How to Recognize Emotional Abuse

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What are the signs of emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse is any nonphysical behavior or attitude that controls, intimidates, subjugates, demeans, punishes or isolates another person by using degradation, humiliation or fear (according to Beverly Engel’s book, The Emotionally Abusive Relationship—How to Stop Being Abused and How to Stop Abusing), yelling, screaming, and name-calling are all forms of emotional abuse, as are more subtle tactics such as refusing to be pleased with anything, isolating an individual from family and friends and invalidating another’s thoughts and feelings.

Examples of emotionally abusive behaviors include:

~ Humiliating and degrading
~ Discounting, distorting and negating
~ Accusing and blaming
~ Isolating
~ Withholding affection and emotional support
~ Withholding financial resources ~ Dismissive, disapproving, or contemptuous looks, comments or behavior
~ Threatening harm to an individual’s pets, possessions or person

The effects of emotional abuse are often debilitating. They include depression, confusion, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, overwhelming feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and poor physical health.

Why are some people emotionally abusive?

While the reasons for emotional abuse are complex, most experts believe it is rooted in unresolved childhood trauma. “They are in as much pain as their victims, only they don’t realize it,” explains Dr. Rinck. It takes a great deal of effort and professional guidance for an abuser to overcome his destructive patterns of behavior.

In regards to abuse within marriage, some misinterpret Ephesians 5:22 to justify abusive behavior. Let’s be clear. Scripture reveals that the marriage relationship is to reflect Christ’s relationship with his church—one of sacrificial love. A wife is called to respond to her husband’s biblical headship, not to his destructive and sinful behavior, just as the wife’s mandate is to respect her husband.

God never condones abuse.

Read my next post Breaking Free of Emotional Abuse


Megan, a native of Kansas City, Kansas, is the owner of Family First Counseling. She actively encourages her daughter’s higher education and community involvement. Megan is a Christian and active in the marriage ministry at her church Cornerstone Baptist Church, in Arlington, TX. Her personal interests include independent film, music and marriage enrichment. Megan is the co-founder of the Minority Behavioral Health Provider Networking Group along with colleague Cynthia Thompson.

2 thoughts on “How to Recognize Emotional Abuse

  1. Many people don’t realize that they are in an abusive relationship, they think that it is normal to be treated this way. Likewise, the abuser often does not realize that he is abusing, he thinks his behavior is normal and acceptable. Both people contribute to the cycle, but unfortunately the victim often has more to lose by changing the pattern. This is a tough topic.

  2. I appreciate that you point out the scripture that is often perceived to justify abuse. Abuse is detrimental to any relationship, whether it is your spouse, siblings, parents, coworkers, neighbors, etc. Emotional abuse, I believe, is the least recognized out of the forms of abuse, but the one with the greatest impact. Thank you for this article!

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