Emotional abuse, also known as interpersonal abuse, is a method to manipulate another individual by using negative emotions to blame, criticize, embarrass, ridicule, or otherwise negatively affect another individual in a way that leads to severe emotional distress. Generally, however, a relationship with an emotionally abusive partner is emotionally abusive if there’s a consistent pattern of abuse-verbal or non-verbal, often behind closed doors-by a controlling partner who uses emotional abuse as a form of control. Emotional abusers tend to take a very harsh approach to handle conflicts and don’t show much interest in how a problem is resolved. They can even be hostile and verbally aggressive when trying to force a solution on anyone else.

A good way of distinguishing emotionally abusive people from those who are not in an abusive relationship is to watch out for these warning signs. Abusive relationships generally involve at least one partner who continually criticizes or embarrasses the other without just cause. Other common emotional abuses include:

  • Gaslighting (which means “to lie to about things”).
  • Constant questioning about other people’s thoughts and feelings.
  • Dominating and controlling the relationships between people.
  • Switching partners frequently to change their perceived status or level of intimacy.

Emotional abusers spend time undermining and denying the needs of their partners, playing on their insecurities, and discriminating against them in any way.

Abusive relationships in the family have been responsible for many different types of abuses over the years. These include physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional abuse. The most common abusive relationship in most families is the primary relationship where both parents or one parent is the abuser. However, even adoptive families and stepfamilies can develop abusive relationships over time.

Emotional and verbal abuse can result in a lifetime of consequences for victims, including children. While the results of physical abuse are usually obvious, the effects of verbal and emotional abuse can be more difficult to establish. 

Verbal or emotional abuse can take various forms, so your petition to the court for a restraining order must be worded carefully. It is common for verbal and emotional abuse to accompany physical violence and sexual abuse. Battered woman syndrome is an example of an extreme reaction to years of abuse. Children also suffer when observing a parent or sibling being abused.

Some elements of an emotionally or verbally abusive relationship include:

  • You are manipulated into feeling guilty when you have done nothing wrong
  • You are constantly or frequently anxious and afraid to upset your abuser
  • Your abuser controls or restricts your contact with your friends and family
  • Your abuser coerces you into performing humiliating tasks or sexual acts
  • Your abuser calls you worthless, ugly, stupid, or in other ways, make you feel inferior
  • Your abuser publicly humiliates you