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Emotional Abuse Counts As Domestic Violence. Here's Why.

In recent weeks, the media has been riveted by the “drama” between Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, which is playing out on social media. After filing for divorce in February 2021, Kim has been subjected to increasing attacks from Kanye— including demands for his fans to harass her current boyfriend,, sharing screenshots of their communications on various platforms, and sending her a truck full of roses while proclaiming his undying love for her. The conversation around the Kardashian-West divorce has been contentious, with some claiming that this is just a public relations issue and others arguing that Kim knew what she was signing up for when she married Kanye. Others have acknowledged that what he is doing is a form of emotional abuse.

The reactions to the Kim and Kanye news is driven, in part, by our pre-existing beliefs about these two famous and polarizing people. It also shows how little we understand about emotional abuse.

There is a common misconception about domestic violence that it must include some type of physical abuse. While physical violence is often present in abusive relationships, that isn’t always the case. As demonstrated by the power and control wheel, domestic violence can take many forms — including physical violence, sexual assault, stalking, and emotional abuse.

Power and Control Wheel: a circle divided into 8 sections. Each section contains information about types of behaviors that are part of a pattern of asserting power and control. The sections include using emotional abuse, using coercion and threats, economic abuse, intimidation, using privilege, using children, denying, minimizing and blaming, and using isolation. Each wedge of the circle includes descriptions of specific behaviors.

At its core, domestic violence is about power and control. As the power and control wheel demonstrates, it can involve physical violence, sexual assault, stalking, and/or emotional abuse. The key is that the person who abuses is using these tactics as a way to establish and assert power and control over their victim.

Emotional abuse happens in some form in all abusive relationships. It is always present because it is an effective way for a person who abuses to gain power and control over their victim. Common forms of emotional abuse may include:

  • Name-calling and derogatory nicknames

  • Insulting your character

  • Yelling

  • Patronizing comments

  • Giving direct orders

  • Making all of the decisions

  • Making threats

  • Embarrassing you in public

  • Controlling your access to finances

  • Being dismissive

  • Monitoring your whereabouts

  • Denying the abuse

  • Isolating you from your friends and family

  • Preventing you from socializing

  • Pushing your buttons

  • Acting like they are just joking if you object to something they said

  • Insulting your appearance

  • Acting helpless to get you to do something for them

  • Belittling your accomplishments

  • Blackmailing you emotionally

  • Being unpredictable

  • Lecturing you

  • Putting down your interests

  • Using the silent treatment

  • Spying on you digitally

  • Withholding affection to control you

  • Gaslighting

  • Having frequent outbursts

  • Walking out

  • Acting jealous

  • Using guilt to get you to do something

  • Trivializing your concerns

  • Blaming you for their problems

  • Destroying your possessions

  • Dehumanizing you

  • Invalidating you

When this behavior becomes a pattern (as opposed to an isolated incident), it is considered emotional and/or psychological abuse. Importantly, even if abuse never escalates into physical or sexual violence, it is still domestic violence. It is still incredibly damaging and harmful.

In the short-term, emotional abuse can lead to feelings of confusion, fear, hopelessness, and shame. It can make it hard to concentrate, and may cause nightmares, moodiness, muscle tension, aches and pains, and a racing heartbeat.

In the long-term, emotional abuse can cause low self-esteem and depression at rates that are just as high as for physical abuse. It has also been linked with anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia, feelings of guilt, and social withdrawal. It may also cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

While the effects of emotional abuse can be serious, there is help. Therapy and counseling can help victims and survivors process what happened to them and to move forward with their lives. At Blackburn Center, we offer trauma-informed services, including counseling and therapy, to all victims and survivors of abuse, violence, and crime. All of our services for victims are provided free of charge.

As with other forms of domestic violence, emotional or psychological abuse is never the victim’s fault. The only person who is responsible for any type of abuse is the individual who chooses to engage in this behavior. This is true regardless of whether the person who abuses has underlying mental health conditions, substance abuse disorder, or even a history of trauma.

If you need help, we are here for you. Call anytime at 1-888-832-2272 (TDD available). Calls to our hotline are free of charge and can be anonymous.


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