Gender-based violence is a topical issue with much emphasis placed on the physical aspect which is usually more visible and evident. However, emotional abuse is much more prevalent and just as damaging as physical abuse, more subtle, but impactful and often resulting in gaslighting and the erosion of self-esteem. Let us take a simple definition of Emotional abuse. It is defined as a way to control another person by using emotions to criticize, embarrass, shame, blame or otherwise manipulate them. In general, a relationship is emotionally abusive when there is a consistent pattern of abusive words and bullying behaviour that wear down a person’s self-esteem and undermine their mental health. If you feel wounded, frustrated, confused, misunderstood, depressed, anxious, angry, or worthless anytime you interact, chances are high that your relationship is emotionally abusive. Emotional abuse can take a variety of forms e.g., accusations of cheating or other signs of jealousy, possessiveness such as isolating you from family and friends, gaslighting, shaming or blaming, the silent treatment, name-calling, verbal abuse, trivializing the person’s concerns, withholding affection and attention among others.

Take the case of three friends on a girls’ lunch date. After exchanging their usual pleasantries and making their orders, they quickly settle down to share their frustrations as a coping mechanism in their marriages.

Celeine sighs as she confides in her friends Peri and Alero, that Jim (her husband) has recently thwarted her effort to take a job insisting that she cannot be allowed to work. Celeine who has a Master’s degree in ICT was a course mate of Jim’s during her Master’s program. Shortly after marriage, Jim insisted that Celeine forget about work as he would provide all her needs and luxuries, she should concentrate on keeping home, administering to his needs and taking care of the children. This she accepted and obeyed but as the children became more independent with age, all efforts to obtain his consent for employment have been fruitless. “What is more frustrating is that I depend on him for everything and I mean everything, down to cosmetics, feminine needs, etc. Consequently, if I need to help my younger ones, family members, or friends, I must ask him and I am subject to his whims and caprices. Sometimes, some requests are not only rebuffed but accompanied by insults and abuse. It is so humiliating. “

Peri quickly interjects, “at least Jim provides your needs. Gogo (my husband) is quite the opposite. Since losing his job over eight years ago, he has been totally dependent on me for everything. He does nothing except laze around the house leaving every expenditure for me to handle, whether major or minor. I even cater to his personal needs – the shirt on his back…I buy it. Yet, he is overly jealous and possessive. Career-related engagements, training workshops and meetings are met with a strained relationship. Innuendos and insinuations of infidelity are made regarding my upward advancement. The strides I have made in terms of upward mobility are at a cost and were only achieved by me shutting out all the negativity and rancour from home. The worst part is that he constantly cheats on me and when accosted, attributes it to the time I spend building up my career and meeting our financial needs. I even got a few slaps until I threatened to walk out of the marriage if the physical assault continued.”

Alero quietly adds ‘’hmm, with Akpan, you don’t argue or chastise him regardless of the offence. The reaction is to cut off all financial support especially neglecting his responsibilities to the children and starving me of intimacy. He is an unrepentant womaniser with absolutely no scruples and anytime I question his activities, he turns the tables on me telling me I am illogical and making me lose confidence in my reasoning abilities. He then proceeds to cut off his financial support, stops eating at home and neglects his other responsibilities in “protest”. Previous attempts to involve members of his extended family in resolving issues only worsened the situation.”

Madam Jenny, the owner of the Bistro where they met, walks up to their table and mentions that she had unwittingly overheard their conversation and had identified that they are all victims of emotional abuse in their marriages. She informs them that this form of abuse is quite common though more subtle and less reported than the physical form, but equally lethal. It attacks the mental health of the victim.

She states “In prior times, our mothers would advise that you bear it in patience. This has however been known to have psychological consequences. It is important therefore to do the following:

  1. Recognise it for what it is. Emotional abuse/violence.
  2. Stop trying to please the abuser. Concentrate on your wellbeing”. She continues,

“Celeine, I think you should take up a job. You can try to convince Jim with superior arguments as to the essence by massaging his ego, using persons with persuasive authority over him or simply taking the bull by the horns and expecting things to settle later.

Peri, do not try to assuage Gogo’s feelings when you are certain his accusations and reactions are borne out of jealousy. Communicate your boundaries as you did with the physical abuse (slaps) and become oblivious to his abuse. If he continues and you can’t handle it, seek the assistance of a Marriage Counsellor and if that fails, walk away.

Alero, unfortunately, your husband is gaslighting you. Gaslighting occurs when someone is manipulated by psychological means into doubting their own sanity. It is reverse psychology. Counseling should help and if it doesn’t you may need to work out an exit plan.”

All three of them thanked her and promised to consider her advice.




  1. Wow!
    Everything on this article I see myself in it. There is one more thing I am experiencing which is not included. When I try to bring family members who are elderly into the picture to intervene, the husband will deny everything and make it look as if I am the cause of the problem. Also he threatened me for every attempt I make to find solution to our situation it seems as if he did not want peace. When all my effort fail in trying to solve our problems, I made up my mind not to complain anymore to family members. I have resolved to put my case to the Lord and wait on God.
    I am tired and frustrated. I do not want to be hasty in my decision because I am younger than him by 24yrs. People will think that I am the trouble maker because of my age . All I do to pleased him he will not appreciate. He never says THANK YOU to me as a wife . No sweet words to compliment me at all for good things I do for him.
    I do not have confidence in myself at all. He keeps telling me all sorts of abusive words that demoralized me. He told me few months ago that all his girl friends are better than me. Can u beat that??? Twwwwwww…. All am going thru is countless. I cannot say everything. I always cry when am alone and regretted ever marrying.
    My life is in the hands of God.
    I know my God is not sleeping . He will surely fight for me. My trust is in God and God alone.


    • God is your strength Sylvia. Don’t lose hope. Try to find things that make you happy and focus on those things. Try slowly to build your confidence back. You are beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of God. Keep your head up.


  2. Hmmmmm!
    This is what lots of women are facing in marriages today. they expect you to be a good wife, be silent and listen to them while they abuse you emotional. May God help us and give us the courage to speak up and say no to emotional abuse in our relationship in Jesus name. Amen


  3. In matters that have to do with marriage and conjugal relationships, I can only say, it is best to marry your friend. When friends from the word go, you can open your heart to one another and talk freely. The base of all marital relationships should always be God. Marrying your friend is very essential.

    Liked by 1 person

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