What is Emotional Abuse Therapy?

Emotional abuse – also known as mental abuse – is a form of abuse characterized by one person subjecting another to abusive words or actions that results in a power imbalance and in psychological trauma or mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders, depression or even post traumatic stress disorder for the abused partner. This form of abuse is the most common amongst teen and adult relationships, and is not limited to romantic partners. Emotional abuse can manifest itself in platonic relationships, parent and child relationships, and work relationships. Behavior in platonic relationships such as with friends and co-workers is a form of bullying and often leads to intense feelings of anxiety, depression, or isolation in which the abused party feels as if they are less than human or somehow different than everyone else.

While the abused parties don’t display the bruises and scars of physical abuse, science shows that this form of abuse is at least as damaging, if not more so in some cases than physically abusive relationships. In fact, verbal abuse victims often display the same sorts of psychosis of physically abused persons. An additional problem with emotional abuse is that this form of abuse lacks physical evidence that is often seen with physical abuse. This – in many cases – leaves emotional abuse victims to suffer far longer than the typical victim of physical abuse, and the suffering is often in isolation from the rest of the world as the abuser may not seem all that threatening to those outside of the relationship.

Emotional Abuse
What is Emotional Abuse?

In the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, results showed that men are more likely to be aggressive than women, but gender is not a reliable predictor of interpersonal aggression, including emotional abuse. The study showed that occurrence rates were nearly identical amongst men and women, and that a particular cluster of traits, such as jealousy, mood swings, suspicion, and poor self control lead to higher instances of both physical and emotional abuse. Men that possessed these clusters were said to have two distinct forms of interpersonal aggression. One of these included behavioral traits displayed against strangers and the other was traits displayed against female partners. Females, on the other hand were shown to rarely be aggressive to anyone outside of intimate male partners and children. Both males and females who displayed these traits also exhibited higher than average rates of personality disorders. These personality disorders were most commonly, borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder.

Methods Used in Emotional Abuse Therapy

Emotional abuse is very difficult to treat unless the victim distances themselves from the abuser or the abuser agrees there is a problem and attends therapy in order to try to cease the abusive behavior. However, for this to happen, the abuser needs to understand that it’s a problem which is difficult in the case of emotional abuse. While physical abuse shows signs and symptoms of problematic behavior that are easy to reference later on by the victim, emotional abuse requires specialized therapy in order to get to root issues. Therapists might start with behavior modification therapy for both parties in which they seek to identify healthy and unhealthy behavior on both sides and give actionable steps as the individuals move forward. In essence, these joint therapy sessions are intended to teach the couple assertive and effective communication.

Other forms of therapy include individual psychotherapy, or group therapy (often a victims or survivors group) intended to educate the victim as to what constitutes healthy behavior by a partner, friend or acquaintance, and what they should see as red flags or warning signs.

In addition to therapy, medication or alternative therapies such as hypnosis, acupuncture or massage may be used to treat underlying psychosis caused by these traumatic events.

Why Hire a Therapist?

If you intend to save the relationship it’s rarely as simple as the abuser stopping the abuse without any outside intervention. In fact, the abusers are so often affected with personality disorders (around 80-percent of all court and self-referred male abusers), that change on their own without some form of psychotherapy, or combination therapy involving behavior modification or cognitive behavioral therapy, medication and/or group therapy may be extremely difficult.

If the victim has already left the abusive relationship it’s just as imperative to seek therapy as the victims in these types of cases are often subconsciously drawn to those who display this type of behavior. In this case, it is important for the victim to understand why they are drawn to certain individuals through therapy.

What to Look for in a Therapist

Therapists that have experience in abuse are very common. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a mental health professional, or even an alternative therapy professional who hasn’t had prior patients that have dealt with abuse. While the therapists themselves are relatively common, abuse cases often require an immense amount of client-patient trust. Whether through free consultations or direct phone interviews, it’s important that you pick a therapist that you feel a connection with so that you can share openly and honestly in order to reap the best results of the therapy.