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Support for survivors: emotional abuse 12.12.07


Women experiencing emotional abuse may find the questions and answers in this article relevant to their situation. Click on the questions below to view the answers.




My husband has never hit me – but often shouts at me and calls me awful names. Is this abuse?

Yes, what you’re describing is domestic abuse. Emotional and verbal abuse are both classed as domestic violence. This behaviour is not acceptable and you don’t have to put up with it.


My partner always shouts at me and accuses me of ‘being up to something’. Things got so bad a couple of weeks ago that he started to harm himself in front of me. I think he did this to frighten me and it’s worked but what can I do now to help him?


Unfortunately the behaviour that your partner is displaying isn’t uncommon amongst abusive men. You’re right in thinking that he wanted to frighten you. What he’s doing is manipulative and also incredibly emotionally abusive as he’s trying to make you feel in some way responsible for his self harm. Remember that you are in no way responsible for any of his actions. 

There are various options for your partner if he wants to seek help for his behaviour.  However, he will have to seek this help for himself and nobody can make him do this. Only if he accepts full responsibility for his actions and admits that he needs help will any agency be able to offer him assistance. If he does this he could seek help from a number of organisations.



What’s the best way to gather evidence about emotional abuse?

Firstly, we would suggest that you see your GP and tell them about how you’re feeling. If the GP keeps notes of this visit and or offers a referral to counselling etc, this may be something you can use as evidence. If you call the National Domestic Violence Helpline* and give them express permission to make a record of the call, containing any notes on how you’ve been affected by your partner’s behaviour, this may be called upon as evidence. You can access these records by writing to the helpline manager – but call records are only kept for one year.

It may be useful for you to start keeping a record of the emotional abuse that you’re experiencing. Note down the time and date, what was said, any threats he makes and if anyone else was present at the time. Keep any abusive text messages, emails or voicemail messages, as this information will really help when you come to discuss your situation with a solicitor.

If other people have witnessed any of the emotional abuse then their testimony could also be used.



My husband is very possessive. He constantly phones and emails me when I’m out of the house. He doesn’t like me seeing my friends or family and he checks my text messages when he can. He says it’s because he cares. Is this normal for a relationship?

This possessive behaviour isn’t normal in a loving relationship. It’s a form of controlling behaviour and is all part of the pattern of an abusive relationship. It sounds as if there is a real danger of you becoming isolated if he continues to prevent you from seeing your friends and family. If a person really loves and cares for you they would want you to be happy and to have lots of supportive friends and family around you. 



My last three relationships have been abusive – why do I always get involved with abusive men?

It’s important to remember that the abuse is in no way your fault or responsibility. Often the abuse doesn’t become apparent until quite far into the relationship, so a woman would not recognise that the man was going to turn out to be abusive. Quite often an abusive relationship can be very intense at first and what may actually be possessive and controlling behaviour could be misconstrued as passion and love. If a woman has recently come out of an abusive relationship, this flattery and intense attention could be very attractive and the thought of someone ‘looking after’ you could be extremely appealing. It’s only further down the line that the reality of the relationship becomes evident.

Whilst not wanting to build up too many emotional barriers around yourself, it might be worth having a think about potential warning signs in a new relationship. Examples might include things moving very quickly early on, him wanting you to spend all of his time with you, discouraging you from going out with friends or seeing family, him being jealous and possessive and him wanting to read your text messages or emails. Whilst of course these things don’t automatically make him an abuser, they are things that could alert you to be a little more on your guard.



My abusive boyfriend says he will kill himself if I leave him. What should I do?

This is an extremely common threat for an abusive person to make. It’s incredibly manipulative and emotionally abusive, and is totally unacceptable. He is using emotional threats and abuse in order to control your behaviour. He thinks that by saying this he can prevent you from doing anything about the abusive relationship that you’re in. 

The reality is that this is usually an empty threat. Of course this could not be guaranteed, but it’s important to remember that he is the only person that is responsible for his actions. If he were to harm himself in any way you wouldn’t be in any way responsible for that. 



My partner won’t let me see my family or friends, and he monitors my phone calls. How can I get him to change?

Recognising that this behaviour is neither normal nor acceptable is a positive step forward.  He’s being incredible emotionally abusive towards you and is attempting to control your behaviour. However, he is the only person that can decide to change his behaviour. It’s likely that at the moment he doesn’t recognise his actions as being wrong in any way. Unless he admits that he has a problem and then seeks help to address it, it is unlikely that this will change. In fact what generally happens is that this pattern of abusive behaviour increases in frequency and severity over time.


I’m being forced to keep everything meticulously clean. My partner goes mental if I put a foot wrong. He’s just being over-excessive, but it’s like walking on egg shells. What should I do to get out of the spiral we’re in?


Your partner is making completely unreasonable demands of you. The situation that you describe sounds like part of a pattern of abusive behaviour that would be classed as domestic violence. It sounds as if he’s very controlling of you and reacts unreasonably when you do something that he doesn’t like. The truth is that even if you adapt your behaviour to cater for his moods, it’s likely he’ll find something else as a reason to be abusive towards you. Unless he acknowledges that his behaviour is unacceptable and takes steps to do something about it, the situation is unlikely to change. Perhaps you could have a think about what you are getting out of this relationship and whether it’s time to assess whether or not you have a future together.


My husband and I get into fights but then he’s so nice and apologetic afterwards, and I always forgive him. Is this ok to do?


This really depends on how the relationship makes you feel. What are the ‘fights’ like? Is he physically abusive towards you? Does he shout at you, put you down and call you names?  What is the rest of the relationship like? Is he quite possessive and controlling of you? 

Another thing to think about is that even though he says sorry, does it always happen again? This kind of inconsistent behaviour can be very confusing as it’s difficult to know where you stand. If he really is sorry then it would follow that he should want to do something to address his actions. If he takes full responsibility for his abusive behaviour then it’s up to him to take steps to change. 

Whether you want to continue with this relationship has to be your decision. Perhaps you could think about whether or not you’re afraid of your husband. Are the fights becoming more frequent or more extreme? Are you finding yourself adapting your behaviour in order to pacify him? These could all signal that the abuse is getting worse and that you may be in a dangerous situation.


My husband puts me down and calls me names all of the time, he says I’m a bad mother and that I’m going mad. I’m starting to believe him and I don’t think I can cope any more.  What should I do?


What you’re describing is emotional abuse. This verbal abuse and mental torture is classed as domestic violence and he shouldn’t be allowed to treat you this way. You’re not going mad. This is a very common thing for an abusive person to say. He’s trying to undermine your self-esteem and make you feel that you’re reliant on him. Remember that you are not in any way responsible for what’s happening. He is abusing you and you don’t have to accept it. You would probably feel a lot more able to cope with life if he wasn’t constantly putting you down.

It’s completely normal to feel the way that you’re feeling when you’ve been experiencing this level of consistent emotional abuse. You may want to consider visiting your GP to talk about how you’ve been feeling. If you tell them the situation, they can make notes on your medical record and this could then be used as evidence should you need it in the future. If you want to end the relationship, you could think about taking out an injunction against him to make him leave the house and stay away from you.

Alternatively you could seek emergency accommodation to get yourself and your children out of this abusive situation.

If you’re not ready to leave the relationship then you could still contact your local domestic violence service to get emotional support whilst the relationship continues. 

*The National Domestic Violence Helpline is run in partnership between Women's Aid & Refuge.