What Is Mental Abuse?

Mental abuse is a form of violence that affects the mind, often leaving the abused feeling worthless and lacking empowerment. HealthGuide.org states that mental abuse is also known as emotional abuse. According to mental health specialist Kathryn Patricelli, types of mental or emotional abuse include verbal and psychological abuse and both can be extremely hurtful.

Therapist speaking with patient. (Image: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images)

Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse occurs when "one person uses words and body language to inappropriately criticize another person," says Patricelli. Verbal abuse is characterized as a mental abuse because the abuser will taunt the abused, making her feel unloved and unworthy of respect. This type of abuse prevents healthy lifestyles and activities because the abused feels she is unable to reach goals or participate in healthy behaviors.

Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse is a means for altering the abused person's sense of reality, often in a manipulative way. Patricelli says that psychological abuse can occur in a pedophilic relationship in which the abuser tells the abused child that he caused the abuse himself by tempting the abuser. Psychological abuse also can happen in groups, such as in cults.

Signs of Abuse

According to the University of Michigan Health System, emotional or mental abuse may be occurring if "you are being treated in a way that makes you upset, ashamed or embarrassed." Furthermore, your partner may say mean things to you, threaten you, insult you, put you down, tell you that you make poor decisions, make you feel crazy, isolate you from friends or family, or ignore your feelings. Common phrases an emotional abuser may say are, "You're so stupid," "Nobody else would ever want you," "You look disgusting" and "You'll never be good enough to do that."

Risk Factors for Mental Abuse

Healthopedia, an online encyclopedia of health issues, says that some people are at greater risk for being mentally abused than others. Risk factors for mental abuse include "being a drug or alcohol abuser or having a partner who is one, being a female, especially between the ages of 17 and 34, being in a marriage or relationship in which one person is more dominant than the other, being in the first five years of a marriage or a live-in relationship, being pregnant, being socially and emotionally isolated, being unemployed, dealing with poverty, money problems, poor housing conditions, and frequent moves."

Seeking Help

If you are being abused mentally or physically, tell someone you trust who can take extensive measures to protect your safety and privacy, such as your doctor or a woman's health representative. Your local domestic violence or sexual assault program will be able to provide information, a place to stay, counseling and emotional support, as well as point you to legal help, child services, educational and financial resources, and employment resources.

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