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Symptoms of a Verbally and Emotionally Abusive Relationship

By Dr. Sonya Lott ; Updated June 13, 2017

Emotional abuse is not uncommon in intimate partner relationships. However, it is difficult to know just how prevalent it is because individuals don’t always recognize when they are experiencing emotional abuse. Emotional abuse violates the boundaries of a healthy relationship, one in which there is equality and respect and effective communication, according to the “Healthy Relationships” fact sheet on the Love Is Respect website. Individuals who don’t know what a healthy relationship is don’t recognize when someone has violated the boundaries of a relationship.

Effects of Emotional Abuse

Whether it is verbal or involves intimidation or controlling behaviors, the effects of abuse can be more devastating that physical abuse, according to the article, “Psychological Intimate Partner Violence: The Major Predictor of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Abused Women.” This study involved women who had experienced both physical and emotional abuse in an intimate relationship. One of the goals of the study was to determine the influence of each type of partner abuse, such as sexual, physical and emotional, on the experience of fear and other symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The study found that severe psychological abuse was associated with higher of levels of fear than physical abuse.

Verbal Insults

Yelling or cursing at you or calling you names such as “stupid” or “dumb” are examples of emotional abuse. Verbal forms of emotional abuse include things your partner may say things to try to inappropriately place blame on you. An example of this could be if someone said, “This is all your fault. I never should have listened to you in the first place!” In healthy relationships, partners respect each another and are not critical of one another, as stated in the “Healthy Relationships” fact sheet on the “Love Is Respect” website.

Controlling Behaviors

A common form of emotional abuse is for the abuser to attempt to isolate the partner from others, particularly loved ones. Controlling aspects of the partner’s life, such as where they work, who they socialize with or how they dress, are all forms of emotional abuse, according to the “Abuse Defined” fact sheet on The National Domestic Hotline website. If your partner insults you or gives you the silent treatment if you wear an attractive outfit or spend time out with friends, this is emotional abuse. It’s an attempt to punish you for doing something he doesn’t want you to do. Many believe that these types of behaviors are an indication of how much the abusive partner loves or wants to be with them, but this is not so. Controlling behaviors are based on the abuser’s insecurities.

Intimidating Behaviors

Threatening to harm your loved one or your pets is also emotionally abusive behavior. Saying something such as “Don’t be surprised if your dog isn’t breathing when you get back from your night of fun with friends,” is clearly intended to scare you and prevent you from going out. Destroying things, particularly the partner’s favorite possessions, is emotionally abusive behavior. For example, if you are an art lover and your partner slashes your wall paintings, it would be intimidating behavior. The abuser is trying to instill fear in you in an attempt to manipulate your behavior.

Seeking Help

Abusive relationships are difficult to break free from because the abusive partner may express guilt after or make excuses for emotionally abusive behavior, as indicated in the article, “Domestic Violence and Abuse,” from the HelpGuide website. The abusive partner will often act as if they are sorry for the behavior. Emotional abuse can escalate into physical abuse, particularly when the abused partner tries to leave, as indicated on the “Path to Safety” fact sheet on the “National Domestic Hotline“ website. An individual who is in an abusive relationship should always seek out the assistance of a counselor before leaving an abusive relationship, as they will be able to help you develop a safe plan for leaving. The National Domestic Hotline is an excellent resource for more information on emotional abuse, and offers ways to seek assistance.

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