What are the symptoms of mental abuse?

Symptoms of mental abuse can be verbal and nonverbal. The abuser controls the victim through belittling and undermining actions. This may include degrading, threatening, humiliating or intimidating language. The abuse may occur in private or in public. The abuser may also try to isolate the victim, controlling e-mail, telephone and written communication, as well as face to face meetings with friends and family. The abuser is often in control of the financial assets and controls the victim's access to money.

Symptoms of mental or psychological abuse occur in the person being abused and the person who is abusive. Someone who is psychologically abusive may engage in the following behavior toward his or her partner, whether it's in public or at home:

  • Humiliates or yells
  • Criticizes
  • Threatens to leave regularly
  • Ignores partner's opinions or accomplishments
  • Intimidates
  • Controls
  • Blames
  • Treats partner like property or a sex object
  • Acts jealous of anyone partner interacts with
  • Limits partner's access to money, phone, car, family or friends
  • Threatens to hurt partner and/or their children
  • Destroys partner's belongings
  • Forces partner to have sex

Someone who's being mentally abused by his or her partner might show the following signs:

  • Doesn't act the same way as he or she did before the partner
  • Acts timid
  • Shows a loss of self-confidence
  • Thinks he or she should be happier
  • Has anxiety about seeming crazy
  • Has a desire to escape
  • Distrusts family or friends
  • Acts emotionally numb
  • Is afraid
  • Avoids certain conversation topics
  • Thinks relationship problems are his or her fault

People who exhibit any of these characteristics—even just one or two—should talk to someone about it. Even if they think the behavior seems minor compared to instances they've seen in movies or on TV or have read about in books, there's no amount of psychological abuse that's considered okay. If an incident happened just once, it's still worth mentioning, because it could happen again if people don't take action.

This content originally appeared on

Kathy Sowder
Psychology Specialist

Symptoms of mental abuse include efforts of one person to control another through constant criticism and belittling, making threats of physical abuse or withdrawal of love, safety or financial support, and efforts to isolate the victim from friends or family. Mental abuse tends over time to affect the victim`s self-confidence so adversely that (s)he may become less and less able to act on his/her own behalf, and may come to believe that the abusive behavior is his/her own fault.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.