Emotional Abuse – More Damaging than Physical Abuse?

My Story

I recently left an abusive marriage. Yes, he physically assaulted me numerous times, but it was the emotional and psychological abuse that he inflicted that caused the most pain for me. We were young when we met and he was charming and acted as if he cared about me. Then I got pregnant with our first child. It wasn’t until after we found out that I was pregnant that the abusive behavior started. He was able to manipulate my heightened emotions and hormones into controlling who I talked to and when I left my apartment. I was cut off from my family during what should have been one of the happiest times of my life. There was constant fighting full of name calling and accusations of being unfaithful. He would withdraw and blame me for his actions whether it was physical assault or smashing my phone so I had no way of contacting anyone. There were always threats of further or continued violence if I voiced my own opinion or if I decided to do something he didn’t approve of. During one fight while we were driving, he pulled over and kicked me out of the truck so I had to walk along the side of the road completely humiliated by anyone who drove past.

It wasn’t until our child was celebrating their first birthday that my family was even allowed to meet them and at that point it seemed like things were getting better. We had a routine of when I had to talk to him and when we would spend time together. Whenever we were together he was the center of attention no matter the occasion or the company and he was always right. As long as I stayed in place then there was no reason to be scared. It wasn’t until after we became pregnant with our second child that I started realizing that things were not going to change. It wasn’t until I went to talk to a therapist after the final straw incident that I realized how extreme the emotional abuse was and how pervasive the damage was.


Is Emotional Abuse Really a Thing?

Emotional and psychological abuse is a less explored area of abuse, but can be just as damaging if not more damaging than physical abuse. Emotional and psychological abuse is characterized as coercive or aversive acts that have the intent to produce emotional harm or threat of harm. These acts can produce large amounts of fear, increased dependency, or damage how the recipients view themselves. It has been determined that psychological and emotional aggression are often the launching pads of physical aggression in relationships as well. Over 70% of women in these relationships have claimed that the emotional and psychological abuse is more detrimental to their lives than the physical abuse and happens more often. To be clear, it is not always women who are the victims of emotional abuse; many men are victims of emotionally abusive relationships as well.

What Does it Look Like Besides Name-Calling?

There are many forms of psychological abuse which can include:

  • Restricting a partner’s activities and social contacts (I think your friends and family are a bad influence on you and our relationship. I worry that you are cheating on me with any friend you spend time with.)
  • Withdrawing in hostile ways (I won’t speak to you for the next three days until you apologize for making me upset by sharing your feelings.)
  • Destroying property (I wouldn’t have broken your phone, if you didn’t make me so upset.)
  • Threatening harm or violence (You know no one would believe you that I hurt you, right? Even subtly ie: cleaning guns in a threatening manner)
  • Denigration (Humiliating and degrading attacks on the partner’s self-esteem)
  • Dominance/Intimidation (Threats, property violence, intense verbal aggression)

On the Other Side

If I had known at the beginning what I know now, I would have left sooner. I would have made sure to keep myself and my children safe from being a part of this situation earlier. I would have looked for help and accepted a greater support system before the damage was so great. Now I know that coercion and control isn’t how a healthy and happy relationship works. On the other side I can recognize the manipulation and degradation for what they were—abuse.  I hope that those who are in similar situations will be able to break free as well.

October 2019, Amelia Forsmo, Administrative Volunteer