The Difference Between Emotional and Psychological Abuse

The Difference Between Emotional and Psychological Abuse

Many different forms of abuse have been known to take place within relationships. Some people think that just because the abuse is not physical, it isn’t a problem. However, other forms of abuse can end up being much more damaging to the victim’s mental health.

That said, the details surrounding other types of abuse can get a bit blurry. Specifically, when it comes to emotional and psychological abuse, it can be difficult to ascertain what exactly separates the two. However, this does not lessen the harmful impact that comes from these forms of domestic violence. We’ve compiled a guide that explains the difference between emotional and psychological abuse and tips for stopping the abusive behavior.

Difference Between Emotional & Psychological Abuse

Emotional and psychological abuse are both quite distinct from physical abuse, and although they do not leave physical marks, they can be just as destructive. Oftentimes, emotional and psychological abuse lead to anxiety, depression, and addiction—these abusive behaviors make the victim feel at fault.

To help you better understand the two, we’ve listed out the definitions and signs of each abusive behavior. If you find that you’ve performed any of the actions below, seek help.

What is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse refers to the type of abuse that affects how someone feels. According to a journal article by K.P O’Hagan, “emotional abuse impairs the emotional life and impedes emotional development.” Therefore, when this takes place in an intimate relationship, stunted emotional growth for each partner becomes a huge problem.

A healthy relationship allows for continuous growth for each partner—emotional and otherwise. Which is why emotionally abusive actions can happen in any relationship. And why similarly, anyone can become emotionally abusive. According to a Psychology Today article, emotional abuse occurs when “resentment starts to outweigh compassion.” That resentment transfers to harsh words, lack of care, and general unfair behavior to one’s partner.

Emotional abuse does not mean yelling; couples are known to shout at each other when tensions are high. It’s when that yelling turns into an emotional verbal assault that it becomes a problem. Emotional abuse is an attempt to control the other person using the victim’s emotions as the weapon of choice.

You’re Being Emotionally Abusive If…

1. You Blame Your Partner For Things They Cannot Control

Example: If you throw a tantrum and tell your partner it’s because of them

2. You Constantly Criticize

Example: Saying “I love you, but…” is a sure-fire way to criticize how your partner is loving you, and how you can take that love away if they don’t “behave.”

3. You Isolate Your Partner

Example: You only want them, and allow them, to spend time with you—cutting them off from friends and family.

4. You’re Regularly Jealous

Example: Jealousy manifests into you invading your partner’s privacy by going through their text messages and social media accounts.

5. You Belittle Your Partner’s Accomplishments

Example: Instead of being congratulatory, you take the initiative to belittle your partner—whether that be by ignoring, shaming, or criticizing.

What is Psychological Abuse?

Psychological abuse falls underneath the category of emotional abuse but is a bit more nuanced than general emotionally abusive behavior. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, psychological abuse involves trauma to the victim via various other abusive behaviors, and that those behaviors are used to “control, terrorize, and denigrate” victims. They also found that, “48.4% of women and 48.8% of men have experienced at least one psychologically aggressive behavior by an intimate partner.”

It’s important to get psychologically abusive behavior under control. While you may be able to minimize the effects of this behavior, a number of studies have shown that it results in long-term damage to the victim’s mental health. The subtle abuse can be even more harmful than overt psychological abuse. The signs below exhibit the different ways one may be psychologically abusive.

You’re Being Psychologically Abusive If…

1. You Gaslight Your Partner to Maintain Dominance

Gaslight definition: manipulating someone by psychological means to get them to question their sanity.

Example: You tell your partner that they’re acting crazy or that they aren’t remembering something correctly.

2. You Try to Convince Your Partner Their Memory is Poor

Example: An aspect of gaslighting, you deny things you said (even when your partner has proof) to make them feel insane.

3. You Manipulate Confidences

Example: When your partner confides you, you use those truths to get them to do something for you or to push at their insecurities.

4. You Regularly Guilt-Trip Your Partner

Example: Threatening self-harm as a way to get your partner not to leave you, or to appease you in an argument.

5. You Constantly Feed Messages To Get Them to Fear Others

Example: You tell your partner that everyone else around them is a liar or doesn’t like them—telling blatant lies to keep your partner unstable.

While it is beneficial to notice the difference between the two abusive behaviors, if one doesn’t address them, in the long run, they can severely impact the victim. They often happen in tandem, creating a trapped sensation. Both abusive behaviors cause harm, and—when noticed—should be stopped. Below we provide some tips on how to end this emotionally abusive behavior.


Tips to Stop Emotional and Psychological Abusive Behavior

If you’re realizing that you may be acting in this way and promoting these abusive behaviors, the first step forward is trying to stop it. Here are a few tips to try and put an end to this harmful behavior.

  • Work on tackling resentment—once you have more compassion for yourself, you’ll be able to show more consideration for the people around you.
  • Stop rationalizing your abusive behavior; you need to first recognize the rude comments, jealousy, and other actions in order to finish them off.
  • Recognize that unintentional abuse is still abuse. You may not want to hurt your partner, but that doesn’t mean your behavior is okay.
  • Respect your partner’s right to be safe and healthy as you work on improving yourself—this may mean not being together.
  • Seek help. Speak with a doctor or mental health professional. They can help you work on the inner issues you’re having with yourself, which you are more than likely casting upon your partner.

If you find you can’t control these harmful behaviors, you may find yourself in legal trouble. Contact a West Linn criminal defense attorney to help you in this difficult time—seek help.