Emotional and Psychological Abuse: Silent Destroyers

by Contributor for Woman to WomanBookmark and Share

It has been argued than no form of domestic abuse and intimate partner violence is greater or lesser than the other, but only he who feels it knows it. Some abuse and battery survivors have said, if they had to choose between two evils, they would prefer to be hit or physically beaten by their partner, than to suffer the torture of emotional and psychological abuse.

Some may agree, on the basis that the emotional and psychological scars remain long after the physical bruises and wounds have healed. In fact, and in some cases, these non-physical form of abuse can destroy the victim, forever!

(Mary Ann Dutton, 1992) wrote “Psychological abuse can be viewed similarly to torture of prisoners-of-war and hostages (Scriner, 1988). Morgan (1982) sees the attitudes and behavior of the violent husband as bearing a remarkable resemblance to the political terrorists and describes the situation as “conjugal terrorism”:

Conjugal terrorism is the use or threatened use of violence in order to break down the resistance of the victim to the will of the terrorist. It is ‘the use of coercive intimidation for political motive.’ Ultimately the terrorist uses violence to further his political cause and for the conjugal terrorist, the violent husband, his political cause is maintenance of the idealized self-image.

That is why it often necessitates some form of psychotherapy to help restore battered men and women, and help them to recover from the mental disfigurement created by emotional and psychological abuse. The length of time needed for emotional and psychological restoration varies, depending on the victim’s resilience, the circumstances and type of abuse, the length of time the abuse occurred, among other factors.

Some forms of Psychological Abuse (Mary Ann Dutton, 1992)

Coercion and threats. The abuser/batterer

  • Made or carried out threats to do something to hurt you or someone else
  • Threatened to kill you or someone else
  • Threatened to leave the relationship
  • Threatened to commit suicide or made gestures
  • Made or carried out threats to report you to welfare, social services, police
  • Attempted to get you to drop charges against the abuser
  • Attempted to get you to engage in illegal activities



  • Instilled fear in you by looks, gestures, actions
  • Smashed objects
  • Destroyed your property
  • Abused pets
  • Displayed weapons


Emotional Abuse

  • Insulted you or said “put downs”
  • Called you names
  • Attempted to make you feel crazy
  • Humiliated you with words or gestures
  • Attempted to make you feel guilty
  • Verbally raged at you
  • Engaged in extramarital affairs
  • Withheld sex from you



  • Attempted to control what you did
  • Attempted to control what you read
  • Attempts to limit your involvement with others
  • Used jealousy to justify actions against you
  • Restricted your use of the phone, transportation
  • Restricted your leaving the house


Minimization, denial and blaming

  • Minimized abuse and did not take your concerns about it seriously
  • Denied that the abuse happened
  • Blamed you for the abuse
  • Shifted responsibility for abusive behavior onto you or someone else


Use of children to control you

  • Attempted to make you feel guilty about children
  • Used children to relay messages to you
  • Used visitation to harass you
  • Threatened to take children away (e.g. custody, kidnapping)
  • Threatened to abuse children


Use of male privilege

  • Treated you like a servant
  • Make major decisions without your equal participation
  • Acted like the “master of the castle”
  • Unilaterally defines male/female roles


Economic/resource abuse

  • Attempted to prevent you from getting/keeping a job
  • Attempted to prevent you from going to school
  • Required you to ask for money
  • Controlled the money by giving you an allowance
  • Took money from you
  • Controlled your use of money
  • Withheld information about/access to family resources
  • Ejected you from car during travel
  • Restricted your access to transportation
  • Locked you out of the house

All rights reserved


Please see National Domestic Violence Hotlines & Resources

5 thoughts on “Emotional and Psychological Abuse: Silent Destroyers

  1. Thank you for stopping by at our blog and bringing our attention to yours! Emotional and Psychological abuse is sometimes so subtle that people don’t even realize it’s happening. We need to recognize all types of abuse to bring an end to DV.

  2. Sad, Brooklyn, NY

    My husband is emotionally and psychologically abusive. When I bring it to his attention, he tells me I am crazy. I even printed out literature for him to read, and I don’t know why I did this, because he just went through it, turned each line in to something wrong with me, and ridiculed me.
    To everyone around us, he appears to be the perfect husband. He has his act down so well, that people actually tell me what an incredible husband I have. He doesn’t yell or scream, but his subtle attacks are so brutal they leave me in tears feeling so alone, angry and depressed.
    The hardest part is that since it is so hard for me to explain or articulate what he does, no one understands, and I just don’t even talk to anyone about it anymore, because I fear that they are just going to look at me like I am crazy.
    I never thought of myself as the type to be in an abusive relationship. I used to be so strong and confident, and I just don’t know who I am anymore. He makes me feel like a monster.
    The question would be: Why don’t I leave? And I would. If it wasn’t for the fact that I have a daughter with him, and I am pregnant with our 2nd child. I will always have to deal with him, and I feel that if I leave, it will be worse. No one will ever understand, and he will just be the amazing father and x-husband of a crazy lady. At least if I stay, we have the good times, and I just try to cope with the bad and remind myself that it is not me.
    When my firm closed last year, I had no choice but to start my own business. I had been doing well, but I feel it falling to the ground due to the fact that I have been so depressed. I spend too many days emotionally distraught and depressed, and unable to concentrate on my work, which leaves be feeling financially insecure.
    The worst part about it is, he turns my daughter against me. He puts ideas into my daughters head that she repeats. He will wait until we are in an enclosed space, like the car, to brutally attack me, and after I beg him to stop and wait until a better time to have the conversation, he continues, when I raise my voice, he will tell my daughter that I am scaring her and make me look like a horrible mother. He does this purposely. He did this to me when I was driving home tonight. I am a new driver, and had to drive with tears running down my face until I was able to pull over. But the attack never stopped, and I was forced to tune him out and drive as carefully as I possibly could until I got home. Luckily, it was a short drive.
    He does this often. He purposely tries to incite anger in me. He will push every button and he will not stop until he breaks me. I can talk back, but he still goes on. Ignoring it does not stop it either. I have thickened my skin, but it just gets worse. He threatens to call my family, and he has before. We had an argument one night, and he called my parents and told them I was so hysterical that he felt they needed to come watch my daughter. This was NOT true. My parents know he has issues. I have told them. My dad hung up on him, but my mother came. I don’t know what hurt more, the fact that my husband did that, or that my own mother believed him. This is his goal. My total isolation. He wants my family to think that I am crazy, and that he is the hero, saving me from myself. And he wins. I have tried so hard to fight this, but I have come to this realization that no one will ever see the truth, and I feel so alone. I just feel like there is nothing to do but lie down and take it. I have nowhere to go. He doesn’t lay a hand on me, so he is not breaking the law. There are no black and blues to show people, and the emotional scars he leaves he easily explains by whichever psychological disorder he claims I have that week. (Keep in mind he barely passed Psych 101, and I graduated with a BA in Psychology). As much as I cannot believe that these words would come from my mouth, I feel physical abuse would be easier. The scars heal, but they are there for people to see before they do.
    First of all, I needed to vent, since I feel like I have no other way to do so. Furthermore, I have been trying to find support groups that deal with this particular type if abuse, but I am having a lot of trouble, and I would appreciate any guidance as to where I can find these groups either in Brooklyn, NY or online.

    1. Anonymous

      OMG! This is my story too. I’ve been with mine for 20 years and he’s ruined me and our children. My reputation, our finances and my sanity is in the toilet. I could never put my finger on exactly what it was he was doing to me except that he was always accusing me of screwing around. (That was so ludicrous since I had 3 young children, 2 of whom had autism). I was so busy, there was no time even if it had entered my mind, which it didn’t since I was consumed with my beautiful babies health and well-being. I did always have my suspicions about him however, but never said a word because any negativity was met with either explosive anger meant to silence me or an insinuation of insanity. I was particularly sensitive to that reference since my Father always used the same abusive term to describe my Mother. She got out. I stayed in my marriage. Only recently have I read the book “Living With the Passive Aggressive Man” and seen not only my own story but also my Mom’s and the ladies’ stories I read here. I’ve seen how I was used by my Father to betray my Mother, how my husband is doing the same with my daughter and how helpless I feel to get out. He’s destroyed my self-image and as I try to covertly rebuild, I am simultaneously terrified of doing this alone. In these 20 years, I’ve allowed him to drive everyone away from me, and sabotage every ambition I ever dreamed. I’m barely existing and have no idea where to go from here.

      1. You may wish to seek help at the national domestic violence hotline where they can set up an appointment for you to meet with a counselor. Best of luck. Domestic violence in any form is not acceptable.

  3. Candy O'Donel-Browne

    What a classic story! You are NOT alone. This is standard domestic violence before the physical part happens–and even after it happens.

    Look for a shelter-related hotline, or call the national domestic violence hotline just to talk to someone who understands. You need to find emotional support just to keep your soul from being destroyed.

    I was there more than half my life ago. I came back. It can be done. Life can be good.

    Take care online. Computers leave trails.

Leave a Reply to Anonymous Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s