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. 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.

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