The Abuse that Leaves no Marks

Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

In a relationship where you are always put down? Or where you are starting to feel worse about yourself, and you can’t put your finger on why?

You might be experiencing emotional abuse.

What is emotional abuse?

If you are being emotionally abused, it means that another person is doing things to take power over you, even if they never physically hurt you. These things will erode your self-esteem and sense of wellbeing.

Also called ‘mental abuse’ or ‘psychological abuse’, emotional abuse includes bullying, verbal cruelty, control, manipulation, harrassment, oppression, and intimidation.

Note that it’s not just romantic relationships that can be emotionally abusive. Emotional abuse happens in families, friendships, and in the workplace, too.

What does emotional abuse look like?

What are examples of emotional abuse? It can look like the following:

  • constantly being put down in front of others
  • ‘jokes’ about you that are actually mean
  • never respecting your personal boundaries
  • pressuring you to do things you have said you don’t want to
  • ignoring you or sulking if you don’t do what they want
  • blaming you for things you did not do
  • making you question your own thoughts and feelings
  • telling you you are nothing without them
  • isolating your from friends and loved ones
  • monitoring you
  • telling you what you can and can’t do
  • starting rumours about you or lying about you to others
  • sabotaging your attempts to advance in life
  • making your reliant on them financially.

Why is emotional abuse important to recognise?

No, you won’t have any visible physical injuries. But emotional abuse is extremely damaging and can have long-term consequences for your wellbeing.

1. It lowers self-esteem and confidence.

Emotional abuse goes deep, making you question your personal beliefs and finding you come up short. And the more your sense of worth drops, the more you start to believe the abuser.

2. It can lead to an identity crisis.

All forms of abuse strip away your sense of self. Eventually you can question who you are entirely.

3. Future relationships can be deeply affected.

Even if you do manage to leave an emotionally abusive relationship? Your self-esteem will be damaged enough that unless you seek professional help, you are highly likely to just attract another abusive relationship.

4. Your physical health can suffer.

Being psychologically manipulated and abused is exhausting. Many people in abusive relationships have constant flus and colds, or unexplained medical symptoms.

5. Your career can falter.

Abusers can manipulate you to the point you feel not good enough for your career, and even quit. Or they leave you so exhausted you start making mistakes at work that mean you miss promotions or are fired.

6. Depression and suicidal thoughts set in.

Lowered self-self-esteem is a direct route to depression, as is feeling cut off from healthy support, if your abuser stops you from talking to friends and family. If the emotional abuse is bad enough, you can start to feel so worthless suicidal thoughts begin.

Still not sure it's mental abuse?

If you still aren’t sure if you are or aren’t being psychologically abused, start to notice if you are often making excuses about the relationships. These can sound like:

  • it’s my fault, I’m annoying
  • they just have an odd sense of humour
  • I need to relax about it, it’s no big deal
  • it’s just his/her weird way of loving me
  • I’m a bad person deep down, I deserve it
  • that’s the way they are and I can take it, so it’s fine
  • I like being treated badly, so it’s fine.

Do I really need to see a therapist over emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse in many ways brainwashes us. We can end up with such an unhealthy perspective it's very hard to find our way back to healthy alone.

And often, if we allow people to abuse us as adults, it's because we experienced tough things as a kid that meant we already had low self-esteem. Therapy helps us work through those past events so that we don’t walk right from one abusive relationship into another.

Need support to leave an abusive relationship, or to rebuild your self-esteem? Use our easy booking tool to find a perfect therapist for you and talk to someone who really understands.

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