Understanding emotional abuse

Domestic violence (or intimate partner violence) is at epidemic levels, not just in Australia but around the world. Sadly, women are the majority of victims and the perpetrator is male — their current husband, ex-husband or boyfriend.

Last year alone one women a week was murdered by her current or former partner in Australia. This year it is two women a week. What will it be next year?

I can guarantee that at least one woman who reads this post would have/or still is a victim of domestic violence. It is that common.

This is a tough blog post, but please don't leave because its too hard to read. I feel the need to get a message across because this is a topic that many mis-understand and provide advice that is troublesome. And why am I writing it just before Christmas? Because at this time of the year is when women are most at risk.

Domestic violence is a CRIME that happens behind closed doors in what should be the security of ones home. It happens in all walks of life — the rich to the poor, the educated to the uneducated. It happens across all societies and it has been happening for centuries.

In today's post I want to focus on one area of domestic violence, one that is insidious and dangerous but sadly to many people (and certainly bloggers) excuse and don't understand.   I am referring emotional and psychological abuse.

Emotional abuse is real, it happens and it happens a lot — not just to wives but to the children in families. It happens and its is very cruel and I will shortly tell you why.

Sadly, I continue to read blogs and comments along the that say that this is all a "bit made up" and in fact its the woman who needs to change her behaviour. She should become more submissive, less nagging, spending more of her time focused on her husband and that if she is quiet and good it will all go away. No, it doesn't. In fact, the perpetrator is more likely to get worse. 

Emotional abuse lead to psychological trauma, including chronic depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and can lead to suicide. To put it simply — it will make a woman ill if exposed to it long term.

Emotional abuse is elusive.

Unlike physical abuse, the woman receiving the emotional abuse may not even know it’s happening. In fact, emotional abuse is often used by high skilled perpetrators to make the wife believe she is going crazy and they often success. The husband will play mind-game endlessly and is often very good at these games. However, among friends, at work or church they can come across as charming and "a wonderful husband". No one witnesses the behaviour at home. 

It can be more harmful than physical abuse because it can undermine what we think about ourselves. It can cripple all we are meant to be as we allow something untrue to define us. Women begin to question their own mind, their confidences begins to suffer and by the end, they are shell of their former self.

Emotional abuse can include: verbal abuse, put-downs (such as "you are stupid, dumb"), insults, been sworn at, restricted movements, threats (including threats of death), isolation, humiliation, denial of the abuse by the perpetrator and blaming the victim (very common), playing mind-games, mocking, yelling, hurtful comments, restrict bank accounts, checking emails and phone messages, constant checking of the wife's whereabouts etc...  It can continue to the point that the wife is so frighten and anxious that the perpetrator (the husband) no longer needs to use threats to keep his wife under control. It can become a formal of slavery — and it does. All that I have listed above may not happen to all women, they may only experience some of these, however, it doesn't lesson the pain and anguish at all. 

Emotional abuse not only affects women it directly affects the children as they hear and see the manipulative behaviour of their father every day. They witness the verbals abuse, the puts downs, the insults, the yelling etc... Children in homes where emotional abuse is occurring suffer as much emotional damage as children in homes where there are physical abuse. 

The problem women have who suffer emotional abuse is convincing someone else that what is happening to real, is causing suffering and driving them out of their minds. Unfortunately, this sort of abuse occurs at home with no witnesses. Many women who suffer emotional abuse wish that their husband hit them so they have proof. And that is a tragedy.  

My message to Christian women:

— no abuse is acceptable from one's husband. No husband has the right to control and manipulate their wife, this is not biblical submission. And if you know someone in an emotional abused home, be careful about advising them to remain. Too often I read from bloggers (many unskilled in the area) saying "its ok to stay, he hasn't hit you".

The statistics are frightening. Of the homicides that occur as a direct result of domestic violence — MANY have happened with NO previous physical violence. This means that we have a growing number of women being murdered with no previous indication that they have been physically hit by their husbands — their husbands have gone from verbal abuse to killing in an instant.

— Please be careful in what you advise a woman to do. Please do not tell them to stay to a violence situation, whether that be physical, sexual or emotional as the consequences could be heartbreaking. Staying and remaining quiet in a submissive marriage does not improve the situation in many instances (sadly), intervention is needed. If counselling is sort, please only recommend those that have had domestic violence training (not all churches have trained counsellors in this area and they can get it so wrong). Otherwise women can find themselves blamed when in fact they are not at fault, they are and must be treated as the victim. 

— Please do not tell Christain women who are suffered emotional abuse that suffering is good and as a Christian we are expected to suffer and go through tribulations, so therefore one needs to stay. This is the same as saying to a woman with cancer, don't seek treatment because the suffering you will endure from cancer is what is expected of a Christain. That just makes me feel ill. Unless you have suffered emotional abuse, never advise a woman to "just put up with it". You also saying to the husband — keeping going, its ok. It is not ok to treat another person in this manner.  Yes, we will all go through tribulations but don't strongly suggest to someone they they need to stay in an abusive relationship so they can get it in bucketloads. 

Christian women who have experienced or experiencing any forms of domestic violences need a shoulder to cry one and someone to listen to them. They need to be believed and pointed in the right direction — they need help and so does their husband. They will need all the courage and strength they have to seek help if necessary and to leave if that is what is best for their safety. They will need your prayers, they don't need lectures. Often the most dangerous part of a domestic violence situation is the point when a woman seeks help — this is when she is most in danger and so are her children.

If a Christian woman needs to leave her husband, she must not return unless it is completely safe and the abuse has ended — remember emotional abuse is insidious and perpetuators are very clever at "pretending" to have changed.

I write this with some knowledge of the topic — as a sociologist who has studied gendered crime and as woman who has experience emotional abuse. I know the pain these women suffer and I can tell you it is real. This is not about women who complain or nag too much or not being submissive enough.

I plan to write more on this topic because I think it needs to be talked about, it needs to be in the open and it must not be the "dirty little secret" that women have kept hidden.

My next topic might sound strange — "Finding joy in the chaos of abuse". Yes, it can be found — it just requires a LOT of faith.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

And lean not on your own understanding.

Proverbs 3:5



  1. Goodness! Does anyone really think that emotional abuse is 'made up' these days? How frightening Jo! This is a really worthwhile post. More of the same please. Someone needs to speak up. Mimi xxx

    1. Thanks Mimi, I was concerned no one would comment on this one as its one of those "hot topics" that some women don't want to talk about. I will certainly be doing more of these, both to educate other women and for those who are suffering :)) Thanks for your support.

  2. I was one of those who passed on reading this post but with the urging from the next post,I read it. Yes it's a hard post to read. Just last night we had our next door neighbor knock on our door. She wasn't the wife but the daughter. She needed some help. Her brother and her were left alone for hours. They don't get along and she needed her mother who had been gone for 5 hours! Yelling and screaming is often heard from their home.
    The daughter called her mother at our home. She asked if she could step out to talk to her mother. I over heard her say that he (brother) wanted to kill her! The mother came home within minutes. (Where was she? don't know).
    Domestic violence isn't just wives and husbands!
    This is a lesson and an issue that I am going to take to heart! Please pray for me as I'm going to be available to our neighbors in every and any way I can.

    Thank you for posting this subject!!!

    1. In Australian this violence is called “Domestic and family violence” because it isn’t isolated to wives only but many children become caught up in it to – both as a victims and perpetrators. Sons who witness abuse at home are far more likely to become abusers themselves, in particular to their own wives (but as your witness to sisters and even their own mothers)— and this is why it is so important to remove children from these situations because they need to be away from the violence as it has a really bad effect on them.

      I know a few women who have had to run to their neighbours for help so it’s so important that women know about this and know how to help. I am so glad you were able to help the daughter and prayers that your help can make a differences — it sounds like a very sad situation in that home.

      This is a painful topic — but it’s happening in every neighbourhood across my country and no one can pretend it isn’t. Thankyou so much for reading it.

  3. Another hot topic that your readers mostly either passed by or didn't comment on. It saddens me how people like to shy away from topics that are very important. Emotional abuse is very traumatic and sad and should never be ignored. Women and children are often the victims because they are more vulnerable no matter how brave and "equal" they like to think themselves. :(

    1. It is interesting that a post about kitchens can get lots of comments but a serious topic like this is avoided at all costs - I am yet to work out why, are women afraid of the truth of what is happening around them. I wrote a comment on a blog post the other day about emotional abuse and was horrified at the response of the blog owner - she replied by saying that it was generally the woman fault because she starts the arguments. Blaming the victim is the very reason why so many women stay in abusive relationships because people don't believe them. I have now been to two conferences on Domestic Violence and what i have heard is heart breaking and the damage as a result of DV is very bad indeed. I plan to write more on this topic.


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