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When Emotional Abuse Turns Physical

A young blonde woman looks scared and asks a man with a clenched fist not to hit her.jpg

Abusive relationships seldom start as abusive. Behaviors start to escalate after a bond forms in a relationship. You can go from being happy with a partner to finding yourself in an emotionally abusive relationship. When emotional abuse turns physical — then you must prioritize your safety.

Survivors of emotional and physical abuse say their relationships intensified over time. Their stories reveal the warning signs you can look for if you’re worried you’re experiencing domestic violence. Knowing the red flags means you may be able to remove yourself from the abusive situation sooner. 

The Difference Between Emotional and Physical Abuse 

Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to gain and maintain control and power over the other person in a relationship. The abuser will do anything in their ability to feel like they control their partner. If they feel threatened, things escalate. 

Emotional abuse is a method of controlling another person by using emotions to criticize, embarrass, shame, blame, or manipulate them. A relationship is emotionally abusive if a partner uses these behaviors to damage the other person’s self-esteem and mental health.

Physical abuse is when one person uses physical force against another to cause injury. Anyone using physical force that could harm you is abusive. 

Experiencing emotional abuse can indicate that your relationship will turn into a physically violent one. 

Intimate partner violence doesn’t look one distinct way or follow an exact pattern. But there are some traits that make it similar. It can happen to anyone regardless of age, race, nationality, socioeconomic status, culture, or even education.

What Does Emotional Abuse Look Like?

While emotional abuse doesn’t look the same in every relationship, there are some common indicators. The key to remember here is that abuse is all about an imbalance of power. If you feel powerless to your partner, you may be experiencing emotional or psychological abuse. 

Signs of emotional abuse include:

  • Being Put Down. Your partner makes you feel like you’re not good enough. They constantly put you down, shame you, or threaten you.
  • Feeling Scared. Feeling scared of your partner’s reactions to things, even if they’re minor. For example, maybe you accidentally broke a plate, and you’re afraid that they’ll react with insults or anger.
  • Threatening. Your partner threatens to leave you if you don’t do what they tell you to. These threats may be subtle or overt, but your partner uses these threats to make you act, dress, or be a certain way. 
  • Gaslighting. Your partner makes you doubt your thoughts, feelings, or even your sanity. They manipulate the truth and make you question your sense of self.
  • Isolation. They try to isolate you by limiting your freedom of movement, preventing you from contacting friends or family, or impeding your ability to participate in things you enjoy. 
  • Yelling. Your partner yells, screams, or swears at you. These actions make you feel rejected, put down, or intimidated. 

A man and woman sit next to each other. The woman is crying with a black eye. The man is asleep with his arm around her

What Does Physical Abuse Look Like?

There is often a fine line for when emotional abuse turns physical. Often, people experiencing emotional abuse think it’s their fault. They’re then surprised when the abuse turns physical.

Physical abuse may include:

  • Unwanted Contact. Unwanted physical or sexual contact like choking, shaking, strangulation, burning, biting, slapping, spitting, pushing, kicking, and pulling hair are all common.
  • Withholding Care. When the person prevents their partner from eating, having access to medical care, or taking necessary medication. 
  • Preventing Sleep. They prevent their partner from getting adequate or any sleep. Sleep deprivation is often done because it makes a person easier to control and manipulate. 
  • Forced Consumption. Forcing you to drink alcohol or take drugs.
  • Using Weapons. They weaponize objects around you to harm you, such as a belt or wooden spoon. They may even throw things at you.
  • Harming Others. They harm others in the household, such as children or pets.

The Connection Between Emotional and Physical Abuse

People who experience emotional abuse often end up experiencing physical abuse too. Most physically abusive men are also emotionally or psychologically abusive to their partners. Usually, a relationship will start as loving and full of intimacy. This positive start is how abusive partners gain control. Without that bond, a person would walk away. But with that bond, it makes it much more difficult to leave. Then the emotional and psychological abuse starts. Making the partner feel isolated, worthless, and like they deserve the abuse. After the emotional abuse has become normalized is when it turns physically violent. 

Red Flags of Abuse

Developing the ability to recognize when you’re in an emotionally or psychologically abusive relationship may enable you to leave sooner and when it is safer to do so.

Red flags of abuse include when your partner:

  • Isolates you from loved ones who may be able to help you.
  • Blames you for the violence or the abuse and refuses to take responsibility for their actions.
  • Threatens to harm you, cheat on you, or leave you.
  • Cross boundaries around your physical, mental, or emotional safety. This boundary abuse could be using technology to track your whereabouts, accessing your social media accounts, or even stalking you.
  • Pressures you to have sex, to keep quiet, or act a certain way.
  • Has a history of abuse in previous relationships, in their childhood, or with animals.
  • Humiliates you publicly, on social media, or privately.
  • Is excessively jealous or paranoid about where you are, what you are doing, or who you are near.

These are just some red flags of abuse. If your partner exhibits these behaviors, it may be time for you to remove yourself from the situation. Remember that you’re not to blame for your partner’s behaviors. You deserve to be and feel safe at all times and to recover from abuse.

How Integrative Life Center Can Help When Emotional Abuse Turns Physical

At the Integrative Life Center, we understand how difficult it is to experience abuse and remove yourself from an abusive situation. We can help you not only survive but thrive through our holistic treatment programs. ILC offers many therapies to help survivors of abuse regain their sense of self and safety. Take the first step in your healing by contacting us today.


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