Defining emotional abuse can be tricky in that hearing strongly worded or loudly stated utterances aren’t necessarily abusive. If the utterance has a basis in fact, even if strongly worded, that too is likely not abusive, but may be stated in a way not delivered or received well.
However, when those utterances are used to control, dominate or secure a preferred outcome, particularly against the will or best interests of the other, then those utterances may be considered abusive.
To add, utterances that demean, cause the other to feel bad, upset or cause intentional distress may also be considered abusive. Sometimes such behaviour is overt and direct, like yelling or screaming and name calling. Other times, it is more covert or indirect such as in the case of sarcasm where humour is used to pretend the comment was made in jest, not to be taken seriously in the event it was, or with put-downs, which can be delivered quietly.
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Beyond the utterance is also the frequency, intensity and duration of the behaviour. The greater the frequency, intensity or duration of the behaviour, the more abusive it may be perceived.
When in an emotionally abusive relationship, one tends to doubt themselves or their decisions, judgments or preferences. Emotional abuse can create an insecurity about oneself, values and/or beliefs, and erode ones self-worth.
Some persons may feel that it would be easier to be in a physically abusive relationship over an emotionally abusive relationship only because physical abuse can have physical evidence whereas emotional abuse is more evident by verbal report. However, no form of abuse is acceptable.
If you are unsure if the behaviour of another is emotionally abusive, then speak with a counsellor. If you speak with a friend or family member, the person may be biased in terms of their view of the situation and it may hurt relationships all around.
This is not to say you shouldn’t also discuss your upset or concern with the person engaging in the behaviour. However, to do so, you too must feel safe and supported. As such, it may be helpful to enter into counselling with that person to address these concerns.