Don’t Gaslight Me. Emotional Abuse is Abuse.

Christina M. Jones J.D. | February 16, 2022

Maybe you could say the first public outburst of love was endearing. The second may have been embarrassing for most, but they are such a public couple. After moving in across the street and berating her parenting across social media platforms, it was time to stop excusing this behavior. Genius or not, this is emotional abuse. 

Every year, millions of people are harmed due to their dating and intimate partners humiliating them by calling them names, intentionally spreading harmful information, and harassing their new partners. So many people believe, If he’s not putting his hands on me, it’s not abuse.” Emotional abuse is a form of abuse that we need to take seriously. Full stop. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Psychological aggression is the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm another partner mentally or emotionally and/or to exert control over another partner. They also report that over 43 million women and 38 million men have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime. According to the Domestic Violence Hotline’s 2020 data, 95% of contacts stated they were experiencing emotional abuse. 

Whether a friend discloses the terror they are experiencing, or we have a front-row seat to the abusive behavior via public outbursts, many of us are aware when our friends and family members are in emotionally abusive situations but have no idea what to do to help them. Here are three ways you can be a great friend to someone going through emotional abuse. 

First, let them know they are not alone and don’t have to suffer in silence. Millions of people each year experience emotional abuse. People experiencing abuse can feel isolated by their abusers, who often use shame to keep survivors silent. One way to help them feel seen is to be there as a listening ear and validate their experience.

Second, remind them that they deserve a healthy relationship. Don’t talk negatively about the partner, as this can turn them off and cause them to shut down. Try not to be judgmental and definitely don’t criticize them for staying in the relationship. Specifically, call out the behavior and remind them that they deserve a relationship free of emotional abuse. Even if you think they are ignoring your advice, your words as a close friend may stick with them and be the boost they need to exit the relationship. 

Finally, discreetly send them resources that will help them process their feelings. Resources like Love is Respect and the Domestic Violence Hotline are great next steps that could help them process what safety looks like for them. Also, local domestic violence coalitions have professionals who know the specific local resources where they can go to find help. 

We can’t continue to stay silent as our loved ones experience emotional abuse. Let’s all commit to showing up for them to make sure they feel supported and loved by using our words and influence as positive weapons against the negativity of emotional abuse. 

Christina M. Jones, Esq. is Deputy Director of Policy Initiatives at the Battered Women’s Justice Project. The Battered Women’s Justice Project is the national resource center on civil and criminal justice responses to intimate partner violence (IPV).

If you are experiencing dating violence, call the dating violence hotline, Love is Respect at 1.866.331.9474. Or text LOVEIS to 22522. You can also call the domestic violence hotline at 800-799-7233.   


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