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  • Writer's pictureIsabella Maire

Emotional Abuse

sad woman in street emotional abuse

What is emotional abuse? 

According to the American Psychological Association, emotional abuse is defined as "… a pattern of behavior in which one person deliberately and repeatedly subjects another to nonphysical acts that are detrimental to behavioral and affective functioning and overall mental well-being"1. It is synonymous with psychological abuse, and there is no clear distinction between the two, but for the purpose of this article, both will be referred to as emotional abuse.

Emotional abuse is done to either control, frighten, or isolate another person. 2 We commonly hear about it being done between partners in a romantic relationship, but it's important to recognize that it can happen in any type of relationship including familial, friendships, and even work relationships.

No matter where it happens, emotional abuse is just as serious as physical abuse. These patterns of behavior should never be taken lightly. Emotional abuse also tends to be foundational for other forms of abuse. 


How do I know if I am being emotionally abused?

Emotional abuse occurs in a variety of ways. Remember that it is done to control, frighten, or isolate another person. Some signs that you may be experiencing emotional abuse include:

  • Yelling at you 

  • Name-calling and demeaning you

  • Trying to control you, your actions, and your time 

  • Gaslighting 

  • Displaying extreme jealousy 

  • Embarrassing or humiliating you in public 

  • Seeing you as inferior 

In romantic relationships, it can include all of the above-mentioned signs and also:

  • Being critical of your appearance 

  • Monitoring your whereabouts and stalking you 

  • Prohibiting you from spending time with the opposite/preferred gender 

  • Threatening to leave the relationship during arguments 

  • Blaming you for their unhealthy behaviors/patterns 

  • Accusing you of cheating constantly 

It is also important to be aware of more subtle signs, which include: 

  • Frequent sarcasm 

  • Constantly judging your perspective without trying to understand you 

  • Telling you how you should really feel 

Remember that this can occur in every type of relationship. Also, emotional abuse is characterized by patterns of behaviors, not just isolated incidents. If you want to learn more about signs of an emotionally abusive relationship, visit these websites. 

How does emotional abuse affect the victim? 

Emotional abuse is harder to detect among victims because it doesn’t leave physically visible scars as physical abuse would leave. Often, the effects are more emotional and psychological. They can leave the victim feeling hurt, powerless, and even traumatized. 2 Some effects are short-term while others can persist for longer periods of time. Here are a couple of consequences that might result from being a victim:

  • Believing that you deserve the abuse 

  • Lower self-esteem 

  • Feeling like you’re losing yourself

  • Lower confidence 

  • Anxiety 

  • Depression 

If you recognize some of these symptoms in yourself, it may be time to consider reaching out for professional help. No matter the symptoms, recovery is possible over time and with the help of professionals. 

Sad man next to lake emotional abuse

Do men suffer from emotional abuse? 

In a study published by the National Library of Medicine, results showed that young men were the most common victims of emotional abuse. 3 With more resources and education regarding abuse being available to women, and greater involvement from law enforcement to detect and prevent abuse, rates of emotional abuse have actually gone down for women, but have also increased for men. 

This means that emotional abuse doesn’t affect just one gender. It can happen to anyone and there is no shame if you have ever been a victim of abuse. Every person’s experience is valid and should be treated as such. 

Especially among men, greater emphasis should be made in learning about the signs of emotional abuse. Given that men tend to share their emotions less, they could be at risk of long-term effects of abuse. Men’s mental health matters! 

How do I heal from emotional abuse? 

Healing and recovery is always possible for anyone that has been a victim of abuse. It will take time and a lot of patience with yourself, but you can choose to move past all the hurt that you have suffered. 

It starts by recognizing that the abuser will most likely never change without any professional help and realizing that the abuse is not your fault.4 Often the best thing to do is leave the environment in which you are being abused. In cases of emotional abuse at work, including your human resources department will be the best protocol. It may also mean setting boundaries with the other person, not only to stop them, but also as a way of showing yourself the needed respect that you deserve. 

Whatever you decide, make sure you reach out for professional help. Meeting with a therapist can provide you with a safe space to process all the trauma and negative emotions that you may be experiencing as a result of the abuse. A therapist will never tell you what to do, but they can help you in setting goals and making plans in order to leave the place/person of abuse, recover and heal from it, and also teach you how to set boundaries so it doesn’t happen again. 

It may also be a good idea to look through your local laws in order to see if law enforcement can help in protecting you.5 In cases where the abuser doesn’t leave you alone even after leaving them, obtaining help from the law will add an extra measure of security in certain cases. 

Woman at beach recovering from emotional abuse

Reach out 

If you or anyone else you know is a victim to emotional abuse, please reach out for professional help. More often than not, victims feel so powerless and full of shame that reaching out for help is the last thing they think about doing, so you may be able to help someone out. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a great place to start in order to receive help.


You can call them at 1-800-787-3224 or text “START” at 88788. You can also visit their website for more resources.

We do not advise you to ever confront the abuser as this can often escalate the situation in which a victim is in. 


This blog was written by Alessandro Gemio, edited by Izzy Maire, and reviewed/approved by Taylor Madsen, LMFT, and Hailey Maire, LCSW. 

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