Recognizing Emotional Abuse
Physical violence is not the only form of domestic abuse. Emotional abuse can affect
you in serious ways as well. Emotional abuse is when a partner:
Verbally humiliates you
Demands all your attention
Controls your time or who you see
Blames you for everything that goes wrong
Threatens to harm you, your children or family, or your pets
Emotional abuse can occur among male-female couples or same-sex couples. It does not
require sexual intimacy.
Emotional abuse can be hard to identify at first. It may consist of name-calling,
ignoring your feelings, swearing, or cursing at you. Over time, it often increases
to repeated put-downs, ordering you to account for every minute of your time, accusing
you of doing things that you didn’t do, and demanding you stop spending time with
your family and friends. Your abuser creates an emotional environment to control you
and destroy your self-worth and independence.
You are not alone
In the U.S., over 12 million adults are abused by an intimate partner each year. Emotional
abuse was reported more often than either physical or sexual abuse. Emotional abuse
accounts for almost half the violence against women. People of all races, religions,
and economic classes are mistreated by this sort of abuser. This is true of all forms
of domestic abuse. In many cases, verbal attacks can over time lead to physical and
How to recognize it
There are no physical scars or broken bones with emotional abuse. So it can be harder
to recognize. Here are signs that point to abuse:
Your partner swears or yells at you.
Your partner repeatedly bullies, cross-examines, 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 threatens or abuses family pets.
Your partner controls or limits your behavior by keeping you from using the phone,
internet, or seeing friends.
You are not allowed to leave the room or the house.
Your access to money is limited. Or you are asked to account for every penny you spend.
Your partner follows you, and checks or limits your phone conversations.
Your partner forces you to stay awake or repeatedly wakes you from sleep.
Your partner blames you for the way they treat you.
Your partner forces you to do degrading things. These include 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 very jealous, constantly accusing you of flirting or cheating.
Your partner tells you that you are sick or crazy.
Your partner denies an event happened. Or they describe it very differently from how
you remember it. This is called gaslighting. This is a form of emotional abuse that
happens slowly. It makes you feel more distrustful of your memory of events. It also
makes you feel more dependent on your partner.
If you’re in a relationship that includes any of these behaviors, you are being abused.
Steps to take
Recognizing that you are being emotionally abused and controlled is the first step
For help, talk with your healthcare provider, call your local shelter, or contact
your local women’s shelter hotline. Search online for your local social and human
services department. Or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (800-799-7233). There also is a choice for an online chat. You can
also text START to 88788.
If you’ve been threatened with harm or death, or are being stalked, call 911 or the police.
Abuse is never acceptable and no one deserves it. Just like all kinds of abuse, the
emotional kind hurts. and can cause a lot of damage. Quickly identifying it and getting
help can allow you to live free of fear, bullying, and self-doubt.