Definition of mental abuse

Written by brooke nichols
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Definition of mental abuse

Mental abuse, also known as emotional or psychological abuse, can occur in close relationships, including parent/child relationships, marital relationships or sibling relationships. Mental abuse causes damage in the victim as she is made to believe she is worthless and at fault. Mental abuse is particularly harmful on children because of the impact it has on developing self-esteem and patterns relating to others.

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Harming a person through emotional abuse, sometimes called mental abuse, means there is a consistent and chronic pattern of maltreatment that is causing significant distress. Mental abuse interferes with a person's ability to develop healthy and stable patterns of relating to others.

Perpetrators of Mental Abuse

Intimidating others, verbal threats, name calling, excessive blaming, and rejecting and belittling people are methods that a perpetrator of abuse uses to maintain control and power over a victim. Emotional abusers will also try to keep their victim isolated from family, friends or co-workers in efforts to eliminate support systems.

Victims of Mental Abuse

Experiencing low self-esteem, unrealistic fears, anxiety, nightmares, sleep problems, mood swings and/or self-harm behaviour are characteristics that can be identified in victims suffering from emotional abuse. At times, the mental abuse might be difficult for victims to recognise until a consistent pattern has developed in the relationship with the abuser.

Abusive Relationships

Being involved in an abusive relationship is harmful for the abuser and the victim. A cycle of emotional abuse ensues in which the maltreatment will reach its peak, de-escalate into a "honeymoon" phase with the abuser indicating remorse and the victim forgives him. This cycle is repeated over again.


Seeking help from professionals such as a therapist or counsellor can help identify abuse and create awareness of interventions that will help disrupt the cycle. Assertiveness skill training, enhancing self-esteem and support groups can help a victim gain back control of an abusive situation.


Recognising early warning signs of a potentially abusive relationship is significantly helpful to get out as quick as possible. Emotional and mental abuse can escalate into physical or sexual abuse. It is important to identify any signs of mental abuse early to prevent further harm to a victim.

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