therapy can help to educate a person about the patterns of abusive behavior, as well as explore possible trauma that may contribute to the unhealthy relationship expectations.

If you believe something is not right in your relationship, and you may not be able to to confront the situation on your own, therapy can help. While a partner’s control may prevent one from seeking in-person care, online therapy can be a great option for privacy and safety.

For immediate support, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline — and if you are in an emergency situation, please call 911.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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