What is Emotional Abuse?
There is no universally accepted definition of emotional abuse. Like other forms of violence in relationships, emotional abuse is based on power and control. The following are widely recognized as forms of emotional abuse:
Rejecting - refusing to acknowledge a person's presence, value, or worth; communicating to a person that she or he is useless or inferior; devaluing her/his thoughts and feelings.
Degrading - insulting, ridiculing, name calling, and imitating; behavior which diminishes the identity, dignity, and self-worth of the person. Examples: yelling, swearing, publicly humiliating or labeling a person as stupid; mimicking a person's disability; treating a person as if she or he cannot make decisions.
Terrorizing - inducing terror or extreme fear in a person; coercing by intimidation; placing or threatening to place a person in an unfit or dangerous environment. Examples: threatening to leave, physically hurt or kill a person, pets or people she/he cares about; threatening to destroy a person's possessions; threatening to have a person deported or put in an institution; stalking.
Isolating - physical confinement; restricting normal contact with others; limiting freedom within a person's own environment. Examples: excluding a person from participating in decisions about her or his own life; locking a person in a closet or room alone; refusing a female partner or senior access to her or his own money and financial affairs; withholding contact with grandchildren; depriving a person of mobility aids or transportation.
Corrupting/Exploiting - socializing a person into accepting ideas or behavior which oppose legal standards; and using a person for advantage or profit.
Denying Emotional Responsiveness - failing to provide care in a sensitive and responsive manner; being detached and uninvolved; interacting only when necessary; ignoring a person's mental health needs.
- Emotional abuse accompanies other forms of abuse, but also may occur on its own.
- No abuse -- neglect, physical, sexual or financial -- can occur without psychological consequences. Therefore, all abuse contains elements of emotional abuse.
- Emotional abuse follows a pattern; it is repeated and sustained. If left unchecked, abuse does not get better over time. It only gets worse.
- Like other forms of violence in relationships, those who hold the least power and resources in society, for example, women and children, are most often emotionally abused.
- Emotional abuse can severely damage a person's sense of self-worth and perception.
Emotional Abuse Is Difficult To Identify Because:
- in comparison to other forms of abuse, its effects have only recently been recognized;
- there are no consistent definitions and it is hard to define;
- it is difficult to detect, assess, and substantiate; and
- many cases of emotional abuse go unreported.
FACTS TO CONSIDER
Many women in physically abusive relationships feel that the emotional abuse is more severely debilitating than the physical abuse in the relationship.
Repeated verbal abuse such as blaming, ridiculing, insulting, swearing, yelling, and humiliation has long-term negative effects on a woman's self-esteem and contributes to feelings of uselessness, worthlessness, and self-blame.
Threatening to kill or physically harm a female partner, her children, other family members, or pets establishes dominance and coercive power on the part of the abuser. The female partner feels extreme terror, vulnerability, and powerlessness within the relationship. This type of emotional abuse can make an abused woman feel helpless and isolated.
Jealousy, possessiveness, and interrogation about whereabouts and activities are controlling behaviors that can severely restrict a female partner's independence and freedom. Social and financial isolation may leave her dependent upon the abuser for social contact money and the necessities of life.
Emotional abuse can have serious physical and psychological consequences for women, including severe depression, anxiety, persistent headaches, back and limb problems, and stomach problems. Women who are psychologically abused but not physically abused are five times more likely to misuse alcohol than women who have not experienced abuse.
We do know that senior emotional abuse and neglect can be personal or systemic and that it occurs in a variety of relationships and settings, including abuse by:
- a partner,
- adult children or other relatives,
- unrelated, formal or informal caregivers, or
- someone in a position of trust.
Detecting Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse may be difficult to detect. However, personal awareness and understanding of the issue is key to recognizing it. The following indicators may assist in detecting emotional abuse.
Possible Indicators of Emotional Abuse and Neglect
- low self-esteem
- severe anxiety
- feelings of shame and guilt
- frequent crying
- overly passive/compliant
- social isolation
- substance abuse
- delay or refusal of medical treatment
- discomfort or nervousness
- avoidance of eye contact
- suicide attempts or discussion
- other forms of abuse present or suspected
What Can You Do?
If you are being abused, remember:
- You are not alone
- It is not your fault
- No one ever deserves to be abused
- Help is available
If You Suspect or Know that Someone Is Being Abused:
- Let the person know about available support services
- Report suspected or known child abuse or neglect to a child welfare agency or the police
Source: National Clearinghouse on Family Violence Information, provided by the SCSU Women's Center
For more information, please contact the Women's Center at (203) 392-6946.