Sticks and stones can break your bones and words can really hurt you, too. Emotional abuse can be just as harmful as physical abuse, although this is not a contest anyone wants to win. The trouble is, emotional abuse does not produce obvious wounds like physical abuse does. So those who suffer, as well as friends and family, often don’t consider emotional abuse as ‘real’ abuse. But the suffering is real.

Often people, including victims, make light of the damage by saying everyone has conflict sometimes and problems in a relationship are normal. And that’s true. What isn’t normal is when one person belittles another, humiliates her, puts her down or threatens her. If you feel degraded, ashamed, inferior, mortified or even in danger, then it’s not normal conflict. It’s verbal or emotional abuse.

Cruel Criticism Is One of the Hallmarks of Emotional Abuse

This is more than the normal judgmental comment that all partners experience from time to time. This is making cruel remarks that make you doubt yourself. Make you feel insecure. Make you feel like you don’t even like yourself.

How does an emotional abuser achieve that? He puts you down in front of others and seems to enjoy humiliating or embarrassing you. Or, an abuser does his work while others aren’t watching so everyone thinks he’s a nice guy. Then he excoriates you in private. He says mean things, often elevating sarcasm to a high art. Then he says he was just kidding, leaving you feeling stupid and even worse about yourself.

He chimes in on every decision you make, everything you do, everything you think, and it’s always negative. That leaves you doubting yourself, often paralyzing you from acting or thinking on your own. Making you more dependent on him, which is exactly what he wants. He throws a fit when you spend time with others or when you spend money or whatever it is he wants to control. He gets so upset that you learn to avoid doing whatever made him mad just to keep the peace.

How Words Can Hurt You Nancy'S Counseling Corner

Many Emotional Abuse Victims Suffer in Silence

Sometimes abuse is so insidious that you don’t realize it’s abuse until it’s been going on for quite some time. And many people are embarrassed that they suffer. Isn’t this something mentally ill people or inferior people or low class people go through? Not you, right? But in fact, cruelty knows no bounds and anyone could be victims of emotional abuse.

It’s sometimes difficult to define. As it happens to you, you may not have a name to call it. You may just feel emotionally drained by verbal blows that make you feel hopeless. You may feel that since you are not being physically battered that you have no reason to feel traumatized and you minimize your suffering. You may even be grateful to him for not hitting you. And you might feel it’s your fault that he targets you. If you can hang in there and be strong and endure, you would not need to escape.

But in fact, you should not endure verbal assaults, just as you should not endure physical assaults. Abuse is destructive, and you need to recognize it before you can escape it. Next week we’ll talk more about the signs and dangers of emotional abuse.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: