Is Emotional Abuse More Harmful Than Physical Abuse?

Posted May 14, 2021

Emotional abuse involves a perpetrator who controls a victim through threats, insults, and other nonphysical forms of violence.

  • Emotional abuse can happen within the context of any significant relationship.
  • Emotional and physical abuse both have substantial consequences for the victim’s mental health.
  • Therapy can help victims deal with the damage done by emotional abuse.

What Is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse and neglect, sometimes called psychological abuse, occurs when an attacker uses power to insult, embarrass, humiliate, or scare a victim into compliance. Over time, the victim starts to believe that the things the attacker says are true. The victim may feel they are responsible for the abusive behavior. It’s important to note that emotional abuse is a pattern of fear and control that repeats itself over time, and it can happen in any important relationship. Parents can be emotionally abusive toward children, and romantic partners can emotionally abuse each other. Psychological abuse and maltreatment can even occur between coworkers or between an employee and a supervisor. 

How Does Emotional Abuse Compare to Physical Abuse?

It’s impossible to say that any type of abuse is worse than another. All kinds of abuse are damaging, and they all have a severe impact on the victim’s mental health. Also, physical abuse rarely happens without the accompaniment of emotional abuse and neglect. Research indicates that the resulting mental health problems are similar regardless of whether the maltreatment is physical, psychological, sexual, emotional, or some combination.

This principle is true whether the abuse is directed at the victim or if the violence is against someone else and only witnessed by the victim. For example, children who witness domestic violence between their parents may be equally as traumatized as those who suffer violence against their own bodies.

While the damage may be similar no matter the type of maltreatment, each type does have some hallmarks:

  • Physical abuse is usually the most visible. Bruises on the skin, scars, and burn marks are all easy to see. Emotional abuse leaves no such visible signs. Because of this, psychological abuse may go unnoticed for many years.
  • Emotional abusers focus on controlling the victim by any mental means necessary. Even if the victim still goes to school and participates in community activities, the perpetrator’s voice is always in the victim’s head.

How Does Emotional Abuse Impact Mental Health?

Victims of psychological abuse suffer long and short-term consequences for their mental health. In the short term, victims are often confused, afraid, and lacking in self-confidence. They may have nightmares and difficulty focusing on tasks. The resulting anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as body aches and heart palpitations.

Over several years, victims may experience chronic anxiety and difficulty sleeping. They may withdraw from social interactions and situations, as well as activities they once enjoyed. Instead, victims may become consumed with changing themselves to please the perpetrator and stop the maltreatment.

Psychological child abuse can be particularly devastating for those victimized by their parents:

  • Parental verbal child abuse can include constant criticism, insults, and rejection.
  • Parents may refuse to acknowledge the child’s feelings, such as anger or sadness, interfering with the normal development of emotions.
  • Antagonistic interactions between children and parents during childhood become more prominent in the memory than positive experiences.
  • Children internalize what their parents say about them and accept it as truth until later in life. By that time, the damage to self-esteem and self-image is complete.

The results of childhood psychological abuse are often emotional difficulties, depression, low self-confidence, and anxiety. The good news is that therapy can be very effective in helping children and adults overcome this kind of childhood trauma and maltreatment.

What Are Some Types of Emotional Abuse?

If you suspect that you or someone you love may be the victim of emotional abuse, look for signs that the person is under the perpetrator’s control. Watch for instances where the attacker manipulates the victim, keeps them away from friends and family, or threatens them. The perpetrator might also threaten the victim’s family, children, or pets. Here are a few specific behaviors you might observe:

  • The perpetrator may cut off the victim’s access to money or credit cards.
  • The abuser may be extremely jealous or paranoid and may accuse the victim of outrageous things.
  • The attacker may criticize everything about the victim, from how they dress to how they raise their children, subjecting them to constant ridicule.
  • The perpetrator may make love, affection, or attention conditional on compliance with the abuser’s wishes.
  • The attacker may refuse to leave the victim alone for any significant length of time.
  • The perpetrator may interfere with the victim’s educational, career, or personal goals.
  • Perpetrators may involve children in emotional abuse, using them as pawns to maintain control.

Sometimes emotional maltreatment doesn’t have any visible signs. Abuse can look like blame, harsh judgment, and sarcasm. Sometimes perpetrators treat the victim as an inferior person, telling them how to behave to be “better.” Another characteristic of emotional abuse is that a perpetrator’s substance abuse may aggravate it.

How Can a Victim Heal From Emotional Abuse?

Though it can be tough to do, the first step to healing is for the victim to leave the abusive relationship. No amount of talking or reasoning with emotional abusers will change the behavior. Victims should seek out counseling and community resources to build a support system if they don’t have a supportive circle of friends or family.

At MHS, we offer various interventions and abuse therapy to help victims recover from years of emotional abuse and maltreatment. We work with adults and adolescents in group and individual settings to help victims make positive changes. Contact us today to schedule an assessment.

Featured Image: Panitanphoto/Shutterstock

When to Seek Help

Posted May 14, 2021

Determining when to ask for help with mental health challenges can be difficult. However, it’s essential to get the assistance you need.

  • If thoughts, feelings, or behaviors interfere with your ability to function, you may need professional help.
  • A qualified professional can use research-based tools to reach a diagnosis.
  • Look for someone who understands your culture and the unique challenges you face.

People have such varied personalities and individual characteristics that it’s sometimes difficult to know what is “normal.” If you are worried that you or someone you love might need help with a mental health condition to live a happier and more fulfilling life, here are some things to consider.

What Is Mental Health?

Before we can understand when to seek mental health assistance, we must clearly define what mental health is. Mental health is the comprehensive state of a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. When something happens to disturb one or more of these areas, individuals may have trouble functioning. Those difficulties may interfere with a person’s ability to maintain a relationship, perform in a job, participate in social activities, and learn new things. Mental health standards vary by culture and environment, so no single definition exists that applies everywhere worldwide.

How Is a Mental Health Disorder Identified?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, abbreviated DSM, is the definitive guide for mental illness diagnoses. The American Psychiatric Association publishes this manual for use by mental health professionals. It lists symptoms of hundreds of mental health conditions. The DSM uses measurable criteria such as duration, nature, and impact of mental health symptoms to guide professional evaluation. The publication also helps practitioners understand how mental illness conditions develop over time, risk factors for each diagnosis, and common co-occurring disorders.

In addition to the DSM from the American Psychiatric Association, professionals may also rely on the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases or ICD. Your health insurance company probably follows the DSM and the ICD to determine coverage and reimbursement rates for mental health counseling.

The professional will consider several factors in determining a mental health diagnosis:

  • Your complete medical history, including any previously diagnosed mental health conditions and any substance use disorders
  • A family history of physical or mental health disorders, including any traumatic family crises
  • A thorough physical examination
  • Honest conversations with you about why you feel you need help, any recent major life events, and any feelings of self-harm or harm to others
  • Diagnostic tests, surveys, or questionnaires
  • With your consent, interviews with the people who know you best

When Should You Seek Help for a Mental Health Disorder?

Every person is different, and only a qualified professional can correctly diagnose a mental health condition. However, here are a few signs that it may be time to consult professional help:

  • Withdrawing from activities that the person once enjoyed
  • Feeling disconnected from people around you
  • Sudden, unexplained changes in habits or personality
  • High levels of anxiety that interfere with daily life
  • Long periods of sadness or depression
  • Thoughts of suicide or attacking others

These are just a few of the signs of possible mental health problems. Many people live with these symptoms for so many years that they don’t consider them abnormal. They don’t know when to seek mental health help or the reasons why it could help them. Others are embarrassed or ashamed of having these issues. However, just as you would see a doctor if you thought you had pneumonia or heart disease, you should never hesitate to seek help when you need it. Medications, counseling, and peer support can help you deal with mental health challenges, like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, substance abuse disorders, and others.

What Are Some Things to Consider When Seeking Help?

The main thing to remember when seeking a mental health professional is to find someone with whom you are comfortable sharing your personal and private health information. These considerations may help you find someone who is a good fit:

  • Look for a mental health professional who understands your culture, your religious beliefs, and any other characteristics that are important to you.
  • Look for a provider who is a psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker, or similarly credentialed professional. Your primary care doctor can help you with referrals if necessary.
  • Check with your insurance company to see what type of professionals they will cover. Some only cover therapists with a doctoral degree, such as psychologists, while others will pay for services from a master’s level professional.

You may find it helpful to put together a written list of questions to ask a mental health treatment professional who you are considering. These are some common interview questions that might be helpful:

  • What are your credentials, and what kind of therapy do they allow you to provide?
  • How do you define success for your clients?
  • Have you treated other clients with symptoms like mine?
  • How are your sessions structured?
  • What are some of the therapies and treatments that you use in your practice?
  • Will you include my loved one or family members in my treatment plan?

How Can MHS Help?

We offer a full range of mental health treatment for adolescents and adults in group and individual settings. MHS seeks to help you reduce the signs and symptoms of mental health issues through three levels of service:

  • Intensive outpatient, also known as day treatment
  • Standard dialectical behavior therapy
  • One day per week for those at low risk for safety concerns

Our team of professionals includes multiple levels of qualification from the master’s to the psychologist level. They can assess your needs and help you connect to the right level of treatment. If you are struggling with mental health concerns, don’t suffer any longer. Reach out to us for help today.

Featured Image: chainarong06/Shutterstock