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What is emotional abuse?

If you feel scared or confused around your partner, or doubt yourself when you’re talking with them, you may be experiencing emotional abuse. An emotional abuser’s goal is to undermine another person’s feelings of self-worth and independence. In an emotionally abusive relationship, you may feel that there is no way out or that without your partner you’ll have nothing. Emotional abuse is a form of domestic and family violence.

If you feel you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship, there are a number of things you can do to get support. It’s important to know that if you’ve been affected by emotional abuse, it’s not your fault and it’s never acceptable. You have the right to feel safe, respected and supported in your relationships.

What is emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse can feel as destructive and damaging as physical abuse, and can severely impact your mental health. It’s often used as a way to maintain power and control over someone.

Emotional abuse may be accompanied by other kinds of abuse: sexual, financial or physical. However, it doesn’t need to include other kinds of abuse to count as abuse; it’s serious enough on its own to be a concern.

Types of emotional abuse

Emotional abuse can involve any of the following:

  • Verbal abuse: yelling at you, insulting you or swearing at you.
  • Rejection: Constantly rejecting your thoughts, ideas and opinions.
  • Gaslighting: making you doubt your own feelings and thoughts, and even your sanity, by manipulating the truth. For more information on how gaslighting works, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
  • Put-downs: calling you names or telling you that you’re stupid, publicly embarrassing you, blaming you for everything. Public humiliation is also a form of social abuse.
  • Causing fear: making you feel afraid, intimidated or threatened.
  • Isolation: limiting your freedom of movement, stopping you from contacting other people (such as friends or family). It may also include stopping you from doing the things you normally do – social activities, sports, school or work. Isolating someone overlaps with social abuse.
  • Financial abuse: controlling or withholding your money, preventing you from working or studying, stealing from you. Financial abuse is another form of domestic violence.
  • Bullying and intimidation: purposely and repeatedly saying or doing things that are intended to hurt you.

The impact of emotional abuse

Physical violence is often seen as being more serious than emotional abuse, but this simply isn’t true. The scars of emotional abuse are real and long-lasting. As well as having a negative impact on your self-esteem and confidence, emotional abuse can leave you feeling depressed, anxious or even suicidal.

Getting support

If you’re experiencing emotional abuse, it’s important that you seek help. There are a number of services you can contact if you need someone to talk to.

Check out Domestic violence and what you can do about it for information on things to consider when dealing with domestic violence, including where to go to make sure you’re safe, and the kinds of support you can access: legal, financial and medical.

Most importantly, if you feel afraid or believe you might be in danger, contact the emergency services (000) immediately.

You can also use ReachOut NextStep, an anonymous online tool that will recommend relevant support options for you.

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