Are Mental and Emotional Abuse Considered Domestic Violence?

When you hear the term domestic violence, what comes to mind? Perhaps images of battered women, bruises, or other signs of physical abuse.

But in reality, domestic violence encompasses a whole lot more than physical violence. Domestic violence — or DV — refers to any form of abuse, including financial abuse, stalking, mental abuse, and emotional abuse.

A perpetrator of DV doesn’t actually need to make physical contact with the victim to have committed the crime — and mental or emotional abuse is no less serious or harmful than physical abuse.

What Is Mental Abuse?

Mental abuse and emotional abuse are similar, and there’s debate between experts about whether or not they’re the same thing. In truth, mental abuse and emotional abuse do overlap and may occur at the same time, but there can be slight differences between the two.

Also referred to as psychological abuse, mental abuse occurs when an abuser manipulates a victim into thinking a certain way or makes attempts to control what they think.

A common form of mental abuse is gaslighting. Abusers gaslight their victims when they use tactics to make them question their own reality or whether their version of events really happened.

For example, an abuser might gaslight their victim when they say things like “You have a terrible memory — that’s not what really happened” or “You’re making a big deal out of nothing. You’re just being overly sensitive.” Repeated over time, statements like these can cause a victim to lose trust in their own sense of reality or their own sanity.

What Is Emotional Abuse?

As stated above, emotional abuse is similar to mental abuse, but emotional abuse may include a wider variety of behaviors than mental abuse. For this reason, mental abuse might be considered just one form of emotional abuse.

Emotional abuse occurs when an abuser tries to manipulate a victim into thinking they’re not worthy of love, have no intrinsic value, or have no way out of the relationship. Emotional abuse can include any behaviors or statements that try to control you, isolate you, or threaten you. Some common forms of emotional abuse include:

  • Threats to hurt you, your children, your pets, or other loved ones
  • Threats to leave you; threats of suicide; threats of taking your children
  • Insults to your appearance, intelligence, or behavior
  • Monitoring of your behavior or actions — online or in-person
  • Excessive jealousy, including jealousy of time you spend with friends or family
  • Humiliation or embarrassment
  • Dismissiveness of your needs and/or feelings
  • Intimidation
  • Name-calling

Keep in mind that the list above isn’t exhaustive — abusive partners can attempt to hurt or control their victims emotionally in all kinds of ways.

What Are the Effects of Mental and Emotional Abuse?

Mental and emotional abuse can have serious effects on victims and their children, especially if the children witness the abuse or are also abused.

Emotional abuse can result in long-term psychological or self-esteem issues, and victims may have a hard time regulating their emotions in the future or developing healthy relationships with others. Additionally, emotional abuse can lead to physical stress, illness, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

Victims of emotional abuse have a hard time trusting their own feelings and intuition — which is one of the goals of the abuser. This self-doubt can make it even more difficult for victims to leave an abusive relationship.

Plus, because emotional abuse can occur without physical abuse, victims may feel afraid that if they talk about the abuse to loved ones, they may not be believed. They’ve already been tricked by the abuser to believe that they’re over-sensitive or over-reactive, and that they may be “making up” the abuse to get attention or for other reasons.

Emotional and mental abuse is incredibly dangerous, and it isn’t uncommon for emotional abuse to lead to physical abuse down the road.

How to Tell If Emotional or Mental Abuse Is Present in Your Relationship

If you fear your relationship is unhealthy or that you may be a victim of mental and/or emotional abuse, you can use the following red flags to help you determine if you might be in an abusive relationship:

  • Your partner threatens to leave you; threatens suicide; threatens to take your children
  • Your partner makes threats against your safety or the safety of others
  • Your partner makes you question your own reality
  • Your partner says that something didn’t happen even though you know it did
  • Your partner tries to embarrass you in front of others
  • Your partner is overly jealous and tries to control the time you spend with other people
  • Your partner is constantly monitoring your actions or communications with others
  • You have to ask permission from your partner to do things like spend time with others or leave the house
  • Your partner pressures you or tries to make you feel guilty for not wanting to have sex
  • Your partner calls you names or otherwise insults you to make you feel bad about yourself
  • Your partner is dismissive of your feelings and/or your needs in the relationship

While these red flags certainly don’t encompass all forms of emotional abuse, they can be a good starting point to help you recognize if you’re in an unhealthy relationship.

If you do recognize any of these signs, remember that emotional abuse is never your fault. You don’t deserve to be treated this way and there are people willing to help you.

Get Support From Mental and Emotional Abuse

At Safe Shelter, we take all forms of DV seriously, including mental and emotional abuse. Physical abuse does not need to be present for you to take advantage of resources and legal support against DV. Mental and emotional abuse is never your fault, and the effects of mental and emotional abuse are serious.

No one deserves to be mentally or emotionally abused for any reason. If you or someone you know needs help, don’t hesitate to get in contact with us. You can call our office during business hours at 303-772-0432, our 24-hour crisis line at 303-772-4422, or click here to fill out our online question form at any time.