Emotional Abuse

“The scars from mental cruelty can be as deep and long-lasting as wounds from punches or slaps but are often not as obvious. In fact, even among women who have experienced violence from a partner, half or more report that the man’s emotional abuse is what is causing them the greatest harm.” ― Lundy Bancroft

Abuse in the dating world is defined as “a pattern of coercive behavior in which one person attempts to control another through threats or actual use of physical violence, sexual assault, and verbal or psychological abuse. These acts may include physical, sexual, verbal, mental or emotional abuse.” (Source: Safe Voices)

The statistics about domestic violence might shock you:

  • 33% of women and 25% of men will experience some form of physical violence within a relationship
  • Young women between the ages of 16-24 are at the highest risk (3x the national average) for domestic partner violence
  • One out of three high school students will experience dating violence before they graduate: nearly 1.5 million students each year
  • 33% of women killed in the United States are killed by a current/former boyfriend or husband
  • Dating abuse occurs at the same rate in homosexual relationships as it does in heterosexual relationships
  • 43% of college women report experiencing violence in their relationship; for 16% of these women, it’s been sexual abuse
  • 81% of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue
  • Though 82% of parents feel they could recognize the signs that their child was in an abusive relationship, studies show only 58% actually could
  • Only one out of three teens involved in an abusive relationship confided in someone about the violence

In other words, we all most likely know someone who has experienced some sort of abuse within a relationship.

Domestic violence is often disregarded, excused or denied, especially when the abuse is emotional rather than physical. Emotional can be just as damaging as physical abuse, sometimes even more so. The signs that emotional abuse is taking place within a relationship can be hard to detect as they differ between each individual. Emotional abuse indicators also fluctuate based on the person’s age, personality, and gender. While the signs and symptoms vary, some of the most common indicators are low self-confidence, anxiety, depression, having unusual fears, being unable to empathize with others as well as isolation from others. Some common behaviors that someone who is being abused engages in are the avoidance of eye contact, being overly aggressive or overly compliant, self-destructive behaviors or abuse of alcohol or other drugs.

Males tend to display more aggressive warning signs such as fighting, bullying, impulsive behaviors and being argumentative. Females tend to be more passive, compliant, anxious and seeking of approval. Emotional abuse can take place in any environment: at school, in the workplace, and within the home.

Here are some types of emotional abuse common in relationships:

  1. Isolation
    • “She’s an idiot, why are you friends with her?”
    • “I don’t like your parents, they can’t come over anymore.”
    • “I’m deleting all of the phone numbers of any men on your phone.”
  2. Peer pressure
    • “If you don’t do what I tell you, I’ll tell everyone your secret.”
  3. Rejection/name-calling
    • “You can’t-do that, you’re so stupid.”
    • “No one else will ever date you because you’re fat.”
  4. Social Status
    • “You can’t-do that job as well as a man, you’re just a woman!”
    • “The house better be clean before my coworkers get here tonight.”
  5. Intimidation
    • “Maybe if you shut up I wouldn’t have hit you.”
    • “If you tell anyone I hit you, I’ll just hurt your family too.”
  6. Minimize, deny, blame
    • “I didn’t push you on purpose, I was high.”
    • “Stop crying, I barely touched you.”
  7. Threats
    • “If you leave, I’ll kill myself.”
    • “If you cheat on me, you’ll never see your children again.”
  8. Sexual coercion
    • “If you loved me, you’d have sex with me.”
    • “I’m refuse to wear a condom.”

Are you a parent wondering if your teen/young adult in an abusive relationship? Some questions to ask yourself: Does your child have fewer friends now than before the relationship existed? Does your child’s partner constantly call or text, asking your child where they are and who they are with? Is your child’s partner providing advice about who your child should be friends with and how they should dress? Does your child stick up for their partner when you’ve questioned the partner’s words or behaviors?

Your child might not be discussing the abuse with you because they might be embarrassed, blame themselves or not even recognize that abuse is occurring. Allow your child an option to talk and avoid judging the situation. Educate yourself on abuse in teen relationships and domestic violence and offer to establish counseling for them to sort through this.

Are you worried about a friend’s relationship? The best thing you can do to help is believed them about what they are enduring, avoid blaming them for what is taking place and offer support and resources to them. Expressing your concern will let your friend know that you care and could possibly even save his/her life.

The Palo Alto Medical Foundation developed the following checklist:  If you answer yes to two or more of these questions, your friend may be in an abusive relationship: Does your friend show physical signs of injury? Is he or she doing worse in school, or has dropped out completely? Has he or she changed his or her personal style? Has he or she lost confidence, and does he or she have difficulty making decisions? Has he or she quit his or her normal after-school activities? Has he or she started using drugs or alcohol? Does he or she have mood swings or emotional outbursts? Has he or she isolated himself or herself from friends and family? Has she become pregnant? Does he or she apologize for his or her significant other’s abusive behavior? Does he or she seem overly worried about upsetting or angering his or her significant other?

Emotional Abuse Red flags to look for and be aware of in your own relationship:


  • Act extremely jealous or possessive?
  • Put down your dreams?
  • Make all the decisions in your relationship?
  • Require you to “check-in” with them when you are apart?
  • Make you feel you need to apologize to others for his/her behavior?
  • Threaten to leave you/hurt your pets/destroy your belongings/take your children if you are not compliant?
  • Accuse you of cheating?
  • Disrespect you?
  • Make you feel guilty by playing mind games?


  • Feel scared of your partner?
  • Make excuses for your partner’s words or actions to other people?
  • Feel as though you are walking on eggshells?
  • Feel your partner is never happy with you?
  • Wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?

An abusive relationship causes serious risk to your mental and physical health. Some of these consequences include headaches, weight loss, confusion, shame, guilt, depression, low self-esteem, fear, anxiety, permanent injury or even death.  Other long-term effects include the development of alcoholism or an eating disorder, promiscuous behavior, violence and thoughts of suicide.

Are you starting to realize your relationship is abusive? Recognizing abuse is the first step. It’s important to turn to a trusted friend or therapist in this situation. The caring and qualified therapists at Cristina Panaccione and Associates can help you sort out the confusing feelings taking place including self-blame, feelings of worthlessness and mistrust of yourself and others. We can also help you understand and be aware of the cycle of abuse. If you are the person in the relationship inflicting the abuse, it IS possible to change, but a lot of hard work and therapy are required to create the change.

In addition to seeking therapy to help navigate this relationship and the resulting feelings, building additional sources of support is also vital. Reconnecting with old friends or establishing new friends through a club or extracurricular activity can help keep you busy and feel supported.

If you need immediate help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE

“There is a difference between relationships that are about love and relationships that are about control…it’s not just bruises that are giveaways for an abusive relationship, it’s how someone talks to you, it’s how someone treats you. It’s how someone talks about you to others.” –Katie Hood, One Love Foundation

Sources: Safe Voices, loveisrespect.org, loveisnotabuse.com, pamf.org, dosomething.org, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence


* This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please contact a medical professional for advice.