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Responding to Emotional Abuse


By Marilyn Pritchard

What is emotional abuse? And, what does emotional abuse really mean

Sometimes called psychological or verbal abuse, emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior over time that usually entails verbal aggression, intimidation, humiliation, or manipulation, with the goal of undermining someone’s sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth.

Such behaviors, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), can include constant criticism, name calling, acting superior, minimizing the abuse or blaming the other person for one’s own behavior, isolating them from family and friends, threats, excessive jealousy, accusations, or monitoring where they go and who they talk to. It can also involve withholding affection or resources, like money or food.

Now contrast those behaviors with 1 Cor. 13:4-8:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Because it doesn’t leave physical scars, emotional abuse can be hard to identify. Sometimes even the victim doesn’t realize it’s happening at the time. Instead, the pattern of behavior can slowly erode the person’s self-esteem, leaving them with the psychological scars of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Children who are victims of emotional abuse may experience poor mental development, problems in school, criminal behavior, drug and alcohol abuse, or difficulty making and keeping strong relationships. They may also grow up to be abusers themselves.

Proverbs has a lot to say about such emotional wounds: “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov. 12:18). “The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” (Prov. 18:14) “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21a).

Emotional abuse may or may not be accompanied by physical abuse, but it often leads there. If you are reading this right now and you see yourself in these words, please seek help. Even if you’re the one dishing out the abuse, there is hope. Sometimes we don’t recognize patterns of behavior in ourselves or those closest to us until they’re pointed out by others.

Remember that your identity is in Christ and you are precious in His sight (Rom. 8:38-39). As we see in the stories of the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery, Jesus always lifted women up rather than tearing them down (John 4:5-42; 8:1-11).


We at Just Between Us (JBU) encourage you to read through some of the articles listed here and ask God how He wants you to respond to the issue of emotional abuse. Maybe He’s calling you to help a friend or neighbor. Maybe you need to seek counseling for yourself. Whatever your needs, we pray you will find help, hope, and healing.



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