Emotional abuse is the most common form of abuse and the major characteristic of unhealthy relationships. It underlies physical abuse, sexual abuse, bullying, dating violence, family violence, and all forms of human cruelty and unkindness.
With emotional abuse, the insults, insinuations, criticism, and accusations slowly eat away at the victim’s self-esteem until he or she is incapable of judging a situation realistically. He or she may begin to believe that there is something wrong with them or even fear they are losing their mind. They have become so beaten down emotionally that they blame themselves for the abuse. ― Beverly Engel, The Emotionally Abusive Relationship: How to Stop Being Abused and How to Stop Abusing
Emotional abuse ― also known as psychological abuse, verbal abuse, mental abuse, mental cruelty ― is the persistent pattern of controlling and manipulative behavior that impairs a person’s emotional health and self-worth.
Emotional abuse may be overt (through angry outbursts and name-calling) or covert (involving very subtle comments and behaviors, some even approaching what would be considered brainwashing). Here are some examples of emotional abuse:
- Belittling ― Disparaging comments; making what one said as unimportant or contemptibly small
- Countering and correcting ― Responding in opposition and pointing out errors and mistakes
- Put-downs disguised as jokes ― Making critical, dismissive, or slighting remarks in a joking, often sarcastic, way
- Teasing ― Harassing someone ‘playfully’ and often with sexual connotations, or harassing maliciously (especially by ridicule); provoking someone with persistent annoyances NOTE: If teasing is reciprocal, it can be considered a playful bonding interaction and is not abusive. If one or both persons are in a relationship, then this type of teasing with another is flirting and is emotionally abusive in its betrayal.
- Holding out ― Refusing to provide emotional support, share information, or otherwise be intimate in a relationship.
- Shutting down ― Changing the subject of a discussion (particularly if it is done rapidly), stopping an emotionally-uncomfortable discussion down entirely, and “forcing a discussion off-track”
- Blame-shifting ― Scapegoating or laying the responsibility of one’s actions on someone else (e.g., “It’s your fault,” “If only you were more/less _____,” “You’re just trying to pick a fight”)
- Fault-finding ― Relentless criticizing and correcting
- Intimidation ― Words or actions that threaten or imply harm or loss of something important; emotional blackmail
- Insulting and labeling ― Calling someone something pejorative; name-calling
- Selective memory ― Remembering only parts of an event or bringing up only negative aspects of a person; includes ‘forgetting’ and altering of facts to make himself/herself look good
- Commanding ― Issuing demands in a controlling or dominating way (as opposed to polite and respectful requests)
- Lashing out ― Angry attacks, yelling, screaming, raging, temper tantrums
Emotional abuse damages a child’s emotional development causing serious behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and mental disorders. According to Prevent Child Abuse America, emotional abuse can result in a lifelong pattern of depression, isolation, anxiety, unhealthy relationships, and/or a lack of empathy.
Andrew Vachss, an attorney who represents children and youth exclusively, with 30 years experience in child protective work, has found that emotional abuse of children can also lead in adulthood to addiction, rage, a severely damaged sense of self. and/or an inability to truly bond with others. Read Andrew Vachss’ excellent article, You Carry The Cure In Your Own Heart >>>
All people cross the line from childhood to adulthood with a secondhand opinion of who they are. Without any questioning, we take as truth whatever our parents and other influentials have said about us during our childhood, whether these messages are communicated verbally, physically, or silently. ― Heyward Bruce Ewart III, AM I BAD? Recovering From Abuse
Whether by a parent, sibling, teacher, youth sports coach, or other influential adult, and whether unintentional or deliberate, the effects of emotional abuse are traumatizing and long-lasting.
- Emotional Abuse Information for adults and teens about emotional abuse within relationships in the home, school, and society. Also see Invalidation >>>
- Emotional Abuse: The Hidden Form of Maltreatment Information from the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
- Emotional Abuse in Teen Dating Relationships: What Every Parent Needs to Know Almost all American teens say they have been emotionally and/or psychologically abused by a dating partner.
- Letters From The Unloved: The Hidden World of Teen Depression This free e-book helps show the link between emotional abuse, self-harm, and depression, especially among teenagers.
- Teasing: A Real Problem and Solutions Even though teasing is considered a type of bullying, teasing can range from an enjoyable to a hurtful interaction. Psychologists define teasing as an ambiguous message containing both humor and hostility.
- Verbal Abuse The biblical perspective that verbal abuse results from a world view that is not loving..
- You Are Not the Cause of Your Husband’s Anger or Abuse Angry and controlling husbands are very anxious by temperament. From the time they were young children, they’ve had a more or less constant sense of dread that things will go badly and they will fail to cope. So they try to control their environment to avoid that terrible feeling of failure and inadequacy.