Emotional Abuse

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Emotional abuse occurs when a person uses words oractions to make another person think less of himself or herself. It maybe accompanied by physical abuseor sexual abuse.

What is going on in the body?

Emotional abusers control their victims in these ways:

  • Cause their victims to feel lonely and isolated. This is done bycontrolling what the victims do, what people they see and talk to, andwhere they go.
  • Cause their victims to have negative feelings about themselves or tofeel degraded. This is done through insults, name-calling, making falseaccusations, and playing games with the victims’ minds.
  • Make sure their victims are financially dependent on them. Theabuser may control the finances so that the victim has little or no accessto money. He or she also will prevent the victim from getting or keeping ajob. The abuser may make the victim ask or beg for money.
  • Make their victims fear them by using violent looks or gestures orby destroying property.
  • What are the causes and risks of the condition?

    Emotional abuse usually occurs when one person wantspower and control over another person. Emotional abuse can affect anyage or gender. While there is no one type of person who is at risk for abuse,certain factors do put some people at greater risk. These risk factors areas follows:

  • being a drugor alcoholabuser or having a partner who is one
  • being a female, especially between the ages of 17 and 34
  • being in a marriage or relationship in which one person is moredominant than the other
  • being in the first 5 years of a marriage or a live-in relationship
  • being pregnant
  • being socially and emotionally isolated
  • being unemployed
  • dealing with poverty, money problems, poor housing conditions, andfrequent moves
  • Symptoms & Signs

    What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?

    Unlike physical abuse,emotional abuse may not have clear outward signs or symptoms. It is much harder todetect. Victims of this type of abuse often have these symptoms:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • high levels of stress
  • irritability,hostility, and anger
  • low self-esteem
  • panic attacks
  • suicidal thoughts
  • Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the condition diagnosed?

    Since emotional abuse doesn’t always leave visible scars orbruises, it can be hard to diagnose. In fact, sometimes the victimsdon’t even see it. They may not feel good about themselves or theirrelationships, but they don’t connect it with how their abusers treat them.

    Sometimes, a third person will witness the abuse andrecognize it right away or over time. Healthcare workers also may beable to diagnose the abuseif they ask the victim the right questions without the abuser being present.

    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the condition?

    Friends, neighbors, and family members need to askdirectly about signs of possible abuse. Talking to the victim and beingsupportive can make the victim feel less isolated. Showing concern letsthe victim know that there is someone to turn to if he or she wants help.

    Everyone should know what resources are available forabuse victims within their community. This can be done by readingbooks and articles on abuse.It’s also important to support and promote training and education onrecognizing and addressing emotional abuse.

    What are the long-term effects of the condition?

    Emotional abuse can destroy the victim’s self-esteem sothat he or she feels unworthy of love, respect, or friendship.

    What are the risks to others?

    It is hard for someone with such low esteem to have healthyrelationships with others. In addition, victims of abuse sometimes becomeabusers themselves.

    Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the condition?

    The ultimate goal is for victims to reestablish their liveswithout the abusers and to get counseling that will help themdeal with the emotional scars.

    The best thing a third person such as a doctor, friend, neighbor,or family member can do is be supportive no matter what the victim chooses.The victim can’t be rescued. He or she needs to be the one to make thedecision to leave the abuser.

    If the victim wants help, assist him or her in finding a safeplace to stay. It could be the home of a friend or relative or an emergencyshelter. Keep in mind that people who are emotionally abusive can beviolent, even if they haven’t caused physical harm in the past.

    Individual psychotherapyand group therapy are very important. The victim needs to realize thathe or she has value as a person. And he or she needs to learn how torecognize abuse. Talking to people with similar experiences can behelpful. The victim needs to heal mentally so that he or she is less likely toenter into another abusive relationship.

    What are the side effects of the treatments?

    The abused person may have to move out of his or her homeand find other living arrangements.

    What happens after treatment for the condition?

    If the emotionally abused person has moved from his orher home, permanent arrangements may have to be made. The personmay be able to return to his or her home if the abuser has gotten helpand is not likely to continue to be abusive.

    How is the condition monitored?

    The victim may not be able to monitor the abuse becausehe or she may not recognize it when it happens. A family member orfriend may help to monitor emotional abuse.

    Article type: xmedgeneral