Emotional Abuse Assessment Guide

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This guide is intended to assist community professionals or resource people coming into contact with women who are emotionally abused, by providing tools for assessing emotional abuse, and ways to respond.

Emotional abuse is the repeated use of controlling and harmful behaviours by a partner to control a woman. As a result of emotional abuse, a woman lives her life in fear and repeatedly alters her thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, and denies her needs, to avoid further abuse.

Important Factors to Consider:

  • Abuse can happen to any woman regardless of her age, culture, ability, or socio-economic background.
  • If a woman has been physically assaulted, she has most likely been emotionally abused as well, although the reverse is not necessarily true.
  • Emotional abuse is the greatest predictor of physical violence. Therefore, any woman who has been emotionally abused is also at risk of murder or suicide.
  • A woman may seek help indirectly and hope the professional will identify the abuse.
  • Abused women have identified that the long-term effects of emotional abuse are greater than any other form of abuse, including physical violence.

Tactics of Emotional Abuse

It is impossible to create a complete list of the tactics that are used by abusive men to control their female partners. The following list represents the most reported forms of abuse by women who are or have been in an emotionally abusive relationship. When speaking with a woman, it is also helpful to determine whether the acts are of a repeated and ongoing nature, or isolated incidents.

Does the woman report that her partner has:

Verbal Abuse:

  • Criticized her, told her she is stupid, fat or ugly or called her names;
  • Told her that no one else would want her or that she could not make it on her own;
  • Made racist comments about her cultural background;
  • Criticized her spiritual beliefs;
  • Played mind games with her, lied to her or recreated events;
  • Refused to talk to her for long periods of time - silent treatment;
  • Shamed or humiliated her if she needs him to take care of physical needs related to a disability;
  • Denied his actions or minimized them;
  • Told the woman that all the problems in the relationship are her fault


  • Interfered with her relationships with family, friends or co-workers;
  • Made accusations of infidelity if she spoke to another man, or accused her of being a lesbian if she has female friends;
  • Interrogated her about her whereabouts and the people she talked to;
  • Prevented her from attending her faith community;
  • Refused to allow a woman to go to work school or other independent activities;
  • Did not allow her to take English classes;
  • Refused to provide ASL interpretation where needed for a deaf woman;


  • Threatened to deport her if she does not stay in the relationship;
  • Threatened to kill himself; said that he can't make it without her;
  • Threatened to take the children from her or ensure she never sees them again;
  • Threatened to harm or kill her, her children, family, friends, farm animals or pets;


  • Destroyed or thrown out things that were important to her;
  • Slammed doors; punched holes in walls; pulled phone out of the wall;
  • Yelled at her; would not allow her to speak;
  • Held a deaf woman's hands so she could not sign; refuse to use a Blissymbolics board or other communication devices;
  • Took her wheel-chair out of reach or damage her scooter;

Sexual Abuse:

  • Insisted that she have sex with him in whatever manner he wanted and whenever he wanted;
  • Threatened to have affairs, or accuse her of having affairs if she did not have sex with him;
  • Withheld sex in a malicious way, to punish her or make her feel bad about herself;

Financial Abuse:

  • Did not allow her any access to financial resources;
  • Made her account for every penny she spends;
  • Denied her the opportunity to work outside of the home;


  • Refused to assist a woman with a disability to the toilet, left her in bed or neglected her for long periods of time;
  • Denied her basic needs such as food or hygiene;
  • Refused to allow additional help in the home to take care of her needs.

Impact of the Emotional Abuse

You may also be able to identify cues to a woman being emotionally abused, by her behaviours and the ways she has been impacted by the abuse. One constant for women who are abused is fear. In addition to the indicators listed below, there are two key questions used to assess if a woman is being emotionally abused:

  • Does the woman indicate that she is fearful of negative reprisals from her partner if she does not do what he wants?
  • Does the woman alter her behaviour, preferences or choices as a result of this fear?

How does she present her partner or the relationship?

  • Does the woman seem to be unable to make a decision independent of her husband/partner?
  • Is the woman quick to defend her partner from any criticism or make excuses for her partner's behaviour? Does she minimize his behaviour or the impact on her?
  • Does she take responsibility for making things better in the relationship?
  • Does she seem fearful of doing anything that might make her partner upset?

How does she present herself?

  • Have you noticed that she is becoming less confident and able to speak for herself?
  • Is she quick to put herself down or discount positive feedback?
  • Does she always take the blame for things, especially anything to do with her relationship?

What is her overall well being?

  • Is she having difficulty sleeping and feel repeatedly tired?
  • Does she report feeling anxious all of the time? Does she appear jumpy?
  • Is she depressed or suicidal?
  • If a woman has a chronic illness or disability, does it seem to be getting worse?
  • Is she developing health problems that are related to stress?
  • Is she using drugs or alcohol to cope?
  • Does she say that sometimes she feels like she is going crazy?

Level of Isolation/Independence

  • Does the woman have any sources of support outside of the relationship?
  • Has she quit or pulled out of work, school or other social activities?
  • Does her partner always accompany her to appointments?
  • Has her partner relocated the woman away from family, friends or job?
  • Does she have access to money?
  • Is the woman prevented from learning English?
  • If the woman has a disability, does her partner insist that she needs no one but him to help her?

Responding to Emotionally Abused Women

Women consistently report that the biggest problem they have with getting help is that no one takes emotional abuse seriously. Improving your own response to women who have been emotionally abused can truly make a difference.

Unhelpful Responses:

  • Blaming the woman for the abuse or suggesting that if she just tried harder, or was more supportive to her husband the abuse would end;
  • Making excuses for her abusive partner, such as he is under stress, or it is due to his alcohol or drug use;
  • Suggesting that what they need is couples counselling; implying either directly or indirectly that she is equally responsible for the emotional abuse that she is experiencing;
  • Trying to take control of the situation and telling her what she must do;
  • Minimizing the abuse, and telling her to be grateful that he is not hitting her;
  • Blaming the abuse on the woman's disability;
  • Focussing on the treatment of her depression or anxiety - including the use of prescription drugs, and labeling her mentally ill instead of looking at the abuse that has caused it;
  • Discounting the abuse as part of her culture.

Helpful Responses to Emotional Abuse:

  • Listen respectfully and take an abused woman seriously; ask her what she needs;
  • Reassure her you will keep her confidence and clearly explain confidentiality;
  • Ask open ended questions about abuse, and include examples of emotional abuse;
  • Believe an abused woman's story;
  • Let the woman identify what is having the greatest impact on her;
  • Help an abused woman see her strengths and survival skills;
  • Help an abused woman see how she had been losing self-confidence;
  • Assist an abused woman to plan for change;
  • Help an abused woman understand the impact on the children;
  • Direct the woman to someone who can help her;
  • Have brochures available in different languages;
  • Ensure that a woman with a disability is asked what she needs to come to the office, such as a Braille map or someone to meet her;
  • Utilize trained Cultural or American Sign Language Interpreters;
  • Suggest that she get legal advise so she knows her rights and;
  • Respect a woman's choices.