Recognizing a Partner's Emotional Abuse

Physical violence is just one form of domestic abuse. If you have a partner who verbally humiliates you, demands all your attention, blames you for everything that goes wrong or threatens to harm you or your children, you’re also being abused.

“Emotional abuse can be subtle at first and may consist of name-calling, ignoring your feelings or cursing at you,” says Sue Maisch, MSW, of Child and Family Counseling in Glenwood Springs, Colo. “However, over time it usually escalates to repeated put-downs, ordering you to account for every minute of your time, false accusations and demanding you stop spending time with your family and friends. It becomes an emotional environment created by your abuser to control you and destroy your self-worth and independence.”

Not alone

In a recent survey, 29 percent of American women reported being abused by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. Psychological abuse was more commonly reported than either physical or sexual abuse, accounting for almost half the violence against the women.

“Like all forms of domestic violence, women of all races, religions and economic classes are victimized by this sort of abuser,” says Ms. Maisch. “And in many instances, verbal attacks eventually lead to physical and sexual violence.”

Recognize it

Because there are no physical scars or broken bones, emotional abuse can be more difficult to recognize. Here are signs that indicate abuse:

  • Your partner swears and/or yells at you.

  • Your partner repeatedly harasses, interrogates or degrades you.

  • Your partner uses name-calling, put-downs and ridicule against you.

  • Your partner insults the people you care for, your family and friends.

  • Your partner threatens to harm you or your family.

  • Your partner controls and/or limits your behavior by keeping you from using the phone or seeing friends, not letting you leave the room or the house, following you and monitoring or limiting your phone conversations.

  • Your partner forces you to stay awake or repeatedly wakes you from sleep.

  • Your partner blames you for the way he treats you.

  • Your partner forces you to do degrading things, such as making you kneel or making you beg for money.

  • Your partner criticizes your thoughts, feelings, opinions, beliefs and actions.

  • Your partner treats you like a servant in matters of household chores and decisions.

  • Your partner is extremely jealous, constantly accusing you of flirting or cheating.

  • Your partner tells you that you are “sick” or “crazy.”

If you’re in a relationship that includes any of these behaviors, you are being seriously abused.

Steps to take

Recognizing that you are being emotionally abused and controlled is the first step toward healing.

For help, call your local shelter or battered women’s hotline—look in the phone book under Social and Human Services. Or, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800.799.7233, or visit ndvh.org.

If you’ve been threatened with harm or death, or are being stalked, call 911 or the police.

“Abuse is never justified and no one deserves it,” says Ms. Maisch. “Just like all abuse, the emotional kind hurts and can cause a great deal of damage. Responding to it quickly by identifying it for what it is and getting help can enable you to live free of fear, intimidation and self-doubt.”

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