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Signs of Mental Abuse

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 23, 2020

What is Mental Abuse?

Mental abuse is meant to undermine your self-esteem and make you feel worse about yourself. It is also a form of manipulation and control. The effects of mental abuse are just as detrimental as the effects of physical abuse.

It is very difficult to not only recognize mental abuse but to then have the courage to confront it. It is also unfortunately prevalent in our society, with almost half of all women and men reporting psychological aggression by an intimate partner.

Signs of Mental Abuse

Here are several actions and behaviors that clearly signal an intention to cause mental abuse:   

Accusation and Blame

The abuser always blames their problems on you and accuses you of doing everything wrong. They don’t accept any responsibility for the consequences of their actions or words and constantly use you as a scapegoat. They are very jealous and use guilt to force you to do something you may not want to do. They also deflect or minimize any blame you try to place on them.

Control 

Control can be about major things, like where to live and work, but it can be about small things as well. For example, they may not let you out of the house. They may tell you what to wear and what to eat. You may not be allowed to choose your friends or what to watch on TV. Any indication that they are trying to control you in any way is a sign of mental abuse.

Codependence 

For someone committing mental abuse to maintain control, they may try to create a situation that makes you feel like you have no other choice than to be with them. They may also try to interfere or stop any relationships you may have with friends or family who support you, to ensure you will continue relying on only them.

Criticism

If your partner constantly criticizes you for everything you do, both big and small, you are being mentally abused. They may make fun of you for how you look or what you are wearing. They may also downplay or demean any accomplishments, either personal or professional. It might make you feel like whatever you do, it’s never good enough.

Emotional Neglect 

Any abusive person will put their emotional needs ahead of yours. They may demand respect and obedience, and they may selectively hold back any affection or care until and unless they get their way. 

Humiliation

A powerful way to mentally abuse someone is to humiliate them, especially in a public setting. They could make fun of you and encourage others to laugh at you as well. They might post compromising pictures or posts on social media.

Dealing with Mental Abuse

If you believe that you are being mentally or emotionally abused, seek help. If you are in immediate danger, try to get out of the situation as fast as possible and call 911. 

If you aren’t in immediate danger, you can review your situation and understand the following:

The Abuse Is Not Your Fault or Your Responsibility

You might have a strong tendency to believe that what is happening is your fault and that you have to figure out a way to solve it. That is not the case. Don’t try to reason with your abuser. They will not magically change unless they want to change and seek professional help. It is not your responsibility.

Don’t Engage

Decide that you will not play into the abuser’s games or get sucked into arguments they want to have with you. Try to limit your exposure to them as much as you can.

Walk Away from the Relationship

If you have the means and ability to permanently leave the relationship, do so. Make it clear that it is over and that you are moving on with your life. Don’t look back. 

Time Heals

Once you have been able to separate yourself from the abuser, take a deep breath and understand that it will take time to heal. Treat yourself to a warm bath and some tea. The worst is behind you, and the rest of your life is ahead. 

Support and Resources

Freeing yourself from someone who is causing you mental abuse is very difficult. You do not have to do it alone. Seek the help of trusted family and friends. Ask for counsel from your spiritual leader. Contact a therapist or other mental health professional. 

Additionally, here are a few resources that you can contact:

  • Break the Cycle
  • Domestic Shelters
  • Love Is Respect
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Break the Cycle: “Homepage.”

Domestic Shelters: “Homepage.”

Love Is Respect: “Need help now? Get in touch.”

National Domestic Violence Hotline: “Here For You.”

Office on Women’s Health: “Am I being abused?”

Office of Women’s Health: “Emotional and verbal abuse.”

Violence and Victims: “Emotional Abuse in Intimate Relationships: The Role of Gender and Age.”

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