Understanding Emotional Abuse in Relationships; Given from A Clinical and Christian Perspective
Emotional/mental abuse may not contain the same tangible evidence as physical abuse, but that doesn’t mean that its effects are any less damaging or any less painful. Because this abuse does not involve physical harm, it can be less identifiable and less recognizable. Many may not know or understand what emotional/mental abuse looks like or the impact that it can have on an individual.
So, what can emotional abuse look like?
Criticism and Humiliation:
The abuser may embarrass their partner in public through making fun of them, sharing private information on purpose, or stirring up a fight.
Use the term “joke” as a way to make fun of their partner in a derogatory or demeaning way; they may tell their partner “its just a joke” so that it makes the partner feel that they need to take it.
Use sarcasm as a disguise to cover their humiliating comments and make their partner feel that they are “overreacting”, “can’t take a joke”, or are being “too sensitive”.
Depreciate their partner’s success or accomplishment by making them feel that their achievement is nothing to be excited about or they may even try to take credit for the accomplishment.
Make fun of their partner’s interests/hobbies, but expect their partner’s participation and display of interest in their hobbies and likes.
Belittle their partner’s appearance by making fun of their clothes, hair, etc. (Pietrangelo, 2018)
Accusations and Blame:
Placing blame on their partner for their own unsuccess in life (being unhappy, not making enough money, or accusing their partner for a fight that happened between the abuser and a friend or family member). Accusing their partner of being the cause of their anger, control, jealousy, etc.
Accusing their partner of “flirting” or “looking” at another person the “wrong way”.
Denying the pain they cause their partners and turning it around on them.
When confronted about an argument, a lie that was told, etc. they manipulate their partner by making them question their own memory and sanity, planting seeds of doubt in their mind, etc. (this is known as gaslighting).
Making their partner feel that they are the ones who are abusive…they play the victim. (Pietrangelo, 2018)
Control and Isolation:
Making the partner feel guilty for wanting to spend time with family and/or friends. If the partner goes out, they are consistently messaging them and if a text goes unanswered for even a short amount of time, they accuse them of not caring, of having fun without them, or even ignoring you when you get back to them.
Striving to create conflict or come between their partner’s relationships with family/friends by talking bad about them or coming up with reasons why their partner should not hang out with someone.
Withholding affection (they won’t hug their partner, hold their hand, etc.) as a form of “punishment”.
Being indifferent to their partner’s pain, tears, etc.
The abuser may have angry outbursts when their partner forgets to do something they were “directed to do” and then punish the partner by ignoring them, withholding affection, or making a critical comment.
Withdrawing communication as a form of punishment (ignoring texts, calls, etc.); this could happen for hours or even days until they feel their partner has “learned a lesson”. (Pietrangelo, 2018)
How can emotional abuse effect an individual?
Emotional abuse can really take a toll on someone emotionally, mentally, physically, and even spiritually.
A person in this type of abusive relationship could feel paralyzed and debilitated; they may feel that they are living a life walking on egg shells with their abusive partner, trying to do whatever it takes to keep their partner “happy” to avoid “punishment” or isolation. An individual may feel extremely drained (feeling that their life has or is being sucked out of them), which could take a toll on one’s physical health (loss of sleep, loss of appetite, extreme stress, muscle tension, anxiety, etc.) (Yerkes, 2007).
Spiritually, an individual may feel a loss of hope, a loss of purpose, worthless, unlovable, etc. For some, this may even take a toll on an individual’s relationship with God causing them to feel that they are not worthy of God’s attention or love, or to feel that they don’t “deserve” God’s love because of the guilt they may feel for getting involved in such a relationship or for staying in the relationship.
Abuse from a Biblical Perspective (Is Divorce Permissible?):
In cases of abuse, unfortunately, the Bible does not explicitly say that abuse (domestic violence, mental/emotional abuse, etc.) is grounds for divorce. However, we can find scripture that may help us to gain a better understanding of where this issue stands biblically. Psalm 11:5 tells us that God hates those who love violence (New International Version). 1 Peter 3:7 tells husbands to be considerate with their wives and to respect them (New International Version) and Ephesians 5:25 tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church (New International Version). The Bible does not in any way approve or advocate for any domestic abuse/violence. God advocates for those who are oppressed and we see this in Psalm 56; God is also a God of justice and which we see in Jeremiah 9:24 (New International Version).
In an article titled ‘Understanding what the Bible says about faith issues that relate to domestic violence…’, a quote is given by a woman named Beth Felker Jones that states: “if committing violence against the one who is supposed to be ‘one flesh’ with you isn't a violation of God's intentions for marriage as a faithful, one flesh union, I don't know what is” (2019). From a Biblical perspective, we cannot imagine that God would desire a marriage covenant that is violated through abuse or where a spouse is unfaithful to the marriage vows by means of abuse. For those who are struggling in this area and may be feeling conflicted as to whether they have a Biblical release to leave the marriage, don’t be afraid to seek counsel. A Christian based Counselor, can walk with you through this journey and help you explore/process different options from a Biblical perspective.
Jones, B. F. (2019). Understanding what the Bible says about faith issues that relate to domestic violence is a key step for any churches engaging in this area. Retrieved from https://www.saferresource.org.au/the_bible_on_domestic_family_violence
Pietrangelo, A. (2018). How to Recognize the Signs of Mental and Emotional Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/signs-of-mental-abuse
The Holy Bible New International Version (NIV). (2011). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Yerkes, M. J. (2007). FAQS About Emotional Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.focusonthefamily.com/lifechallenges/abuse-and-addiction/understanding-emotional-abuse/FAQs-about-emotional-abuse
Annelise is a student working toward her Master’s degree in Counseling from Hope International University. Annelise graduated from Life Pacific College with her Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies. Her passion and goal is to help individuals and couples grow and find healing and wholeness mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. She is also interested in working with children, teens, and adults. Annelise strives to create a safe space for everyone to be able to share their lives. She wants to walk alongside her clients and let them know that they are not alone. Annelise is interested in using both Christian based counseling interventions as well clinical interventions such as: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Emotionally Focused Therapy. Annelise enjoys traveling, playing piano and guitar, being involved in ministry at her church, and spending time with family and friends.