Abuse comes in many different forms, abuse is not just physical but emotional as well. Sometimes as an
individual we fail to realize that we are being subjected to emotional abuse and the abuser fails to realize
that they are abusing someone emotionally.
What is emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse is any kind of abuse that is emotional rather than physical in nature. It can include
anything from verbal abuse and constant criticism to more subtle tactics, such as intimidation,
manipulation, and refusal to ever be pleased.
Emotional abuse is like brain washing in that it systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence,
sense of self-worth, trust in their own perceptions, and self-concept. Whether it is done by constant
berating and belittling, by intimidation, or under the guise of “guidance,” “teaching,” or “advice,” the
results are similar. Eventually, the recipient of the abuse loses all sense of self and remnants of personal
Widely recognized signs of emotional abuse include:
Rejecting or denying a person’s value or presence and communicating devaluing thoughts and feelings to
Degrading, ridiculing, insulting or name-calling to lessen the self-worth and dignity of another person.
Examples include humiliating someone in public as if he or she is not capable of making decisions.
Isolating, physically confining or limiting another’s freedoms. These restricting behaviours include
denying a person contact with others and controlling someone else’s financial affairs.
Exploiting someone’s personal rights and social needs or using another person for profit or advantage.
Enticing someone into illegal activities for financial gain (drug selling, prostitution) is an example of
Detaching and denying emotional care or affection. Shunning a person’s efforts to interact or neglecting
someone’s mental health needs are forms of this type of psychological abuse. 1 Although emotional abuse
can occur on its own, all types of abuse involve some form of emotional abuse. Similar to other forms of
relationship violence, emotional abuse happens most often to individuals with the least power and
resources. Over time, emotional abuse brainwashes the victim. According to the National Coalition
Against Domestic Violence, it is clear that for many, emotional abuse is even more devastating than
Emotional abuse tears at a person’s self-esteem and can greatly impair psychological development and
social interaction. Emotional abuse can manifest itself in social withdrawal, severe anxiety, fearfulness,
depression, physical complaints, avoidance of eye contact, self-blame and substance abuse
Are You Abusive to Yourself?
Often we allow people into our lives who treat us as we expect to be treated. If we feel contempt for
ourselves or think very little of ourselves, we may pick partners or significant others who reflect this
image back to us. If we are willing to tolerate negative treatment from others, or treat others in negative
ways, it is possible that we also treat ourselves similarly. If you are an abuser or a recipient, you may
want to consider how you treat yourself. What sorts of things do you say to yourself? Do thoughts such as
“I’m stupid” or “I never do anything right” dominate your thinking? Learning to love and care for
ourselves increases self-esteem and makes it more likely that we will have healthy, intimate relationships.
Basic Rights in a Relationship
If you have been involved in emotionally abusive relationships, you may not have a clear idea of what a
healthy relationship is like. The following are basic rights in a relationship for you and your partner:
The right to good will from the other.
The right to emotional support.
The right to be heard by the other and to be responded to with courtesy.
The right to have your own view, even if your partner has a different view.
The right to have your feelings and experience acknowledged as real.
The right to clear and informative answers to questions that concern what is legitimately your
The right to live free from accusation and blame.
The right to live free from criticism and judgment.
The right to encouragement.
The right to live free from emotional and physical threat.
The right to be called by no name that devalues you.
The right to be respectfully asked rather than ordered.
What Can You Do?
Educate yourself about emotionally abusive relationships.
Take responsibility. You have played a role in setting up the relationship this way, and you must
play a role in changing it. Telling your partner that the treatment is unacceptable is not enough.
Change your own routine or behavior, and tell your partner you will no longer take the abuse.
Relationships are always up for renegotiation. You need to sit down with your partner, look
him/her in the eyes, and tell him/her that you are taking a stand. You will not stay in the
relationship if the abuse continues.
Watch yourself to make sure you don’t fall back into the victim role
Consider seeing a mental health professional. A counselor can help you understand the impact of
an emotionally abusive relationship. A counselor can also help you learn healthier ways of
relating to others and caring for your own needs.
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