Emotional Abuse: Definitions, Signs, Symptoms, Examples
Emotional abuse can happen to anyone at any time in their lives. Children, teens and adults all experience emotional abuse. And emotional abuse can have devastating consequences on relationships and all those involved. Just because there is no physical mark doesn't mean the abuse isn't real and isn't a problem or even a crime in some countries.
Definition of Emotional Abuse
One definition of emotional abuse is: "any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, infantilization, or any other treatment which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth."1
Emotional abuse is also known as psychological abuse or as "chronic verbal aggression" by researchers. People who suffer from emotional abuse tend to have very low self-esteem, show personality changes (such as becoming withdrawn) and may even become depressed, anxious or suicidal.
Emotional Abuse Signs and Symptoms
Emotional abuse symptoms vary but can invade any part of a person's life. Signs of emotional abuse include:
- Yelling or swearing (read about: Emotional Bullying)
- Name calling or insults; mocking
- Threats and intimidation
- Ignoring or excluding
- Denial of the abuse and blaming of the victim
Emotional abuse, like other types of abuse, tends to take the form of a cycle.2 In a relationship, this cycle starts when one partner emotionally abuses the other, typically to show dominance. The abuser then feels guilt, but not about what he (or she) has done, but more over the consequences of his actions. The abuser then makes up excuses for his own behavior to avoid taking responsibility over what has happened. The abuser then resumes "normal" behavior as if the abuse never happened and may, in fact, be extra charming, apologetic and giving – making the abused party believe that the abuser is sorry. The abuser then begins to fantasize about abusing his partner again and sets up a situation in which more emotional abuse can take place.
More information on: Dynamics of Emotional Abuse in Relationships.
Examples of Emotional Abuse
In some countries emotional abuse is defined and the following examples of emotional abuse are given by Justice Canada:
- Threats of violence or abandonment
- Intentionally frightening
- Making an individual fear that they will not receive the food or care they need
- Failing to check allegations of abuse against them
- Making derogative or slanderous statements about an individual to others
- Socially isolating an individual, failing to let them have visitors
- Withholding important information
- Demeaning an individual because of the language they speak
- Intentionally misinterpreting traditional practices
- Repeatedly raising the issue of death
- Telling an individual that they are too much trouble
- Ignoring or excessively criticizing
- Being over-familiar and disrespectful
- Unreasonably ordering an individual around; treating an individual like a servant or child
Last Updated: 26 May 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD