What is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse is any ongoing, negative behaviour used to control or hurt another person. Emotional abuse ranges from consistent indifference to continual belittling of character. The different forms of abuse i.e. emotional, verbal, mental, physical, spiritual, and sexual, damage a person’s sense of dignity and God-given worth. All forms of abuse wound the spirit of a person and, therefore, are emotionally abusive. “A crushed spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14)

Emotional abuse or “psychological mistreatment” scars the spirit of the one abused. The damage from emotional abuse lasts far longer than damage from any other kind of abuse. A broken arm will soon heal; a broken heart takes much longer. After extended periods of emotional abuse, many victims lose hope, feeling that life is not worth living. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” (Proverbs 13:12)

Emotional abuse can be passive-aggressive. Passive-aggressive abuse is a means of indirect, underhanded control; hence, the term is passive-aggressive. Passive-aggressive abusers express their anger through non-assertive, covert behaviour. In an attempt to gain covert control, they often use manipulation as a means of placing themselves in a position of dependence. Then, with underlying anger, they become faultfinders of the people on whom they depend.

  • Victims of passive-aggressive people feel perplexed and dismayed at being the target of punitive and manipulative behaviours.
  • Friends of passive-aggressive abusers often become enmeshed in trying to comfort or console them in response to their claims of unjust treatment and their inability to handle life on their own.

Passive-aggressive abusers need to recognise and resolve their very real anger and take to heart God’s warning … “Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9)

Emotional abuse can be either overt or covert rejection.

  • Overt rejection conveys the message that a person is unwanted or unloved (as when one is belittled as a child).
  • Covert rejection takes place in subtle ways that may or may not be intended to cause harm by the perpetrator (as when one is ignored as a child).