What is Emotional Abuse?
Emotional abuse is the repeated use of controlling and harmful behaviors by a person to control another. As a result of emotional abuse, a person lives their life in fear and repeatedly alters their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and denies his/her needs, to avoid further abuse.
Tactics of Emotional Abuse
It is impossible to create a complete list of the tactics that are used by abusive people to control their partners. The following list represents the most reported forms of abuse by those who are or have been in an emotionally abusive relationship. When speaking with victims, it is also helpful to determine whether the acts are of a repeated and ongoing nature, or isolated incidents.
- Criticizes her/him; tells them they are stupid, fat or ugly or calls them names.
- Tells them that no one else would want them or that they could not make it on their own.
- Makes racist comments about their cultural background.
- Criticizes their spiritual beliefs.
- Plays mind games with them; lies to them or recreates events.
- Refuses to talk to them for long periods of time - silent treatment.
- Shames or humiliates them if they need their partner to take care of physical needs related to a disability.
- Abuser denies their actions or minimizes them.
- Abuser tells their partner that all the problems in the relationship are their fault.
Isolation and Neglect
- Interferes with relationships with family, friends or co-workers.
- Makes accusations of infidelity.
- Interrogates them about their whereabouts and the people they talk to.
- Prevents them from interacting with their faith community.
- Refuses to allow them to go to work, school or other independent activities.
- Does not allow them to take classes.
- Denies basic needs, such as food or hygiene.
- Refuses to provide necessary medical care or assistance.
- Refuses to allow additional help in the home to take care of their medical needs.
- Threatens to deport their partner if they do not stay in the relationship.
- The abuser threatens to kill themself.
- Threatens to take the children away.
- The abuser threatens to harm or kill them, their children, family, friends, farm animals, or pets.
- Destroys or throws out things that are important to them.
- Slams doors, punchs holes in walls, pulls phone out of the wall, or other violent actions.
- Yells at their partner or does not allow them to speak.
- Takes away necessary medical care or assistance.
- The abuser insists that their partner have sex with them in whatever manner they want and whenever they want.
- Threatens to have affairs, or accuse her/him of having affairs if she/he does not have sex.
- Withholds sex in a malicious way, to punish or make their partner feel bad about themselves.
- Does not allow their partner any access to financial resources.
- Makes them account for every penny spent.
- Denies the opportunity to work outside of the home.
Impact of Emotional Abuse
You may be able to identify that a person is being emotionally abused by their behaviors and the ways they have been impacted by the abuse. One constant for those who abused is fear. In addition to the indicators listed below, there are two key questions used to access if a person is being emotionally abused:
- Do they indicate that they are fearful of negative reprisals from their partner if they do not do what their partner wants?
- Do they alter their behavior, preferences or choices as a result of this fear?
How They Present Their Partner or Relationship
- Do they seem to be unable to make a decision independent of their partner?
- Are they quick to defend their partner from any criticism or make excuses for their partner’s behavior? Does she/he minimize his/her behavior or the impact?
- Do they take responsibility for making things better in the relationship?
- Do they seem fearful of doing anything that might make their partner upset?
How They Present Themselves
- Have you noticed that she/he is becoming less confident and less able to speak for themselves?
- Are they quick to put themselves down or discount positive feedback?
- Does she/he always take the blame for things, especially anything to do with the relationship?
- Are they having difficulty sleeping and feel repeatedly tired?
- Do they report feeling anxious all of the time and appear jumpy?
- Are they depressed or suicidal?
- If they have a chronic illness or disability, does it seem to be getting worse?
- Is she/he developing health problems that are related to stress?
- Are they using drugs or alcohol to cope?
- Do they sometimes say they feel like they are going crazy?
Level of Isolation/Independence
- Are there any sources of support outside of the relationship?
- Has she/he quit or pulled out of work, school or other social activities?
- Does the partner always accompany them to appointments?
- Has their partner relocated them away from family, friends or job?
- Does she/he have access to money?
- If they have a disability, does their partner insist that she/he needs no one but them to help?