Difference Between Mental and Emotional Abuse

Mental vs Emotional Abuse

Identifying the difference between Mental Abuse and Emotional Abuse is a somewhat complex task given that the terms are used interchangeably. Abuse may take different forms such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, and psychological abuse. Mental and Emotional Abuse fall within the general category of psychological abuse. Psychological abuse has been defined as any act that subjects or exposes a person to behaviour that is psychologically harmful. It is further interpreted as the willful infliction of mental or emotional distress or anguish by way of intimidation, humiliation, isolation and other verbal or non-verbal conduct. Simply put, while physical abuse results in harm or injury to a person’s body, psychological abuse results in serious harm or injury to a person’s psyche or soul (mind, will, and emotions). Generally, abuse is often the result of a power imbalance particularly in relationships, such as marriage, parent and child relationships, relationships at school or at the workplace.  However, while there is a subtle distinction between Mental Abuse and Emotional Abuse, they are also related. Let’s take a closer look at Mental Abuse and Emotional Abuse and, from that, analyse the difference between them.

What is Mental Abuse?

Perhaps it is best to understand the meaning of Mental Abuse by first defining the term ‘Mental.’ The dictionary defines Mental as something pertaining to the mind or relating to the mind. As we are all well aware, the mind is the faculty by which we form our thoughts and/or opinions. Mental Abuse, therefore, refers to a disturbance of the mind, or in simpler terms, a damaged mind. This means that the general sanity and stability of a person’s mind has been disturbed or damaged. Such a state occurs due to continuous, excessive, abusive behaviour that may take several forms including verbal abuse (shouting, name-calling and blaming), neglect, isolation, humiliation, intimidation and/or domination. This type of conduct typically exposes a person to constant negativity and results in the creation of negative thoughts. If the abuse continues, such negative thoughts fester, increase and become a part of the person’s belief.

For example, if A constantly verbally abuses B through insults, criticisms, and yelling, over a period, B begins to believe A’s words. Thus, if A states that B is worthless, useless and should not have been born, B will start to believe that A’s words are true. B will degrade himself and devalue his self-worth and importance as a person. Words and actions have a profound impact on people. Thus, repeated negative behaviour will result in a severely damaged mind, or in other words, Mental Abuse. Mental Abuse inevitably leads to anxiety, depression, suicide, self-mutilation, crime, insanity and other detrimental effects if not treated. It also leads to Emotional Abuse.

What is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional Abuse is a term that is heard quite frequently today. The term ‘Emotional’ refers to something relating to or pertaining to a person’s emotions. In this sense, Emotional Abuse can be interpreted as a state of damaged emotions. As with Mental Abuse, Emotional Abuse can take various forms such as verbal abuse, domination, manipulation, intimidation, humiliation, threats, insults, neglect, blame, excessive criticism, isolation and rejection. Emotional Abuse can also be the result of not just one incident but a series of abusive behaviour or conduct over a period. In addition, the harm caused by sexual and physical abuse inevitably results in Emotional Abuse. Emotional Abuse is not just limited to women and children but can take place at the workplace, home, or even among social groups. It represents an attack on a person’s emotions and feelings. Thus, a victim of Emotional Abuse typically experiences feelings of rejection, fear, insecurity, isolation, insignificance, unworthiness and more. Further, such a victim’s level of self-esteem and confidence is detrimentally low and leads to self-degradation.

For example, X is a victim of Emotional Abuse, which has resulted from her husband’s behaviour. His constant criticism and insults, manipulation of her communication with family and friends, restriction of activities, finances and decision-making has left X feeling unworthy, unloved, insignificant, fearful, isolated and dependent. Her self-image and worth as a human individual has been damaged and scarred leaving her uncertain and unsure of herself as a person. Think of Emotional Abuse as an act that damages a person’s sense of identity, self-worth and dignity. As with Mental Abuse, victims of Emotional Abuse suffer from anxiety, depression and may even have suicidal tendencies.

Mental vs Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse leaves a person emotionally weak

What is the difference between Mental and Emotional Abuse?

The distinction between Mental and Emotional Abuse is indeed subtle.

• The best way to distinguish them is to think of Mental Abuse as abusive behaviour that damages a person’s mind, and Emotional Abuse as behaviour that damages a person’s emotions.

• Mental Abuse affects a person’s thoughts and thought process.

• Victims of Mental Abuse suffer from constant negative thoughts that diminish their value as a person and lead to self-degradation.

• Mental Abuse is typically caused through verbal abuse such as insults or criticism, or even by humiliating a person in public.

• If not treated, Mental Abuse may lead to detrimental effects such as insanity, depression or even suicide.

• Emotional Abuse, in contrast, affects a person’s emotions or feelings.

• Victims of Emotional Abuse typically suffer from feelings of insecurity, fear, rejection, isolation, insignificance, unworthiness, and they have a low level of self-esteem and confidence. They also suffer from anxiety and depression.


Images Courtesy: Edouard Manet 059 and violence via Wikicommons (Public Domain)