Behavior that controls where you go, to whom you talk, or what you think is abusive. It’s one thing to say, “If you buy the dining room set, we cannot afford a vacation,” and another to cut up your credit cards. Spying, stalking, and invading your person, space, or belongings is also abusive, because it disregards personal boundaries.

Verbal abuse is the most common form of emotional abuse, but it’s often unrecognized, because it may be subtle and insidious. It may be said in a loving, quiet voice, or be indirect – or even concealed as a joke. Whether disguised as play or jokes, sarcasm or teasing that is hurtful is abusive.

Obvious and direct verbal abuse, such as threats, judging, criticizing, lying, blaming, name-calling, ordering, and raging, are easy to recognize. Following are other subtle types of verbal abuse that are just as damaging as overt forms, particularly because they are harder to detect. When experienced over time, they have an insidious, deleterious effect, because you begin to doubt and distrust yourself.

Opposing: The abuser will argue against anything you say, challenging your perceptions, opinions, and thoughts. The abuser doesn’t listen or volunteer thoughts or feelings, but treats you as an adversary, in effect saying “No” to everything, so a constructive conversation is impossible.

Blocking: This is another tactic used to abort conversation. The abuser may switch topics, accuse you, or use words that in effect say, “Shut Up.”

Discounting & Belittling: This is verbal abuse that minimizes or trivializes your feelings, thoughts, or experiences. It’s a way of saying that your feelings don’t matter or are wrong.

Undermining & Interrupting: These words are meant to undermine your self-esteem and confidence, such as, “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” finishing your sentences, or speaking on your behalf without your permission.

Denying: An abuser may deny that agreements or promises were made, or that a conversation or other events took place, including prior abuse. The abuser instead may express affection or make declarations of love and caring. This is crazy-making and manipulative behavior, which leads you to gradually doubt your own memory, perceptions, and experience. In the extreme, a persistent pattern is called gaslighting named after the classic Ingrid Bergman movie, Gaslight. In it, a husband used denial in a plot to make his wife believe she was losing her grip on reality.

Types of Emotional Abuse

Rejecting – Telling someone that they are worthless or that no one else will want them. Telling a child in a variety of ways that he or she is unwanted.

Ignoring – Being physically present but emotionally unavailable or failing to provide nurturance. Denying that both individual’s needs are important in the relationship.

Isolating —  Keeping someone through manipulation or intimidation from friends and family or peers and independent activities.

Humiliation or Degradation – Calling someone names, making fun of them in private or public situations, forcing someone to engage in embarrassing behaviors.

Demonstration of power and threats — Using threats to reinforce control such as threatening to leave, threatening to kill themselves or you. Using intimidation tactics to instill fear, such as pulling the phone out of the wall, punching holes in walls, shaking one’s fist in the other’s face.

Discounting – An abuser may minimize the recipient’s emotional experience or reaction to an event. “You’re too sensitive,” or “You’re blowing this out of proportion.”

Accusing and blaming — Turning something around on the recipient, accusing them or blaming them for causing the abuser’s anger.

Judging/Criticizing — Telling someone how stupid, fat, or ugly they are.


Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is mistreating and controlling another person. The emotional abuser makes their partner feel afraid, helpless and/or worthless. Has or does your partner ever:

  • ignore your feelings
  • ridicule or insult your valued beliefs, religion, race etc.
  • withhold appreciation, approval or affection as punishment
  • continually criticize, calling you names or shouting at you
  • insult or drive away friends/family
  • humiliate you in public or private
  • lied or withheld important information
  • always checks up on you
  • treat you like a child or servant
  • threaten to leave you continually
  • abused pets to hurt or scare you
  • made you feel worthless, never good enough
  • dislike your friends/family or how you do just about anything