In heterosexual relationships, most abuse happens to women by their male partners. Emotional abuse, like physical abuse, is used to control, demean, harm or punish a woman. While the forms of abuse may vary, the end result is the same – a woman is fearful of her partner, he has convinced her that she is to blame for his abuse, and she changes her behavior to please him, to avoid his verbal/emotional abuse or be safe from harm. Many people think that verbal / emotional abuse is not as serious or harmful as physical abuse. Women state that this is not true, and that the biggest problem they often face is getting others to take emotional abuse seriously.
Some tactics of verbal / emotional abusers are:
- Criticizes her, tells her or implies she is stupid, fat or ugly or calls her names, makes her the butt of derogatory jokes, sometimes in public;
- Tells her that no one else would want her or that she could not make it on her own (or that she’s lucky he “puts up” with her);
- Makes racist or sexist comments about her cultural background or her gender;
- Criticizes her spiritual beliefs;
- Plays mind games with her; lies to her; claims he did or said things he did not, or claims he did not say or do things he did, minimizes or denies his abusive behavior, tells here she’s “too sensitive”;
- Refuses to talk to her for long periods of time – silent treatment;
- Habitually shames or humiliates her in public or in private;
- Tells her that all the problems in the relationship are her fault;
If there is a consistent and chronic PATTERN of the above behaviors in a relationship, which is used to wield power and control over another person, THAT is verbal/emotional abuse.
Commonly Asked Questions
1. How many women are emotionally abused?
Studies show that more women experience emotional abuse than physical violence. 35% of all women who are or have been in married or common-law relationships have experienced emotional abuse. In comparison, 29% of women have been physically assaulted by their male partners.
2. Is emotional abuse a safety risk to women?
The presence of emotional abuse is the largest risk factor and greatest predictor of physical violence, especially where a woman is called names to put her down or make her feel bad. Emotionally abusive partners also commit murder or murder-suicide. Women are at most risk of being killed when they leave their partners. Women themselves can also be suicidal as a result of emotional abuse.
3. How can emotional abuse be as hurtful or harmful as physical abuse?
Most women indicate that emotional abuse effects them as much, if not more than, physical violence. They report that emotional abuse is responsible for long-term problems with health, self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. In one study 72% of women reported that being ridiculed by their abusive partners had the greatest impact on them, followed by threats of abuse, jealousy, and restriction (or isolation). It was also found that the impact increased with the frequency of the emotional abuse. Abusers will often, additionally, ridicule their victim / target for being depressed, angry or having low self-esteem after he has abused her long-term, in an attempt to convince her that these things are HER personality flaws, rather than a result of HIS chronic long-term abuse. However, like women who are physically and sexually abused, emotionally abused women demonstrate incredible resilience and inner strength as they successfully balance the everyday demands of life such as children, school and work.
4. Aren’t women just as emotionally abusive as men?
Emotional abuse, just like any other form of abuse, is about power. Women may exhibit some of the behaviors labeled as abuse, but it is critical to assess whether her actions give her power and make her partner fearful of her. Research has shown that being female is the single largest risk factor for being a victim of abuse in heterosexual relationships, something that is clearly reflective of women’s lower status in our society.
5. Why don’t women just leave?
Women generally do whatever they can to end the emotional abuse, whether directly or indirectly, such as trying to avoid, escape or resist their [abuser] in some way (8). Unfortunately, women who are emotionally abused often find that their experiences are minimized or misunderstood by those they turn to for help. Furthermore, abusers usually have successfully convinced their victim / target – if not outright stated to her on a regular basis – that SHE is to blame for his abuse and that all problems in that relationship are HER fault – that it’s HER behavior (rather than his abuse) that is “the problem”, and he may threaten to leave HER because of “her problems”. This is often another method he uses to threaten or control her. In addition, beyond short-term emergency shelters and services, there are few long-term options available to abused women. The lack of accessible affordable housing, inadequate income support, legal aid, and day care prevent a woman from having the resources to live free from abuse. As a result of these and other barriers and issues, an emotionally abused woman usually leaves her partner an average of five times before ending her relationship.