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Emotional &Verbal Abuse

At the beginning of a romantic relationship, the partner is often nice, charming, attentive, and/or thoughtful. Then they may subtly start to tear the other person down with derogatory comments. Victims may speak up as these comments start, but the abuser dismisses the victim’s rebuttals and continues with the insults. As the relationship begins to feel uncomfortable, the victim thinks they’re the root of the problem, and they start trying very hard to “fix” the relationship to bring it back to what it was in the beginning. 

Verbal and emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior in which the abuser insults or humiliates their partner to isolate, control, or frighten them. This kind of abuse can be hard to recognize because it starts subtly and builds, there is a lack of physical signs of abuse, and teens with limited dating experience may believe it’s a normal part of relationships. Over time, the victim starts doubting themselves, their feelings, and develops low self-esteem.


Verbal Abuse Red Flags:

  • Name-calling

  • Put-downs

  • Yelling or shouting

  • Threatening the partner or one of the partner’s family members


Psychological/Emotional Abuse Red Flags:

  • Ignoring a date’s feelings

  • Insulting a date’s beliefs or values

  • Acting in an intimidating way

  • Calling a date names

  • Using sexually derogatory names

  • Isolating a date from others

  • Driving recklessly to scare a date

  • Displaying inappropriate anger

  • Damaging personal property

  • Putting down a date’s family and friends

  • Humiliating a date in public or private

  • Telling lies


The effects of emotional abuse are both immediate and lasting. These effects are often more damaging to the victim’s mental health than physical abuse.


Short-term effects of emotional abuse:


  • Surprise and confusion

  • Shame or guilt

  • Becoming overly passive or compliant

  • Frequent crying

  • Avoidance of eye contact

  • Feeling undesirable

  • Feeling powerless and defeated, because nothing you do ever seems to be right (learned helplessness)

  • Feeling like you are “walking on eggshells”

  • Anxiety or fear; hypervigilance


Long-term effects of emotional abuse:


  • Depression

  • Withdrawal

  • Low self-esteem and self-worth

  • Emotional instability

  • Sleep disturbances

  • Chronic anxiety

  • Physical pain without a cause

  • Suicidal ideation, thoughts, or attempts

  • Extreme dependence on the abuser

  • Underachievement

  • Inability to trust

  • Feeling trapped and alone

  • Substance abuse

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