It’s a common and damaging myth—without bruises, cuts, broken bones, bandages or a black eye, it’s not really abuse. Yet being controlled, feeling scared or being forcefully isolated are just some of the markers of emotional abuse, a very real and prevalent type of intimate partner violence.
Emotional abusers prey on a victim’s self-esteem and emotional abuse is often a precursor to physical abuse. But, emotional abuse can also exist on its own, meaning you may be abused and never have a visible injury to show for it.
To identify if what you’re experiencing is emotional abuse, ask yourself the following questions:
Does your partner ….
… put you down, embarrass or shame you?
… call you names?
… ignore you?
… demand to know where you are every minute?
… treat you as inferior?
… purposefully embarrass you, often times in front of others?
… not allow you to make decisions?
… rarely validate your opinions?
… threaten you?
… tell you that you’re crazy?
… belittle your accomplishments, aspiration or plans?
… forbid you from talking to or seeing you friends, family or coworkers?
… keep you from sleeping?
… accuse you of cheating or is possessively jealous?
… cheat on you and then blame you for his or her behavior?
… tell you that you will never find anyone better?
… repeatedly point out your mistakes?
… attempt to control what you wear?
… threaten to hurt you, your children, your family or your pets?
Both men and women can be victims of emotional abuse. In a study by the National Institutes of Health, with 250 participants that ranged from age 18 to 61, researchers studied four aspects of emotional abuse in intimate partner relationships: isolation, sexual abuse, property damage and degradation.
Women experienced the highest rates of isolation (restricting a person’s contact with family and friends or physically confining a person) and property damage, which is considered symbolic violence as well as a tool of financial control and abuse.
The study also found that younger people were more likely to experience emotional abuse than older people, and men’s overall risk of emotional abuse may be increasing as a result of evolving gender roles, like men as homemakers and women as the breadwinner.
The Toll on Your Health
Experts and advocates agree that emotional abuse does not magically go away over time and that people experiencing it should think about it in the same way as physical abuse. That is to say, it tends to get worse if left unaddressed and just like physical violence, the effects of emotional abuse can last a lifetime and impact your health. The effects you may notice on your health from living with emotional abuse can include:
Feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem
Inability to trust
Suicidal thoughts or attempts
If you’re experiencing emotional abuse, talk to someone today. You’re not alone. Advocates are available 24/7 at The National Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-799-SAFE, or through an online chat between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. Central. You may remain anonymous.