Emotional Abuse

by Tina de Benedictis, Ph.D., Jaelline Jaffe, Ph.D., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.


What is emotional abuse or verbal abuse of a spouse or intimate partner?

Mental, psychological, or emotional abuse can be verbal or nonverbal. Verbal or nonverbal abuse of a spouse or intimate partner consists of more subtle actions or behaviors than physical abuse. While physical abuse might seem worse, the scars of verbal and emotional abuse are deep. Studies show that verbal or nonverbal abuse can be much more emotionally damaging than physical abuse.

Verbal or nonverbal abuse of a spouse or intimate partner may include:

-threatening or intimidating to gain compliance

-destruction of the victim’s personal property and possessions, or threats to do so

-violence to an object (such as a wall or piece of furniture) or pet, in the presence of the intended victim, as a way of instilling fear of further violence

-yelling or screaming


-constant harassment

-embarrassing, making fun of, or mocking the victim, either alone within the household, in public, or –in front of family or friends

-criticizing or diminishing the victim’s accomplishments or goals

-not trusting the victim’s decision-making

-telling the victim that they are worthless on their own, without the abuser

-excessive possessiveness, isolation from friends and family

-excessive checking-up on the victim to make sure they are at home or where they said they would be

-saying hurtful things while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and using the substance as an excuse to say the hurtful things

-blaming the victim for how the abuser acts or feels

-making the victim remain on the premises after a fight, or leaving them somewhere else after a fight, just to “teach them a lesson”

-making the victim feel that there is no way out of the relationship