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Emotional abuse: the silent killer

It's time to recognize emotional abuse

Emotionally abusive relationships

"Emotional abuse can present itself in many ways and can be equally as detrimental to a person as physical abuse." Illustration published on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017.

Countless campaigns advocate for the end of domestic violence, a rampant issue in America. Many of these campaigns focus solely on physical abuse, featuring stories of battered and broken victims. 

However, these campaigns largely ignore the toll and trauma of psychological abuse, which is as significant an issue that deserves attention. We need to begin validating these victims' trauma as well and to create a stronger support system for them.

When compared to physical abuse, psychological abuse is much harder to prove and thus can be harder to escape. Many victims are offered little support to leave their abuser because of the lack of evidence.

"Responses to both emotional and physical trauma are often similar and can result in disruptions in beliefs about oneself, relationships and the world," Dr. Holly Gartler, a psychologist at ASU Counseling Services, said. "Thoughts about safety, trust, power, esteem and intimacy are often altered by the trauma of emotional and physical abuse."

With a lack of concrete evidence, many victims of emotional abuse begin to normalize their partner’s behavior. It's much easier to make excuses for abuse if there is no physical evidence, creating a cycle which is difficult to escape and causes many victims to blame themselves for their partner’s misconduct.

Psychological abuse is very subtle — it’s not a spew of insults. Often the abuse is carefully constructed so only the victim can understand the depth of their partner's words. The abuser picks up on the victim’s sensitivities and will specifically target them with subtle manipulations and attempt to confuse them, talking in circles and instilling doubt.

If the victim were to describe the abuse to an outsider, the outsider would likely be unable to see or understand the extent of the abuse.

Emotional abusers often create a sense of dependency between the victim and themselves. Although the victim is unhappy in the relationship, the abuser often convinces the victim that they are all the victim has. As a result, victims consistently return to their abusers because they feel defeated and lost without them.

Even if victims leave the relationship, they are likely to keep their defense mechanisms. It becomes very difficult for emotional abuse victims to trust and they experience high rates of anxiety and depression

Victims of psychological abuse are also likely to experience higher rates of PTSD than those of physical abuse and are more likely to have reoccurring unhealthy relationships. The relationship may end, but the abuse stays with the victim. It takes years of hard work and healing to fully recover. 

The victim's recovery can be further impeded by continued harassment and stalking from the abuser.

We need to begin recognizing the trauma that emotional abuse creates. By doing so, we’ll be able to institute a better support system for these victims and stronger penalties for their abusers. Ultimately, this will allow more victims to recover and heal.

Reach the columnist at or follow @skyjordan4 on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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