How are emotional abuse and domestic violence related?

Deborah Joy
Marriage & Family Therapy

Domestic violence can include physical and emotional abuse.  Both involve one person using force, threats or intimidation to harm, frighten or control another.  Physical violence exists on a continuum from a push, poke or slap to punches, kicks or the use of a weapon.  Emotional abuse or psychological abuse as it is sometimes called can be harder to see, more difficult to identify.  Looking for repeating patterns rather than a single incident can be helpful.  Emotional abuse also exists on a continuum from occasional outbursts of yelling or screaming to constant severe domination, humiliation and sabotage.  It can include verbal insults, name calling, blaming, ridicule, put-downs, demeaning behavior, isolation from family and friends, sexual or financial abuse.  Emotional abuse can even take the form of distancing or withdrawing in order to cause hurt and pain.  All such behaviors involve in some way injuring, manipulating and having power over the other.  

Emotional abuse can have devastating consequences to all of those involved.  It can create tension, agitation, fear, depression, alienation, isolation and numbing.  Feelings of helplessness, shame, loss of confidence and low self esteem are common.  Intimacy in relationship is hindered or impossible.   Although untreated the symptoms of emotional abuse tend to get worse over time.  The good news is that treatment can help significantly.  Support groups for recipients of abuse, anger management groups for men and women, counseling and psychotherapy with specialists in domestic violence can all provide powerful tools to help you recognize, understand and address these problems.

Domestic violence in its broadest definition includes physical, mental, emotional, economic, and sexual abuse. Each type of abuse is devastating in its own right. None of it is an acceptable part of any relationship but most particularly the relationship that is intended to support and nurture you and your children throughout your lives.

Emotional abuse is the debasement, devaluing, humiliation or degradation of another. Emotional abuse is definitely a controlling partner's best weapon. It will make the victim feel worthless, inept and unworthy. These are perfect feelings to ensure complete submission to the perpetrator. Emotional abuse is about power and control. This manipulation begins subtly at first and then escalates.


Domestic violence is a term that covers many different types of violence. This includes physical, emotional, and sexual, which are the types of domestic violence you hear about the most.

Emotional violence is devastating to the person who is being abused. This type of violence comes in the form of insulting, name-calling, and making the person feel worthless. Emotional violence is used to lower a person's self-esteem and makes it very difficult for the person being abused to leave the relationship.

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