What is emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse is just one form of abuse that people can experience in a relationship. Though emotional abuse doesn’t leave physical scars, it can have a huge impact on your confidence and self-esteem. There are a couple of different types of emotional abuse and it might not be noticeable at first. However, if you are being emotionally abused there are a number of things you can do to get support.

This might be a problem if you:

  • Feel like you’re not good enough
  • Are afraid of your partner leaving you
  • Are called names by your partner or they put you down
  • Are afraid, threatened or intimidated
  • Feel like you are going crazy, or feel confused about the truth

What is emotional abuse?

Many concerning relationships involve aspects of emotional abuse. The aim of emotional abuse is to chip away at a person’s feelings of self-worth and independence. In an emotionally abusive relationship, a person may feel that there is no way out of the relationship or that without their partner they will have nothing.

Emotional abuse can feel equally as destructive and damaging as physical abuse and can do a terrible amount of damage to a person’s mental health. It's common for physically abusive relationships to also include aspects of emotional abuse as this is how power and control is maintained within the relationship. It's important to seek help during this time but it can be hard to know where to find the right support. The ReachOut NextStep tool is an anonymous online tool that recommends relevant support options based on what you want help with. Try ReachOut NextStep to learn about the support options available for you.

Types of emotional abuse

Some types of emotional abuse can include:

  • Verbal - yelling, insulting or swearing at someone
  • Rejection - pretending not to notice someone’s presence, conversation or value
  • Put downs - name calling, public embarrassment, calling someone stupid, blaming them for everything
  • Being afraid - causing someone to feel afraid, intimidated or threatened
  • Isolation - limiting freedom of movement, stopping someone from contacting other people (like friends or family)
  • Money - controlling someone’s money, withholding money, preventing someone from working, stealing or taking money
  • Bullying- purposely and repeatedly saying or doing hurtful things to someone.

The impact of emotional abuse

Though physical violence is often seen as being more serious than emotional abuse, this is not the case. The scars of emotional abuse are real and long lasting. Emotional abuse can leave a person feeling depressed, anxious and even suicidal, as well as having a negative impact on self-esteem and confidence.

If this sounds like you

If you are experiencing emotional abuse it is really important that you seek help. Emotional abuse is a really damaging form of abuse even if it doesn’t leave physical scars. There are a number of services which can help if you need someone to talk to. Find out more about what to do if you’re in an abusive relationship.

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 05 April, 2016
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  • Confused Teen    (128 days ago)

    My partner often leaves me feeling neglected or forgotten ... especially when we are having a really good conversation and then he just drops me and doesnt reply till like the next day ... He talks about his ex like all the time and it often leaves me feeling stupid or useless as he talks about her almost as if bragging ... i have low self esteem and zero confidence as it is ... sometimes it feels like he hardly tries when we talk and i sometimes run out of words to say or topics to talk about as its like talking to a wall ... Basically very little communication from the other side

  • safari93    (145 days ago)

    Hey @feelingconfused, from what you're saying it seems like your partner was really controlling of you, including the way you wanted to present yourself and the people you wanted to hang out with. You also mentioned that he would do things that would make you feel uncomfortable and even hurt - these things can definitely be called abuse. If you're still struggling with your feelings since leaving the relationship, definitely check out support services like 1800RESPECT: https://www.1800respect.org.au/service-support/

  • feelingconfused    (185 days ago)

    I just left a relationship with someone who I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. The first 2 years were great and then the last 12 months everything just seemed off. I felt like the blinders came off and all of a sudden I could see things that just didn't feel right. My relationship with my immediate family was strained because he didn't like them and I had to carefully balance time between the both (both lived in different states to me). I had no contact with any friends from prior to our relationship starting and the only female friends I had were from the workplace which he couldn't control. The only male friends he approved of were his friends - and in the break up one of the only two who I could call "my" friends he has told him that I was horrible to him. He never yell at me, but he would just shut down and ignore a topic if he didn't agree with me or he would make snide comments - I wanted to cut my hair into either a bob or with a fringe and he spent days telling me how much he hates women with those hairstyles. Due to a medical condition I coudn't have sex for a while - it was painful if I did - and at first it was okay but then it became a thing. He couldn't open up to me anymore because he was only emotional after sex. I'd be asleep and he'd try and wake me up by touching me and I'd always have to push him away. The first time I tried post surgery I passed out due to alcohol and he didn't stop, he didn't seem to notice until I came to and was in pain and cried out for him to stop which he then did. I'd stopped writing because he said it was stupid, I'd tried sending him some of my work which takes a lot for me to open up to someone with that and he never bothered reading it even after i asked him to repeatedly. If he couldn't get time off work to visit me he was sorry and apologetic but if I couldn't get time off work I didn't care enough. I don't know maybe that's not abuse.

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