Domestic Violence in the Jewish Community: A five part series to better understand the complexity

Part three:



Emotional and Verbal abuse

But he never hit her: Understanding Emotional and Verbal Abuse



“You never do anything right, you are a terrible wife, you are lucky I put up with you.” Shira has heard similar language throughout their ten year marriage. At first it was a little banter, with sarcastic name calling; she didn’t like it, but she wasn’t scared. Then he started to criticize everything she did, restricting who she talked to, isolating her from her family and demeaning her in front of their children. She tells herself that he has never hit or beat her, but when she is honest with herself, she is very afraid that he might. She now feels incapable of making simple decisions, and without any family or social support, she feels trapped.


Abusive relationships are defined by an ongoing pattern of coercive behaviors, which one person uses against the other to obtain and maintain power and control. There are many ways this can happen.  As Shira knows, as part of a pattern of behaviors, some abusers use emotional and verbal tactics to control their victim. By demeaning her[1] and degrading her as a person and as a wife, he asserts his power over her. He may consistently repeat that she is lucky to have him, and that she is undesirable. As a result, she may then start to doubt herself and lose a sense of autonomy and independence.


Many victims have shared that the emotional and verbal attacks are even more painful than the physical violence. It is almost easier to deal with abuse when it’s black and blue - because it is clear what is going on. With verbal/emotional abuse and other forms of non-physical abuse, victims can feel just as trapped and just as hurt. But it’s harder to define and understand.  


What are examples of emotional and verbal abuse? Abuse may begin with behaviors that are easily be downplayed and not appear as dangerous or controlling.  Some abusers will name-call, threaten, be very possessive or show a lack of trust. Perhaps he is isolating her from her family and friends and telling her that she can never do anything right. Her husband may be embarrass her, and prevent her from making her own decisions. Abusers may apologize profusely for their actions or try to convince their spouse that they do these things because they love or care. The abuser will often minimize the behaviors and may even “forget” they said and did these painful things.


It often can be hard to pinpoint what exactly is going on-it may feel wrong, but is it abusive? Why is name-calling sometimes a manifestation of abuse?  What’s important is to recognize the pattern of the behaviors and the dynamic of power and control. In an abusive relationship, the victim is controlled by the verbal and emotional abuse. This emotional abuse chisels away at the victim’s sense of self and capacity to trust herself.  He tells her that if she leaves, she will lose everything in court and will lose the children. He may threaten to withhold the Get. She feels stuck. And in some cases, the abuse later turns to physical violence to maintain the control.  Connie Beck, a researcher who studied coercive behaviors, said that “Control is really the issue… if you can control a person’s basic liberties verbally — where they go, who they see, what they do — you do not necessarily have to hit them regularly” or at all. 


If you are concerned that you may be may be a victim of emotional abuse, or any form of domestic violence, please call the Shalom Task Force hotline, toll-free, at 888.883.2323 or 718.337.3700. Our confidential, anonymous hotline is open six days a week, and is staffed by a dedicated team of trained volunteers who can help you.   





[1] For the purpose of this article, masculine pronouns will be used when referring to perpetrators of domestic violence, while feminine pronouns will be used in reference to victims. This should not detract from the fact that there are many male victims and female perpetrators, however, this language reflects that according to the Center for Disease Control, the research reflects that nearly 1 in 4 women (22.3%) and 1 in 7 men (14.0%) aged 18 and older in the United States have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.


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