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Physical abuse, especially in the context of domestic abuse, rightly gets a lot of public attention as concerned citizens seek to combat its prevalence in society. However, mental/psychological abuse can be equally – or sometimes more – traumatizing than physical abuse. Even worse, mental abuse does not leave any physical signs of trauma –making it more difficult to detect in day-to-day life. This means, unfortunately, that victims of this type of abuse often go without help for years.

What Is Mental Abuse?

Understanding what mental/emotional abuse entails is critical for the families and loved ones of survivors in order to effectively identify the problem at hand and then to seek help to resolve it.

The definitions of mental abuse can vary between experts but is generally recognized to include degrading, belittling, or intentionally hurtful words. The abuse can be transient – for example, one person walking by another on the road may verbally abuse another – or it can occur over extended periods, even years.

Although the clinical definition of mental abuse may be difficult to pinpoint, most of us know – and feel – mental abuse when we see it.

The Consequences of Mental Abuse

Over time, repeated episodes of mental abuse can result in the development of serious mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression.

Common Sources of Mental Abuse

Although everyone is subject to the harmful effects of mental abuse, some demographic groups are more susceptible than others.

Teenagers — because of their emotional vulnerability, developing self-identity, and often unstable mental health – are one of the groups most affected by the trauma of mental abuse. The phenomenon is made worse by the widespread use of social media among this demographic, which can serve as a vehicle for this type of abuse.

Adults are also often the targets of mental abuse, frequently at the hands of a romantic partner. Manipulative husbands, wives, boyfriends, or girlfriends may weaponize a partner’s insecurities against them, incorporating mental abuse that plays on their vulnerabilities to demoralize and degrade them. This process, again, may occur over long time periods, even years.

Also, it’s important to note that, although men are more prone to physical violence in a relationship, studies show that men and women demonstrate mentally abusive behavior at about the same rates.

How to Get Help to Recover From Mental Abuse

There is the hope of recovery from the invisible scars of mental abuse. Many therapists are specifically trained in helping patients identify the traumas they have experienced resulting from mental abuse and then formulate treatment plans for recovery.