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A breakdown of the signs of verbal and emotional abuse.

Danielle Pointdujour
Oct, 17, 2017

Raise your hand if you, or one of your girls, has ever been in a relationship with someone who always has an attitude or acts jealous whenever you want to spend time apart? Or if you had an argument with someone over  them wanting the passwords to your phone, email and social media accounts because there shouldn’t be any secrets? Or maybe they are always telling you how to do something ‘right.’ Sounds familiar? I mean who doesn’t want a partner that loves to spend time together often, and if you’ve got nothing to hide why can’t theyhave all your passwords? Maybe you were doing one or two things wrong and they're just helping you be better? It means they love you and care right? Not necessarily.

Now while there are cases where similar scenarios are indeed harmless, for a number of women, specifically the 1 in 4 who will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, these scenarios are signs of verbal and emotional abuse.  However, many young women ignore the red flags because they don’t consider these situations a form of domestic violence abuse.

“Historically, when we talk about domestic violence and when domestic violence has been portrayed in the media, we see a lot of examples of physical abuse. Those are the types of cases that make it on the news, but what people don’t realize is that domestic violence is happening in so many other ways. In relationships it just doesn’t necessarily get the same portrayal and so it leads people to believe that it’s not domestic violence if it’s not physical, but that’s completely untrue. Domestic violence has nothing to do with physical violence, physical violence is just one form of abuse, but it’s not the only type,” says Rachel Goldsmith, AVP of Domestic Violence Shelters for Safe Horizon, the nation’s leading victim assistance organization.

For National Domestic Violence Awareness Month we want to help you recognize the signs of verbal and emotional abuse so that you are armed with the knowledge and power to help yourself or someone you love. Because even though they don’t leave bruises and scars like fists, girlfriend, never forget that words can be just as damaging.

Spotting the red flags 

According to, Goldsmith domestic violence is about power and control in a relationship, so keep an eye out for any tactics a partner might be using to take power over their partner or control them. There are four main signs of verbal and emotional abuse that women should keep an eye out for:

  • Name calling, criticizing or putting you down – “These are not one time incidents during a fight, but more of a repeated pattern of making their partner feel less than,” says Goldsmith.
  • Controlling who you spend time with and isolating you from friends and family – Goldsmith says “In the beginning it can feel really nice because your partner is saying they want to spend all this time with you, but what starts to happen is you’re slowly kept away from your support system so that when things in the relationship become challenging, you don’t have as many people to reach out to.”
  • Wanting to know where you are at all times – “This is another tactic that in the beginning can seem very benign. You’re getting home late and your partner wants to know you got home safely, but over time it suddenly becomes your partner wanting to know where you are in the morning, where do you go to lunch, why weren’t you at your desk, why didn’t you take their calls, etc,” says Goldsmith.
  • Not being able to have privacy – “In abusive relationships you see partners who make it a really big problem if you try to have areas of your life that are private such as emails, text messages, voicemails, bank accounts and social media. Victims of abuse are asked to give all their passwords and their partners are checking their phone and reading their emails, and that’s not something the survivors of abuse are choosing to do, it’s something they feel they have to do for their partner.”

Trust your instincts

Because signs of emotional and verbal abuse can be so covert, it is often difficult to tell the difference between your partner wanting to spend time with you a few nights a week, and them slowly trying to control you.  Goldsmith suggests that women tune into what they are feeling. “I tell people to always ask themselves what are they feeling and what are they comfortable with. Are they spending this time with their partner because it’s where they want to be or are they spending this time because they are worried about how their partner will react if they don’t spend time with them? Are they worried how their partner will react if they say no to something? I think that’s where you want to start checking in.”

Help from a place of concern, not judgment 

According to Goldsmith, if you’re a friend or family member concerned about a loved one’s relationship, don’t be afraid to speak up. When you approach the subject, don’t rush your loved one to leave right away and don’t speak to them from a place of judgment, anger or frustration. The process of leaving, even with clear signs, is different for everyone and can take time.  “Come from a place of concern to say ‘I saw this happen, or you told me about this incident with your partner, and I just want to let you know I was a little concerned and want to see how you’re doing’, and just provide support. And then, if they express a desire to get help or support then you can give them a phone number to a domestic violence organization like Safe Horizon where they can speak to someone.” She also suggests that you never confront the abuser because you don’t know what the consequences can be for your loved one within the relationship, and the priority is making sure they stay safe.

Remember you’re not alone

Despite how isolated you might feel, it is important to remember that there is help out there for domestic violence, no matter what type you’re experiencing. Safe Horizon offers a hotline (800-621-HOPE) that is available 24/7 for you to call and simply talk to someone, ask questions and get support. “One thing that people are always worried about when they reach out for help with domestic violence is that they have to be ready to leave the relationship. But it’s important for people to know they can call just to talk to someone and ask questions they may have about their relationships. Counselors and advocates are available to really just provide support and then you can decide what you want to do,” says Goldsmith.

For more information on domestic violence, and how you can get support for yourself or someone you love, visit www.safehorizon.org.