Teen dating violence is a growing problem in the United States. Today, approximately one-third of all teens involved in romantic relationships will experience abuse of some kind. When we hear the term “abuse,” we tend to think about physical violence and/or sexual abuse. However, teen dating violence can actually involve so much more than that. In fact, emotional abuse can be just as devastating and traumatic for young victims.
What is Emotional Abuse?
Did you know that emotional abuse is the most common type of abusive conduct in teenage relationships? In fact, emotional abuse is reported by 76% of all teens who report teen dating violence. However, emotional abuse tends to be talked about much less frequently than other, more identifiable and immediately-dangerous types of harmful conduct. While physical and sexual abuse may have immediately threatening repercussions, emotional and psychological abuse can cause just as much damage to a teen in the long run.
So, what exactly is emotional abuse? Emotional abuse is a form of controlling behavior that involves subjecting another person to behavior that causes a diminished “sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth.” Many times, emotional abuse causes a victim to suffer from psychological distress, including (but not limited to) anxiety, depression, and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Types of Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse can take many different shapes and forms. As a result, it can be difficult to identify emotionally-abusive behaviors. However, certain types of emotional abuse are reported more commonly than others.
Teen dating abusers may resort to verbal abuse including yelling, screaming, chastising, and demeaning their partner. Verbal abuse can be used as a way to control victims by making them feel very small and badly about themselves. When a victim suffers from low self-esteem, they may be less likely to break up with their abuser, fearing that no one else would be interested in having a relationship with them. Teens are already very emotionally-vulnerable, and the verbal abuse by a partner can make things worse.
Emotional abuse does not necessarily have to involve words. A teen dating abuser may, instead, attempt to physically isolate his or her partner from other people. Signs of isolation may include:
- Making a partner feel bad about spending time with friends and family
- Threatening a partner for spending time with other people
- Physically restraining a partner from going somewhere, and
- Lying to a partner by claiming that others are uninterested in spending time with them.
When a teen is the victim of isolation, they may become dependent on their abusive partner and fall victim to additional abuse.
Teen abusers may also use their words to publicly embarrass their partners. This embarrassment can result in extremely low self-esteem and self-worth. Victims of this type of abuse often become isolated from others and rely on their abusers.
Signs of Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse can be just as devastating as physical and/or sexual abuse. Teens who are victims of emotional abuse are more likely to develop low self-esteem, exhibit psychological issues including depression and anxiety, and turn to drugs and alcohol for relief. The best way to help teens who are victims of emotional abuse is to understand how to recognize the signs and symptoms.
Signs of emotional abuse in teen dating relationships include:
- Teens withdrawn from and uninterested in ordinary activities
- Unexpected and unexplained mood swings
- Demonstrated fear of upsetting their partner
- Reluctance to engage in activities without their partner, for fear of retribution
- Low self-esteem and self-worth
- Drug and alcohol use, and/or
- Self-harming and/or suicidal behaviors.
Do you recognize any of these signs and symptoms in your teen? Are they currently involved in a romantic relationship? If so, set some time aside to talk to them about what is going on in their life. They may not recognize that they are in an abusive relationship and/or know how to get help. Sitting down with your teen can help to protect them from the trauma of teen dating violence and emotional abuse. Any type of abuse has serious consequences for both the abused and abuser. Talk to your teen today to make sure they are safe.