Emotional abuse (also known as psychological abuse, psychological violence, and mental abuse) refers to a person behaving in a way that is intended to cause psychological trauma in another person or persons. Typically, this type of relationship is defined by a power differential and control of the victim, whether in the workplace, within romantic relationships, or in the family. The abuse can take the form of verbal aggression (e.g., yelling, insulting, name-calling), dominant behaviors (e.g., intimidation, financial manipulation), or jealous behaviors (e.g., accusations of cheating). Occasional displays of these behaviors do not constitute emotional abuse. Instead, emotional abuse is a pattern of an individual behaving in an aggressive manner while denying his or her actions, minimizing the negative consequences of these actions, and/or blaming the victim for his or her aggression.
Examples of emotional abuse include intimidating, threatening harm to self and others, destroying property, harm of pets, and isolating a person (or persons) from support of family, friends, and/or coworkers. Less overt emotionally abusive behaviors are insulting an individual, behaving in an inconsistent and unpredictable manner, and denying that abuse has occurred. These behaviors build on one another, resulting in a person terrorizing, degrading, and diminishing another individual (or individuals) while the victim of abuse experiences anxiety, depression, a sense of “losing oneself,” and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
While emotional abuse does not always lead to physical violence in intimate relationships and families, physical abuse is almost always preceded by emotional abuse. Emotional abuse, whether in intimate relationships, family, or workplaces, can lead to psychological and physical harm to the victim. Psychologically, often victims feel “fragmented” and may have been brainwashed by the aggressor. Relationally, victims of abuse may have a difficulty trusting others and may have a diminished communication with others due to the aggressor isolating him or her. Physically, victims can suffer from insomnia, pain without a known cause, and other psychosomatic symptoms. It is also important to note that while men are labeled as more aggressive, women emotionally abuse their partners, children, and coworkers as well, and several studies indicate that women and men are emotionally abusive within the context of romantic relationships at equal rates.