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Understanding emotional abuse

Also known as psychological abuse, emotional abuse isn’t physical, but it can be just as hurtful and traumatic. An emotionally abusive person might humiliate, threaten or degrade you, or blame you for the abuse, to make you afraid and control you.

Another form of emotional abuse is gaslighting. This means controlling you by using lies, denial, contradiction, false information and manipulation to discredit your memory, perception and sanity.

Somebody might emotionally abuse you by:

  • Putting you down in front of other people
  • Calling you names
  • Playing mind games
  • Giving you the ‘silent treatment’
  • Ignoring you
  • Telling you you’re not the father of their children

Emotional Abuse FAQs

There are many types of domestic abuse. If you have questions about emotional abuse, you might find the answer below.

Emotional abuse means intentional, non-physical behaviour that makes you feel upset, degraded, humiliated, threatened, inferior or scared. It can include insulting, ignoring or humiliating you in front of others, or ‘gaslighting’ you.

There is no single cause. But like with domestic abuse in general, the abuser behaves in a way that exercises power and control over you. Emotional abuse can make you feel worthless and more dependent on your abuser. It can also be used to punish you, perhaps by belittling you and making you feel inferior.

  • Putting you down and humiliating you in front of others
  • Calling you names
  • Playing mind games on you and ‘gaslighting’ you
  • Blaming you for the abuse
  • Giving you the ‘silent treatment’ or ignoring you
  • Telling you you’re not the father of your children

Emotional abuse isn’t the same as disagreements and normal conflict in relationships. Many people say things they regret when arguing with their partners, and sometimes these things are hurtful. But in an abusive relationship, these things are intentional and there’s a pattern of using things like hurtful comments, insults and put-downs that make you feel degraded, humiliated or scared.

If you can argue with your partner without feeling afraid, you’re probably in a non-abusive relationship. When you start feeling worried and afraid about saying something, for fear of your partner’s reaction, it probably means your relationship is abusive.

Abusers are responsible for their behaviour. And in most cases they know the things they say or do are hurtful and not ok. That’s why they’ll often apologise and promise it won’t happen again. Until it does. Or they might blame you for the abuse.

Emotional abuse will usually have four stages: tension, incident, reconciliation and calm.

Are you
being abused?

If some of the signs of emotional abuse look familiar, we’re here to talk.

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Frontline Workers: Support for those working with male victims

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