When people think about domestic violence, the image that likely comes to mind is one of a physically battered person — bruises, broken bones, or worse. While physical violence is often an element of abusive relationships, emotional or verbal abuse is possibly more prevalent — and damaging in its own very significant ways.
Emotional abuse can include a wide variety of behaviors — everything from insulting and humiliating a partner to threatening or intimidating her*. An emotional abuser may use technology to monitor his partner, and may isolate his partner from family or friends. Examples of emotionally abusive behavior include telling a partner what to do and what to wear, blaming a partner for their own actions, threatening suicide to prevent a partner from leaving, calling names or putting a partner down, yelling and screaming, threatening to expose a partner’s secrets or to have children taken away, and preventing a partner from seeing or talking with family and friends. Even if no one in the relationship is ever physically harmed, emotional abuse is still abuse. Like all forms of abuse, emotional abuse is based on power and control. It can occur alone, or in combination with other types of abuse.
Even without physical violence, a relationship can be unhealthy or abusive. Emotional or verbal abuse causes emotional pain and scarring, and it can ultimately lead to physical violence. The abused partner often believes what her abuser says — that she is stupid, ugly, or fat, and that the abuse is all her fault. After being subjected to a constant barrage of criticism, a victim of emotional abuse may believe that she doesn’t deserve better — that nobody else would ever want her. And so she stays, and often blames herself for the abuse. This type of abuse can severely damage a person’s sense of self-worth and perception, and can lead to depression and other mental health issues. It can make a person feel helpless and alone.
Because there is not a single definition of what constitutes emotional abuse, and because this type of abuse isn’t often reported, we do not know just how common it is. We do know that its effects can be profoundly damaging and can last a lifetime — which is why it is so important that we recognize this form of abuse and work to end it. If you want to help us to end emotional abuse, start by learning more about domestic violence. Then you can take the pledge to prevent gender violence, and make a commitment in your own life to not be emotionally or verbally abusive. As always, if you would like to support Blackburn Center in its mission, you can donate to or volunteer for our organization!
*Although we are using feminine pronouns for this post to make it more readable, we recognize that domestic violence, including emotional abuse, can happen to women AND men.