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What Does Mental Abuse Look Like?

* I generally write using the pronouns he/him when referring to narcissists, but females are just as likely to be narcissists or exhibit narcissistic traits. So please don't think just because article uses the word him or he that it could not be a woman in that same role.

Mental abuse is one of the most common forms of abuse, and is experienced by most people throughout their lifetimes.

This isn’t always extreme or severe, and the intentions, degrees, and methods of it can change and vary depending on the person and the situation in question.

What Does Mental Abuse Look Like?

However it appears though, mental abuse can indeed be troubling and upsetting, and can have a distinct impact on the lives of those who suffer from it.

But what exactly does mental abuse look like, and how can people avoid mentally abusive situations?

Table of Contents

What Is Mental Abuse?

Also known as emotional or psychological abuse, mental abuse is the act of deliberately causing someone upset or emotional pain – as well as trying to control or influence them through verbal and non-verbal actions.

What Forms Can It Take?

There are numerous forms that mental abuse can take, each of them ranging in severity and intention depending on the situation at hand.


This is perhaps the most common form of mental abuse – at least amongst young people and children – and tends to be something most people experience at some point in their lives.

Bullying is described as continual unwanted, aggressive behavior from one person to another, with the intention of creating and nurturing a perceived or actual power imbalance.


Intimidation is something that can happen amongst all age groups and genders, and usually involves one person frightening another person – or controlling their behavior – through the implied threat of violence.

This is another common occurrence within society, and most people will have experienced some form of intimidation (actual or perceived) at some point in their lives.


Similar to intimidation, coercion usually involves one person forcing another person (either through mental or implied physical threats) to undertake something they do not otherwise want to undertake.

This could be forcing someone to lend you money, forcing them to go somewhere they do not want to go, or forcing them into compromising, or uncomfortable situations that they do not want to be involved in.


Like bullying, harassment is a continual process, and one that occurs regularly over time – usually increasing in severity and veracity.

Categorized as aggressive pressure or intimidation, harassment usually has a goal (such as sexual intercourse, monetary exchange etc) – although this is not always the case.

In some cases, harassment can take the form of a regime of terror designed to break down, frighten, and ultimately control an individual.


Somewhat similar to bullying, ridicule is something that many people face throughout their lifetimes, and tends to draw from social situations or groupings, wherein individuals within the group bring someone else down to make themselves appear dominant.


This usually is more serious than ridicule. If ridicule is to ‘make fun of’ someone, then humiliation is to debase them with shame, feelings of sadness, and mortify them in some manner.

Humiliation is usually depicted as a form of ridicule that is extreme or severe – for example the exposure of a deep, personal secret, or through widespread public humiliation wherein a person is ridiculed on a mass scale (such as live television).

Controlling Behaviors

While generally common in interpersonal relationships with spouses or partners, controlling behavior can also be a factor in relationships between friends and parents-children.

Controlling behavior can consist of many different things, each of which can vary depending on who is trying to control you.

For example, a controlling partner might want their spouse to be home after a certain time, to not talk to members of the opposite sex, or to distance themselves from their family.

Alternatively, controlling friends might reject your ideas and plans, choosing instead to implement their own.

Perhaps similarly to spousal dynamics of controlling behavior, parents might use guilt, shame, and disappointment towards their children – either as a means of controlling their actions, making themselves feel superior (due to perceived underachievement on their part), or as a means of keeping them in a state of arrested development, wherein they will remain at home, single, unemployed, and thus still reliant on parental help.


Gaslighting is a more complex term, and one that focuses on one person making another feel foolish, delusional, or to coin a term, ‘crazy’.

This happens a lot in relationships, wherein one partner will question another’s bad behavior, and the gaslighting partner will make themselves out to be the victim, accuse the partner (who had a genuine grievance) of constantly victimizing and bullying them.

This comes down to control, and making the recipient lose all faith in their own common sense and social awareness.

This will make that person more subservient to their partner’s will and opinions, thus diminishing their own autonomy as a human being over time.

Anger & Yelling

While tempers can flare in certain situations, it is when there are repeated bouts of anger, specifically anger used to control, intimidate, and belittle others, wherein it shifts from an accident to abuse.

Anger and yelling can be the most basic and effective methods of controlling and abusing someone, and are one of the most common forms of domestic abuse between spouses and partners.

How To Cope With Mental Abuse

How To Cope With Mental Abuse

Luckily, there are certain processes you can employ to help yourself cope with (and avoid) mental abuse.

Seeking Help

This could be in the form of therapy, support groups, or from trusted friends and family members.

Having a support network can give you the strength to fight and resist such situations, ensuring they do not happen again.


Journaling your experiences can be a great way of not only expressing your feelings in a healthy way, but also collecting your thoughts in a way you can understand and refer back to.

Don’t Engage

Refusing to engage with your abuser is another way of taking back control and shutting them out.

This can be more difficult if the abuser is someone you live with, but when applied in conjunction with therapy and support, can be the best way to reclaim your autonomy.

Recognize Unhealthy Patterns

It is also important to recognize that unhealthy patterns can appear, knowing what the signs are, and making informed choices accordingly.

This is of course easier said than done, and we all want to believe the best in people, but knowing what the signs are can be a great way of avoiding potentially bad situations.

This also refers to breaking patterns within yourself, stepping out of your own mind for a moment, and trying to observe situations externally.

We can often become blinded or acclimatized to bad situations when we are in them, but separating ourselves can give us a healthier perspective.

Final Thoughts

And there we have it, everything you need to know about mental abuse, and the forms it can take in everyday interpersonal relationships.

Of course, if you find yourself a victim of mental abuse, and you need someone to speak to, always seek the help of registered medical professionals – or indeed the numerous support groups that are out there raring and ready to help.

If you need a crisis hotline or want to learn more about therapy, please see below:

For more information on mental health, please see:

If You Need A Crisis Hotline Or Want To Learn More About Therapy, Please See Below:

  • RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) – 1-800-656-4673
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233
  • NAMI Helpline (National Alliance on Mental Illness) – 1-800-950-6264

For More Information On Mental Health, Please See:

  • SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) SAMHSA Facebook, SAMHSA Twitter, SAMHSA LinkedIn, SAMHSA Youtube
  • Mental Health America, MHA Twitter, MHA Facebook, MHA Instagram, MHA Pinterest, MHA Youtube
  • WebMD, WebMD Facebook, WebMD Twitter, WebMD Instagram, WebMD Pinterest
  • NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), NIMH Instagram, NIMH Facebook, NIMH Twitter, NIMH YouTube
  • APA (American Psychiatric Association), APA Twitter, APA Facebook, APA LinkedIN, APA Instagram

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