Emotional abuse is an often ignored form of domestic abuse. It can happen to anyone, young or old. Sometimes it is excused away as discipline. Sometimes it is at the hands of someone who wants to control his or her victim. Emotional abuse can be devastating to a person or to an entire family. Unfortunately, because it leaves no physical marks, allegations of emotional abuse are difficult to prove.
Definition of Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse can be defined as: “any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, infantilization, or any other treatment which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth.”
Emotional abuse can also be known as verbal abuse or psychological abuse. People who are victims of emotional abuse often have low self esteem. They may exhibit drastic personality changes, and may become depressed, anxious or suicidal.
Signs and Symptoms of Emotional Abuse
Do you suspect you are being emotionally abused? Here are some questions that may help you understand abusive behaviors:
- Do you feel that you can’t discuss with your partner what is bothering you?
- Does your partner frequently criticize you, humiliate you, or undermine your self-esteem?
- Does your partner ridicule you for expressing yourself?
- Does your partner isolate you from friends, family or groups?
- Does your partner limit your access to work, money or material resources?
- Has your partner ever stolen from you? Or run up debts for you to handle?
- Does your relationship swing back and forth between a lot of emotional distance and being very close?
- Have you ever felt obligated to have sex, just to avoid an argument about it?
- Do you sometimes feel trapped in the relationship?
- Has your partner ever thrown away your belongings, destroyed objects or threatened pets?
- Are you afraid of your partner?
Emotional abuse tends to occur in a cycle, much like other forms of abuse. In a relationship, this cycle starts when one partner emotionally abuses the other, typically to show dominance. The abuser then acts like he feels guilty about the abuse and makes up excuses for the behavior to avoid taking responsibility for the abuse. He may be extra nice or charming during this period of remorse. The victim may let her guard down during this period, thinking her abuser really is sorry for what happened. In time, the abuse starts again and the cycle continues.
Examples of Emotional Abuse
- Threats of violence or abandonment
- Intentionally frightening
- Making an individual fear that they will not receive the food or care they need
- Failing to check allegations of abuse against them
- Making derogative or slanderous statements about an individual to others
- Socially isolating an individual, failing to let them have visitors
- Withholding important information
- Demeaning an individual because of the language they speak
- Intentionally misinterpreting traditional practices
- Repeatedly raising the issue of death
- Telling an individual that they are too much trouble
- Ignoring or excessively criticizing
- Being over-familiar and disrespectful
- Unreasonably ordering an individual around; treating an individual like a servant or child