Emotional abuse is a serious form of abuse. Emotional abuse is never the fault of the person subjected to it.
Emotional abuse can have several long- and short-term effects. These might be physical, such as racing heart and tremors, psychological, such as anxiety and guilt, or both.
Keep reading for more information on the different types of emotional abuse, its short- and long-term effects, and tips for healing and recovery. This article also discusses how to seek help.
A person may face emotional abuse from several different people throughout their life.
Emotional abuse has numerous potential sources. These include:
- romantic partners
The sections below cover these sources of emotional abuse in more detail.
Parental emotional abuse
People of all ages can face emotional abuse, including children. According to Childhelp, some signs of emotional abuse toward children include:
- rejecting or ignoring a child
- telling a child they are unloved or unwanted
- not showing or returning affection
- shaming, belittling, or humiliating a child
- bullying or threatening a child
- yelling or screaming at a child
- isolating or confining a child from positive experiences
- engaging a child in illicit or criminal acts
- calling a child names
- negatively comparing a child with others
Relationship emotional abuse
A relationship is still abusive if people face emotional abuse rather than physical abuse. People may be facing emotional abuse if they feel as though something in their relationship is not right, feel scared, or think nothing they do is right in the eyes of their partner.
Signs that a person may be emotionally abusive include:
- belittling a partner, calling them names, or putting them down
- humiliating or intentionally embarrassing a partner
- threatening to harm their partner or themselves if a partner leaves
- controlling their partner’s actions or monitoring their phone and emails
- pressuring a person into sexual activity
- being upset when a partner spends time alone or with other people
- being overly jealous or possessive
- blaming their abusive behavior on their partner
Learn more about coercive control in relationships.
Marital emotional abuse
Marriage does not give anyone the right to abuse their partner physically, sexually, emotionally, or in any other way. The signs of emotional abuse within marriage are similar to those of emotional abuse within a nonmarital relationship and may include:
- isolating a person from friends and family
- not wanting their partner to work
- controlling finances or refusing to share or give shared access to the other person
- withholding affection as punishment
- expecting their partner to ask permission
- threatening harm to their partner, any children, other family members, or pets
Emotional abuse within a marriage may make a person feel that they need to change their behavior to stop the abuse or that they have to avoid conflict and do as their partner says to stay safe.
Emotional abuse in the workplace
Emotional abuse in the workplace, or workplace bullying, can involve intimidating, undermining, or humiliating a person in the workplace. This may occur in front of other employees or customers.
Emotional abuse in the workplace may include:
- criticizing or blaming someone for something invalid
- treating an individual differently than others
- swearing, shouting at, or humiliating a person
- excluding or isolating someone
- excessively monitoring a person, micromanaging them, or setting unrealistic deadlines
It is illegal in the United States to harass anybody based on gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or disability.
Emotional abuse in the workplace may result in poor performance and have deeper emotional effects on a person’s self-esteem and self-worth.
There are several signs of emotional abuse to look out for. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, some signs of emotional abuse within a relationship include:
- using weapons as a means of threatening
- withholding affection as a punishment
- calling someone names, insulting them, and continually criticizing them
- trapping a partner at home or preventing them from leaving
- threatening to hurt children, pets, or other members of a partner’s family
- demanding to know where a partner is at every minute
- refusing trust, such as by acting jealously or possessively
- trying to isolate a partner from their family or friends
- destroying a partner’s property
- monitoring where a partner goes, whom they call, and whom they spend time with
- humiliating a partner
- making accusations of cheating
- being jealous of outside relationships
- serially cheating on a partner and then blaming them for the behavior
- attempting to control a partner’s appearance
- cheating to “prove” that they are more desirable than a partner
- telling a partner that they are lucky to be with them
- telling a partner that they will not find anyone better
If a person spots any of these signs within their relationship, they can seek help as soon as they are ready.
If a person suspects that a friend or family member is facing emotional abuse, they can consult a healthcare professional or hotline for advice on how they can help.
The short-term effects of emotional abuse can impact mental and physical health. People may feel:
As a person deals with the emotional effects, they may also feel some physical effects of the abuse. These effects can include:
- frequent crying
- aches and pains
- difficulty concentrating
- muscle tension
The longer the emotional abuse continues, the more prolonged these effects may become.
Emotional abuse, like physical abuse, can have long-term effects on the brain and body. These may include:
- loss of sense of self
- doubting self-worth and abilities, which may make it harder to leave a relationship
- substance misuse
- chronic pain
Emotional abuse in children may lead to:
- developmental delays
- learning disabilities
- wetting pants or bed (enuresis)
- speech disorders
- health problems, such as ulcers or skin conditions
- weight fluctuation or obesity
- extreme emotions
- sleep problems
- social withdrawal
- becoming overly compliant or defensive
- inappropriate behavior for their age
- destructive or anti-social behavior
- suicidal thoughts or behaviors
Emotional and psychological abuse have serious effects, and it is common for these types of abuse to turn into physical violence.
Effects on personal relationships
A person who faces emotional abuse as a child or in a relationship may have difficulties in other relationships. People who have experienced abuse in childhood may develop attachment disorders. This can make it difficult for them to create positive social and romantic relationships in later life.
- being under the age of 4 years, although abuse can affect children of any age
- having special needs that may increase the required amount of care
- having a caregiver with substance misuse issues
- having a caregiver with mental health issues
- having a caregiver who experienced abuse as a child
- having a caregiver facing financial stress
- having a caregiver who justifies violence or aggression
- living in a household with high levels of conflict and negative communication methods
- living in a household that is isolated from friends and family
- living in a community with high levels of poverty, violence, or crime
Certain risk factors, or red flags, in a relationship may indicate that a relationship is or could turn abusive. These include:
- a partner behaving in a way that scares them
- a partner who is controlling
- taking money or refusing to share money
- embarrassing or putting the other person down
- preventing independent decisions
- making threats
- preventing the other person from working or attending school
- pretending that frightening or abusive behavior is not happening
- being physically violent
- intimidating the partner
- threatening self-harm
- pressuring a partner into sexual activity, preventing birth control use, or pressuring them to take drugs or alcohol
If people are experiencing one or more of the above red flags, they can contact a hotline or speak with a healthcare professional for advice.
People seeking help for emotional abuse can contact a healthcare professional, such as a therapist. People can search for a therapist dealing with emotional abuse through the American Psychological Association (APA) psychologist locator.
Learn more about the types of therapy.
Some ways to get help without professional intervention include seeking advice from trusted family members or friends. For children, a trusted teacher or school counselor may be able to help. They can also contact the Childhelp hotline.
Support organizations or hotlines are also available. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available to help those experiencing emotional abuse and other types of abuse.
There may also be other local organizations available in a person’s community, such as a place of worship or a community center. People can search for programs, support groups, or shelters in their state here.
It may take time to recover from emotional abuse, but by prioritizing self-care and getting support, recovery is possible. Some tips for healing and recovery include:
- getting adequate rest
- eating a balanced diet
- getting regular exercise
- finding ways to relax, such as taking a walk in nature or listening to music
- reaching out for help from family members, friends, or a health professional
- reaching out socially to others, such as friends or coworkers
- volunteering or starting a new hobby
- finding a support organization to reach out to, such as texting “HOME” to 741741 or connecting with a Crisis Counselor from Crisis Text Line
Stop blaming yourself
It is important for a person who is experiencing or has experienced emotional abuse to know that the abuse is never their fault and that no type of abuse is acceptable.
If a person feels any shame or confusion over emotional abuse that has affected them, seeking help from an organization or counselor is important to get support and overcome any feelings of self-blame.
If a person cannot immediately remove themselves from the situation, it may help to avoid engaging with an abusive person if possible. An abusive person may want to provoke the other person into responding.
This includes keeping a neutral facial expression and neutral body language and not responding to any goading. If possible, a person should try setting boundaries that make it clear that the other person will not get a response to that kind of language or behavior.
Where possible, avoiding communicating with the abusive person may help create some distance. This may include not responding to telephone calls or messages from the person on social media.
Emotional abuse is never the fault of the person experiencing it. It can cause serious short-term and long-term effects for people facing it.
Children who have experienced emotional abuse may continue to feel its effects into adulthood. These can include extremely low self-esteem, negative relationships, and other physical or mental health effects.
Support and resources are available for people who experience emotional abuse. People can reach out to an organization, helpline, or healthcare professional. If a person feels that they are in any immediate danger, they can call 911.