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What is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional Abuse.

You have heard the term used in discussions about relationships. 

You think you know what it means.

However, you have a situation in mind where it is sort  of borderline. Maybe it’s abuse? Maybe it’s just inappropriate behavior that could easily be changed?

Technically, the term emotional abuse describes any unwanted continued harmful actions or words directed by one person at another. 

We will look closely at the parts of this term, and then provide some examples of what it might look like in a relationship.


Emotional abuse is “unwanted”

When a person calls another person names that imply they are not capable of thinking for themselves or of poor moral character, it hurts. This sort of demeaning name-calling should never occur within a loving relationship.

It is a safe and fair assumption that no one wants to be called those things. 


Emotional abuse might not leave physical scars, but it leaves scars just the same.


If you’re in a relationship where this is happening, whether the words come from a parent, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a sibling or a child, you should speak up. Tell the other person you do not like those words. If it your partner or the partner of a friend, speak up.

But even if a person does not (or cannot) speak up for themselves, these behaviors are an example of emotional abuse. No one wants to be called these things.


Emotional abuse is “continued”

In almost every relationship there are conflicts and even arguments. 

They could be about everyday concerns like who should be fixing dinner or cleaning the apartment. They could also be about major life-altering decisions like spending money that was meant to be saved or an extramarital affair.


A man sits in a field, lost in thought
Emotional abuse hurts men and women. Photo by Darwis Alwan from Pexels

These normal sorts of conflicts happen in every relationship. And even if they get very heated and angry – even to the point of using profanity toward one another – this does not by itself constitute emotional abuse.

When this sort of anger and profanity or the use of words intended to demean or belittle the other person continues over a period of time, however, this is a sign of abuse. 

These words can reappear even after a period of relative calm, or come out of the blue. 

When this happens again and again, it is a sign of emotional abuse.

That relationship should be ended.


Emotional abuse is harmful

In addition to words, emotional abuse can also take the form of subtle actions.

Intentionally standing someone up for an important date. Ghosting them. Repeating old patterns of behavior, including blaming them for things that go wrong. Violating their privacy. Pushing away their friends or family. Hiding important objects.

These are all examples of emotional abuse.

They are abusive because they interfere with the normal functioning of every day life.

Emotional abuse leaves a person feeling less successful, less beautiful, or less capable than they actually are.

It doesn’t leave physical scars, but it leaves scars just the same.

No relationship should be like that

The important people in our lives are supposed to uplift us. 

They are supposed to help make things easier or better in our lives. 

They are supposed to make us feel better about ourselves.

The first sign that you or someone you love are in an abusive relationship, is that the question comes up at all.

You shouldn’t have to wonder if you are in an abusive relationship. Every long term successful relationship has peaks and valleys. 

What they don’t have is emotional abuse.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive, or potentially abusive relationship, you should seek help. Or you should assist them in seeking help.

Work with them to identify ways they can address the problem and improve their relationship.

It is NOT the job of the person being abused to change behavior. It is their job to clearly articulate what they will no longer tolerate, then make steps to hold the line.

And whether the person delivering the abuse is your boyfriend or girlfriend, or a relative, holding the line is important.

And knowing when to get out will help you to have a happier, more successful life.

No person is so important that you deserve emotional abuse to keep them in your life.

Sakina Issa can help you frame the problem differently to find new solutions.

Do you have a challenging relationship problem that is costing you sleep, or robbing you of your sense of independence? You likely will benefit from talking to a licensed therapist like Sakina Issa.

Luckily, these conversations can happen discreetly and by appointment using the same tools you have grown comfortable using at work, like Zoom or GoToMeeting. Just click the button in the upper right hand corner.

Want to learn more about parenting or managing tricky sibling relations? Maybe you are working out a new set of goals for yourself?

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