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Emotional Abuse: Here’s what you need to know

When someone threatens, teases, humiliates, or betrays you


Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health


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You might not realise that a friend is being emotionally abused because it doesn’t leave physical injuries. Instead it can leave you emotionally scarred.

It happens when someone constantly threatens, teases, bullies, humiliates, intimidates, calls you worthless or betrays you.

Emotional abuse can damage your self-esteem or make you feel worthless or unloved. It can be very frightening and can affect you long after the abuse has stopped happening.

What are examples of emotional abuse?

The following all count as emotional abuse:

  • Someone always telling you that you’re worthless, stupid, or you’re not going anywhere in life. The criticism could come from a parent, family member, boss, teacher or someone your own age.
  • If you’re threatened with violence or someone makes you feel frightened by what they say.
  • Constant put downs about what you wear, your looks or what you do, even if they’re said as a joke.
  • Very jealous and controlling behaviour, when someone tries to influence who you speak to, what you wear or who your friends are.
  • Twisting the truth to make you feel guilty for things that aren’t your fault.

What can I do if I'm being emotionally abused?

  • Admit to yourself that you are being emotionally abused and that the behaviour being aimed at you is unfair and unjustified. Try to look at your situation objectively. Ask yourself: would I accept this behaviour in someone I did not know?
  • Don't believe what the abuser says of you. You know that it is not true.
  • Try to stand up for yourself. 
  • Train yourself to be able to stare someone out – it gives the impression of confidence – and teach yourself to say 'no' emphatically, then walk away.
Man crossing his arms in defiance of bullies.
One of the first things you can do to counteract your bully and emotional abuser is to not believe a single word they say about you.

Sometimes emotional abuse can lead to physical abuse or domestic violence. In these situations it is important to realise that it is not your fault – regardless of what your abuser may tell you. If you find yourself in this situation here are few things you can do.

How can I escape abuse?

  • If you're in an abusive relationship or live with domestic violence then you need to get help and escape from the situation.
  • Tell someone you trust about the abuse and ask them to support you or go with you to the gardai or police.
  • If you can’t tell anyone that you know, you can speak confidentially with Samaritans.
  • If the abuser is someone you know and love, it can be very difficult to speak out against what’s happening. Remember that even if they are nice most of the time, abuse is illegal and you shouldn’t have to ever put up with it.
  • Sometimes an abuser will threaten to harm you or someone you love if you tell anyone what’s happening. They might say things like “I’ll kill you if you say anything”, “Nobody will believe you”, “This is our secret” or “I’ll hurt your brother if you say anything”. These threats are a way of frightening you into silence. If you tell the gardai or police they can make sure that you and other family members are safe from harm.
  • If you don’t tell someone about the abuse it will probably continue.
  • If the abuser is living in your home then you might need a temporary place to live in safety. There are refuges for victims of abuse and the gardai or police will be able to help you. If you’re under 18 you can get help from social services.
  • Telling someone you’re being abused doesn’t meant that you’ll be taken away from your family, the social services will try to work out a situation that means you're safe from abuse but with your family.
  • SAFE Ireland or AMEN (for men) can offer you emergency accommodation.
  • Even after the abuse has stopped you might have emotional or self-confidence problems. Visit a counsellor to help sort out your feelings.
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Published January 14th, 2013
Last updated April 3rd, 2017
Tags emotional abuse teasing wellbeing
Can this be improved? Contact editor@spunout.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.

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