What’s Worse: Physical Scars or Mental Scars?

A domestic violence guest post by Joseph Pittman.


If you asked anyone who hasn't experienced psychological abuse what is worse: psychological or physical abuse, you'd probably hear the latter as the answer more frequently. When we think of physical abuse, we tend to think of it as more damaging because it leaves behind obvious reminders of its occurrence. Sometimes these take a transient form, as in bruises or cuts, but other times they may remain with us for a lifetime in the form of scars or permanent injury.

Someone who has endured psychological abuse bears scars of their own, however. Psychological abuse, also called emotional or mental abuse, involves behavior that creates mental trauma. The behavior can take the form of verbal attacks, controlling behavior, or jealous behavior and can involve intimidation, threats, and forced isolation from friends and family.

Psychological abuse of this sort can cause long-lasting damage. It can result in the development of disorders like post-traumatic stressTypes of Domestic Violence disorder, panic disorder, anxiety disorders, and/or depression. These problems may linger long after the abusive relationship has ended, thus begging the question: is mental abuse just as bad as physical abuse?

The research indicates that it is just as bad and, in some cases, may be worse. In a study of children who were exposed to violence in the home, one group of researchers found that the effects psychological abuse had on these children didn't differ from that of physical abuse. They had higher rates of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (English et al., 2008). Another study indicates that the partner in a relationship who is psychological abused have higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, and drug use (Hines & Malley-Morrson, 2001).

Another misconception regarding psychological abuse is that it is only perpetuated by men on women. This is perhaps due to the fact that more physical abuse is committed by men. However, mental abuse can be committed by men or women, and is severely damaging in either scenario.

Often one of the most damaging aspects of physical abuse is the fear that it inspires in the victim. Psychological abuse can inspire that same fear, however, even if the actions are never carried out. For example, a partner or parent may threaten their victim repeatedly with harm that will come to them or someone they love. As long as the belief that the action could be carried out exists, psychological damage is still done. It can create an ongoing sense of fear in the victim that can manifest as a number of psychological disorders.

The psychological disorders that come about due to emotional abuse tend to remain after the abusive relationship is over. They will also often affect the victim's ability to engage in future relationships. In many cases, it will take years of therapy to return the victim to a healthy mind state.

While the signs of physical abuse are obvious, the indications of mental abuse may be easier to hide. This doesn't mean, however, that they are any less damaging. For, while cuts and bruises may fade, mental scars remain, in some cases for a lifetime.


  1. Marquita Union says:

    I am a victim of both psychological and mental abuse going back to chlidhood and into adulthood. My mom would beat me. She hated me. She abandoned me as a child. Although I had step siblings she srnt me to live with different relatives. As a child, I didnt understand! Now that i’m an adult woman with teenaged children I now know why she did what she did. She showed alot of favortism towards my youngerstep siblings. They’d always get me in trouble. She beat me the most. it doesnt stop there. I was in a very bad abusive relationship with this jamaican and he was extremely hostile towards me. He’d yell at me , call me names like bitch,whore or retard! I was manipulated and he forced me to have sex with him all the time. He stalked me, threatened me, he had people following me or he’d sit outside my house calling my phone up to a hundred times! I was terrified. today im struggling with being diagnosed with POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER! Im still being bullied by him and people that are relatives like some sort of CONSPIRACY AGAINST ME! I cry alot, im always on guard, I dont sleep cause I have nightmares. I be up all night either praying or reading. They spreading all these rumors bout me like I smoke crack and cocaine. They trying to take away my life, my children! My own daughter whose 18 is lying on me big time! Now she got a lie going round that I LET THE JAMAICAN GUY RAPE HER! Yeah, my life is just PEACHY. IM ALWAYS IRRITABLE! Im so angry inside but I try to SMILE SO PEOPLE WONT SEE MY HURT! I cant even get the mayor of my city to help me let aline the police! I pray, but its like things are getting worse and im so weary of all this ABUSE! So many people are out to make me look like a HORRIBLE PERSON. I m A CHILD OF GOD THAT NEEDS SOMEBODY TO LISTEN AND CARE! They are alienating me to where I think bout taking my own life just to make them STOP! I dont know who to trust or who to talk to! I dont have any friends! Please HELP ME!

  2. Faith Brown says:

    Abuse! Everyman Who trys to abuse anyone is a coward! Im a victim myself.

  3. Tamika Richardson says:

    I was not not the one being physically & emotionally abused but I’ve watched my mother as a young child go through this abuse for years. I still don’t understand why she went through it for so long. I have recently learned that a dear family friend was being tortured in her own home for several years. When i heard everything ahe went through it literally made me sick to my stomach. Her father has stepped in and removed her from her situation. It was horrible this guy tried to kill her on several occasions, but by the grace of GOD he didn’t succeed. No one ever knew what she was going through all of this because like you Marquita, she keeps a smile on her face. I dnt understand how people can stand around and do nothing. Domestic violence has to stop. Marquita stay strong, the devil is trying so so so hard right now to break you. I beg you don’t let him. Taking your life is NEVER the answer, Im praying for you. No one should have to go through this alone.You need a support system and while i have never met you before i am willing and want to be apart of yours. If you check back please email me @ [email protected] 🙂 God bless

  4. I am a victim of mental, emotional abuse and I alwaus will be. It is enduring today from many people. I get abuse from all people I know and love with. From law enforcement as well.

  5. Charice Johnson says:

    When will our lawmakers finally do something to protect victims from psychological abuse? Call your congressman and demand that something be put in place for ALL victims of ALL types of abuse!

  6. T Fauver says:

    as a child who was physically, mentally, and sexually abused, I can truthfully say that mental is the worst form. I’m probably going to say more when I have more time to do it.

  7. I grew up watching this happen to my mom it needs to be stoped.

  8. Marquita, this may be kinda late and i doubt you’ll read this, but first you must call the cops if this guy keeps on bothering you that would be the most logic thing to do second find someone you have the most trust pastor preacher maybe even a boss. speakto him tell him your problems just speak your emotions cause keeping them in will most likely end with suicude cutting yourself you having low-selfesteem which im sure you already have. and if these effects have yet not started you still have time to save yourself! you seesome people are just afraid to analyze themselvestoo much because they afraid of what they might find. But you must crawl into your wounds to discover where your fears are! once the bleeding starts the cleansing process can begin! i hope i was to any help to you!

  9. i lost my mother when i was a baby although i dont remember any of it” it’s been hard growing up why is so hard even tody becuase my dad killed her i do well for myself but still somethings hunt me on top of that i just got out a abusive relationship i battle with a cheating spouse who blame me for the reason why she cheated I didn’t take her hand and walk her to the hands of someone else i have nitemares of this because caught in the act my life was in peace now that im out i have to rebuild my life again i can go on about this but I think you understand where I’am comeing from the moral of this story is to remind people that abuse can happen to man,women, and chidren and happen everyday some are not lucky as others but by speaking about we can learn and reconize it before it happens

  10. Brittany Akiode says:

    My name is Brittany and my husband is physically and emotionally abusive to me. He calls me names and wants me to be in subjection to him at all times. When I refuse he beats me or calls me names. He punched me in my eye two days ago. I called the police and they did nothing because I didn’t have a bruise. I called the police like three times and because I never have a bruise they do nothing. My husband also raped me the last time I called the police. I am really afraid of him. What do I do?

  11. I tried to leave my bf of 3 years because I felt as tho I was loosing my mind, the head games, lies, hinding and cheating was too much. I left with my children, got a house, met another man tried to cut all ties. I was drugged and raped in my new house. Mind u my ex had made me spare set. Then I told him I was not going to have sex with him he went mad. I ignored his calls. The next tjing I knew someone had called child welfare services on me, I was followed, and found out my twin sister was shot and in critical condition and then my kids were tsken all in the same day.

  12. sara bucksar says:

    I am still dealing with PTSD from domestic violence. The emotional and psychological abuse continued even after the divorce. The legal system has been just as traumatic to deal with as my abuser. Our daughter struggles with depression and anxiety because of his mind games and brainwashing and although our son struggles with low self esteem some of his thinking is like his fathers and its very scary because I love my son yet also am afraid. When will the domestic violence ever end-I try to speak out yet he is so clever and manipulative and twists things around so easily its terrifying. My abuser is a doctor. He remarried and his wife called me a few days ago crying and told me that he had abused her. Now he is in charm mode and she told our son she was just distraught and shouldnt have called me. I am afraid for her because I know what he is capable of and she has no idea how much danger she is in and that he is backing off now yet will return again later with better intimidation and manipulation. My counselor says that I need to protect myself and be careful not to be pulled into the middle of something. Its emotionally and mentally exhausting to try to help our two kids. I feel like a failure for not being able to protect them better yet I could not even protect myself and had I not left I would be dead. He said the police would find pieces of my body in the forest preserve and garbage dump and noone would be able to prove it was him. He had 2 years of pathology and lot of ways accident could happen. Will the truth ever come out? I doubt it. Sara

  13. The scars of emotional abuse can be deeper than the scars of physical abuse. Also, you can escape physical abuse but never can escape emotional abuse. The most extreme abusers will use the court systems and attorneys (which is called abuse by proxy) to continue the emotional abuse even after a vicitm has moved hundreds of miles away. I know. My abuser used the court system to deplete my financial resources and to subject me almost 9 years of court actions in three diffferent states. He physically abused me twice but the scars from the emotional abuse are so much more painful.

  14. I remember being abused as a child both physically and mentally. Initially it was physical abuse. I would get hit with the belt and remember getting welts all over my body. I would have to cover up the scars when I would go to school. As I got older, the verbal abuse became constant and the physical abuse decreased. I was called dumb, stupid, lazy. Otherwise profanity would be used. My uncle and his family moved in, the abuse transitioned to my cousins for about a few years then they moved out. I went to college and graduated in the medical field. I had three children at that time and we stayed with her to keep her and my father company. When My father passed away, she became more and more abusive. She would call me awful, filthy names such as “puta” pig or use profanity. She then started abusing my children and calling them dumb, lazy and stupid. She accused me of being the abuser and had me arrested. My children and I moved away from her and the charges had gotten dropped. She would come to my house bringing food to my kids and would stalk me at work. We moved back with her as she was alone and older. She was nice to my children for a bit and then the mental abuse started all over again, more directed at my children. We bought her appliances, a vehicle to try to please her but she would tell what little friends she had that it was all her. She would make me look bad and tell people that I wouldn’t buy food, necessities and she was the one paying for everything. I had even started couponing and she would shop
    In my stockpile and giveaway things pretending that she had bought them to make herself look good. My family and I have since left and haven’t associated with her. The scars from the mental abuse are still with me, they hurt more then the physical pain. I suffer from depression and anxiety at the hands of my mother.

  15. I’ve been married for two years now and at the beginning I guess you could say everything was ok, or at least I pretended it was. Even when we were dating I noticed my then boyfriend had very controlling ways, but I loved him and chose to overlook it. It only got worse. He never hit me or cursed me, but the manipulation and control was like a spell over my life. It was as if I couldn’t think for myself. I became very distant from all my friends and family. He never told me I couldn’t be around them, but it was the way he acted that told me he didn’t want me to. It was very confusing and I would feel powerless when trying to talk to him because it was like he would make it seem like I was crazy and didn’t know what I was talking about. But I began to take my power back by praying and fasting. God began to build me up again and encourage me. I was so afraid of my husband till the point that I wouldn’t do anything to help or protect myself if he didn’t agree, but that’s not healthy and that’s not God’s will. I’m still married and yes my husband still tries to control me, but with the Word of God I am an overcomer. God is strengthening me everyday. I encourage you to seek God’s will for your life and if you need prayer you can contact me at [email protected]. We all can be overcomers no matter what kind of abuse we have faced. Be encouraged and remember that you can do all things thru Christ who strengthens you. Let Him strengthen you. I’m a witness that He can make everything much better.

  16. j. summers says:

    I am a victim of physical, psychological, sexual, and financial abuse. I left my husband about 8 months ago for the second time and being married for 7 years, the first time i left i wasn’t the only victim but my 2 children under 2 years of age was too. He still psychologically abuses them but nobody will listen on this since his family is the only ones that have seen it besides me. I am finally going through my divorce and they tell me that most likely it will be joint custody of being with him one week and then me one week so on so forth. I am going to school and doing a speech on domestic violence for an informative speech to help raise awareness about this subject. God bless you all and i pray we all find healing through the dark times of our lives

  17. Yes, emotional abuse is worse than physical abuse but many woman stay. Do you want to know why? Because our court system is broken. Judges are not educated enough to know that the abuse is real. The children get split by staying one week with one parent & the next week with the other. Do you really think the abused parent is going to let their child be one with the abuser? So they stay to protect the child! Until the courts wake up, this will continue. It’s a sad situation but very real.

  18. *** alone with the abuser ***** not one Sorry, I don’t know how to edit the post to correct.

  19. Courtney says:

    when you do a school paper and you want to look into child abuse…don’t do it. hearing all the crazy stories made me burst into tears, and knowing what great parents i have keeps me at heart.

  20. I am a victim of emotional abuse, my abuser threatens to call my job, my family, and post things on social media. I want to leave but I’m so terrified. He accuses me of things yells at me calls me names. We had worked together and got abusive on me because I was llaughing and smiling with co worker’s. I look in the mirror and I think I’m this disgusting ugly person and have the lowest self-esteem. I did things with him and he uses it against me and threatens, I wish I was strong to go but I’m not because I am scared.

  21. Hmm this sounds like my husband. Were you able to get out? I am trying now.

  22. I'm A Survivor says:

    I have experienced both physical and emotional abuse as a young kid and I feel that, in my case, the emotional abuse was way worse and had a much more damaging effect on me. My abusers would tell me I was ugly, stupid, immature, selfish, weak, lazy, disgusting, and no-good at anything so many times, that I actually began to believe them. I thought that I was just this worthless, pathetic loser who would never amount to anything. I still experience emotional abuse, but it’s less severe now that I’m older, but it still hurts a lot. I’ve tried confronting my abusers on their abusive behavior, but they never listen. They always turn it around and say that it’s my fault that they treat me that way, or that they’re “not doing anything wrong” and I’m just “making all the abuse up in my head”. I know they’re lying, but it still bothers me when they say things like that. All I hear whenever they say those things is, “Screw you! Your feelings don’t matter!” I’m considering seeing a counselor, because I can’t move out yet, and I feel like that’s the only thing I can do about it.

  23. Mom never loved me. I gave her PPD. Neglected until my dad won custody ( he was off at war)
    dad was an alcoholic. Never beat me but always called me names and threatened me. I wasnt as tough as he wanted me to be, so now I have an inferiority complex. He had to go off and do construction to make any decent money. Drunken step mom always locked me out. Slept in the cold a lot.

    got a new stepmom, and dad got a more stable job. since I was 12 they have both psychologically abused me. The only time i got bullied was when I came home. No one let me talk, and everything was my fault somehow. I usually got material things, but that doesnt make up for being called a pathetic retarded faggot your entire life.

  24. Wow I’m just learning about emotional abuse
    I wasn’t sure what emotional abuse was , my boy friend of 13 years had been controlling me , putting me down lying on me to friends and family making me out to be the problem in the relationship , he cheated all the time, then would say mean things to me about his cheating . I recently end the relationship. I now suffer from a lot of the Pose medic stress syndrome’s . I went through all his abuse without knowing I was being abused . I though that abuse was only done by hitting and name calling .

  25. Don’t compare types of abuse like that; it invalidates the victim. Both physical abuse and emotional abuser are bad. To say one is worse, discounts the other. I’ve noticed lots of people downplaying physical abuse, “bruises heal”. Realize that physical abuse means emotional abuse; they go hand in hand! To have your precious body hit, pounded, punched; that leads to trauma; it could also lead to deaths so please don’t diminish the impact of physical abuse just because emotional abuse is awful too.

  26. Melody Christan Buddy says:

    CB! It’s me!!! I have thought of you often and continued to pray for you over the years. I would love to hear from you! Every time “The Garden” comes on I think of you singing that song to me. I also think of you whenever I get to say egads lol. I can only imagine what life must be like now for you, D, and K. A mother’s love is eternal. I understand that you feel like you failed the kids. I just need you to know that I will never regret meeting you. Of course I wish we met under different circumstanes, but PLEASE KNOW your kindness and love towards me KEPT ME ALIVE in that place! You were always like another mom to me and I will love you forever for it! I hope this finds you, and I hope it makes you smile.

  27. Melody Christan Buddy says:


  28. As a 16-year-old, I’m starting to realize that I’ve been physically, sexually, and psychologically abused the past eight years I’ve lived with my aunt and uncle. My parents don’t even know, and I try so hard to keep it that way, in fear of breaking them. Out of the three, the psychological abuse was far the worst and is also the only one still going on. It has left invisible scars (which are often ripped open again) on my heart much worse than the long-faded bruises on my head or the self-inflicted marks on my arms and wrists. It also negatively affects my performance at school and life in general; I likely have numerous psychological disorders. Great.

  29. Having experienced, at different points in my previous relationship of over ten years, physical and/or psychological abuse, I think I havea solid basis for contrasting the two types of abuse. In my mind, the psychological abuse was always worse. What is most interesting about this perspective is that it is based on my own messed up reaction to the physical abuse, which I, for some unknown and ridiculous reason, accepted as justified based on the verbal abuses thrown at me and even felt were needed to fix all the things I was told were wrong with me. In other words, the physical abuse actually made me feel… like things were getting better, or at least that it was more likely to get better. It felt like things (me, my insufficiencies, my mistakes, etc) were getting dealt with, addressed through punishment. I figured if I was going to get beat, at least I would learn from it and thus put an end to the claimed reasons for the other kinds of abuse. So strange. But when the physical abuse was on pause and it was purely psychological abuse, I felt more confused, more hopeless, more desperate. Even more interesting, when it was purely physical abuse, it was rare, because he actually had something real to justify a degree of his emotions. Unfortunately, in my mind, if I broke his eggshell, if I even upset him in the slightest, I deserved a beating. His consistent beatings in this regard equated to a natural consequence in the same way as touching a hot stove, even for a split second, results in a burned hand. The only control I had was focused on learning how to not touch it, how not to break his shells. Anyway, that was my messed up mind. In the end, though, a beating is temporary, a body is just a body after a while, and the medical interventions actually allow for rehabilitated social perspective from a hospital bed. But the psychological abuse, that happens anytime you aren’t screwing up. The psychological abuse lasts far longer, after you become numb to the physical stuff and he’s reached his limit or after it has served its purpose to train you to be controlled by psychological abuse alone. That’s the abuse that is more constant, more prevalent, and more effective with time.

  30. For years I have thought that it was my fault. That I was retarded or stupid or annoying, so that’s why he did what he did. He even asked me, had me say yes, before it anything happened. I’ve blamed myself for years didn’t even realize it could be considered bad. I don’t allow myself to think long enough to question it. But now that im starting to say no my sis is at risk. I have to deal with what his awful games did but she shouldn’t have to! I’ve tried to tell my parents but I can’t get passed the fear of what will happen. I don’t want to upset him and I don’t want to brake up my family. I guess this is what psychological abuse can do. I’ve dealt with this for eleven years, how can I break the cycle? I guess I’ll leave it be for now.

  31. i am nobody,
    I want to find out if I am real or just someones punching bag

  32. I’ve been a victim of physical and mental abuse. And honestly physical hurt a lot less. Yes it left bruises and a few scars, but I healed from them. But after mental and emotional abuse I have severe depression. And it’ll come and go. Just the little things will cause me to go into that state of mind where I don’t want to get out of bed. Everything irritates me or makes me sad. Ill be hungry but can’t force myself to eat. I’ll want to drink. I’ll want to hurt myself physically. But after therapy I have learned to cope in better ways as to try and keep myself busy. But it still doesn’t make it hurt any less. Ill forever live with depression. Emotional abuse has definitely affected me more than the physical. And I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. If you feel you’re being mentally or emotionally abuse, don’t make excuses for them don’t downgrade yourself to that because you deserve more. Not saying to stay in a physical but in my experience it’s easier to get out of a relationship that is physical than it is to get out when emotionally abused. Emotional abuse is harder to point out and realize until sometimes it’s too late and it’s done it’s damage on you mentally.

  33. Dawn Kaucher says:

    My husband mentality and emotionally abuses me. And he calls me all sorts of thing that hurt deep. He knows i came from a family who abused me physically and sexually and he continues to pish my buttons to the point where i cant stand it anymore and i get physical myself because i cant take anymore of his abuse. Of course i loose because he is stronger then me. I push him away from me and he goes full fledged maniac. I’m covered in bruises. I tried many times to get away but he finds things to torcher me with everyday and i just want to die.

  34. I’ve been in an verbally abusive relationship for over 30 years. We lived together at one time but I got up the courage to move out for my sanity. We still see each other. and he is still abusive and mean. I’m afraid to leave because I feel like I’ll never meet another man. We are both older now and I feel at his age I can’t just leave him in the cold. We’ve been in each other’s lives for so long I don’t think I’ll ever be able to cut the ties. So I stay and try to count my blessings for what I do have.

  35. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been psychologically/verbally/emotionally abused by my father my entire life, with the threat, but never the action, of physical abuse. Now in my late 30’s, I’ve been forced to move back in with him due to health reasons, while waiting for my disability approval. After having gotten away from it for years, and working very hard to heal as much as possible, moving back in with him was a shock. Not only did the abuse resume, but since my mother had passed away, he and I were alone together. I never realized how much of a buffer she had been, and how much abuse she had taken on my behalf, to shield me from him. His abuse is now worse than ever. Gaslighting, bullying, blaming the victim, horrible insults, belittlement in public, shaming, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. He’s constantly yelling, commanding, interrupting, demeaning. Being financially dependent on him until my disability comes through makes this necessary for me to endure, as i have no other family, and am unable to work. By seeing a therapist, a psychiatrist, keeping a journal, and having much time for introspection, i’ve just been able to acknowledge and accept the fact that i have been abused. That in and of itself is difficult enough. It has, and still does, affect every aspect of my life. Since I was a very young child, and to this day, i’ve had problems with all interpersonal relationships, social interactions, self-esteem, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and mild autism. Throughout my life, there have been certain recurring themes of abuse such as, “you’re a failure, you’re a disgrace, you’re not worthy of my name, you’re my curse, everything you touch turns to shit, I’ve only got one son and THIS is what i got stuck with, you’re my albatross, you should’ve been a miscarriage…” when he goes that far, either he apologizes with a but attached, not because he hurt me, but because he really does think those things and feels guilty about that. But usually, he just buys me material things to make up for it. So I’ve gotten to the point where I just milk it for all I can. He is now 78, and I am his sole heir. He had a major heart attack two months ago. It was a very strange experience for me, because I didn’t want to lose him and it was very confusing to love and hate someone at the same time. When he passes away, I will inherit somewhere around $600,000-$700,000. I find myself feeling somewhat guilty about thinking about the money. But, he has never given me anything but emotional trauma and scars. I know that money will never make up for that, but if that is all I get, at least it is something. Does that make me a bad person? I don’t think so. I have worked extremely hard to be the exact opposite of the way he is. At least he admits he is incapable of empathy. I am extremely empathetic, and rather than going around being extremely angry all of the time, I keep my temper at bay almost to a fault. I don’t really know what my point of this was. I guess I’m just venting. That’s the autism.

  36. I am in a roller coaster relationship, everything can be just fine or one day the emotional abuse is just unbearable. What happened 15 years ago, or just month ago, he still has to rub it in, no forgiveness. name calling, blaming, lying….but I still stick around for the kids.

  37. All abuse is bad but I am tired of people down playing physical abuse and it stuns me when they write, “A black eye can heal”, like it’s no big deal! Sometimes the wounds are so severe they leave permanent damage; the blows can affect someone’s eyesight. Think of the woman who was attacked by the out of control Chimpanzee; do you think that because she survived and the wounds healed as much as they could, that she’s okay now? All types of abuse are wrong and they all cause damage but for those who do it, stop down playing physical abuse; it hurts the precious body and in hurting the precious body, we are also harmed psychologically and the memories of being punched and kicked never leave us.

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