The Effects of Emotional Abuse

What is emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse is a type of abuse that involves the emotional maltreatment of a child, youth, or adult. Emotional abuse is also termed psychological abuse or mental abuse. It is a form of abuse that affects your psyche - mental and emotional - without the physical abuse.

Emotional abuse is usually done in a very cunning and devious manner, and it may not be obvious to you especially if you had suffered from emotional abuse as a child and or adolescent. Emotional abuse can be difficult to identify due to its subtle nature and may even be looked at as a loving behavior. However, emotional abuse if far from a loving behavior. The abuser acts in a controlling and manipulative manner trying to intimidate, isolate, scare, or threaten the victim. 

Emotional abuse can also look like bullying, passive-aggressive behavior (e.g., backhanded compliments, sulking, refusal to communicate), and negging (dismissive and degrading comments that undermind self-confidence).


Gaslighting is also part of emotional abuse. It is a tactic to gain power and make the person question their reality. It's easy to get sucked into gaslighting because it is slow and progressive and, basically, you're swallowed up by it before you even know it.   

Emotional abuse wears you down slowly where eventually you begin to walk on eggshells and you doubt your self, your abilities, and your self-concept. The abuse is a critical aspect of intimate partner violence. 

Here are a few examples of emotional abuse. This definitely doesn't encompass them all:
  • The "unable to take a joke" when the joke is on you using sarcasm or mocking behavior.
  • Making patronizing comments.
  • Putting down your interests.
  • Infantizing you or acting as though they know what's best for you.
  • Deliberately putting you in an uncomfortable position such as locking you out of your home.
  • Telling you how you should feel. Dismissing your feelings.
  • Telling you that you are overreacting (to all of the examples I mentioned above).
  • Refusing to take responsibility for their actions even after you've made it clear about their behavior.
  • Monitoring your whereabouts and/or how often you check in.
  • Intimidating you to spend all of your time with them.
  • Withholding affecting or communication as a form of punishment.
  • Deliberately picking arguments.
  • Hiding or destroying your belongings.
Effects of Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse can lead to trauma which then shows up as post-traumatic stress disorder or complex post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Abusive relationships are definitely complex, but many of the victims are hit hard. Besides adapting a low self-concept, typically, they find maladaptive ways (e.g., alcohol, drugs, binge eating, smoking, shopping, gambling) to cope which further deteriorates their self-concept and self-worth. 

Emotional abuse can make you feel fearful, shameful, anxious, confused, depressed, and hopeless which can then lead to difficulty in concentrating, moodiness, ruminating thoughts, an elevated or maintained stress response (which can cause physical health issues such as heart disease), muscle tension, headaches, stomach (GI) issues, sleeping disorders, and chronic fatigue or chronic pain. Social withdrawal and loneliness are two long-term effects of emotional abuse which further complicates things.

I have been there and done them all, but I am here to say that you can get out of this vicious cycle.

If you need immediate support, please call your local authorities, safe houses, or 911.

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