Emotional abuse in relationships can become physical abuse

Sep 29, 2021, 4:54 PM
emotional abuse moab police petito domestic violence strangulation gabby petito investigation...
Bodycam footage from the Moab Police Department shows Gabby Petito while speaking with officers. Photo: Moab Police Department

SALT LAKE CITY — In August, before Gabby Petito was murdered, she and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, were captured by police body-worn camera video in Moab having an emotional exchange on a city street. Many times a violent partner starts by emotionally abusing his or her victim.

“A gentleman was slapping the girl,” a 9-1-1 caller tells dispatchers on the tape.

Related: 911 call that prompted interaction with Gabby Petito released

An expert on emotional abuse in relationships

A psychiatrist in Salt Lake City, Dr. Kristin Francis of the Huntsman Mental Health Institute joined Inside Sources host Boyd Matheson to discuss the warning signs of emotional abuse and what we can do to help people who find themselves in an abusive situation.

Francis defined psychological abuse as one partner trying to control or treat another person in a way that frightens them, isolates them or causes them to feel bad. Over time, this abuse happens many times and in many situations. The result is the abused person feels afraid and badly about themselves, she said.

Related: Mental health providers seeing increase in depression, anxiety

The abused person can find themselves more isolated from friends and family.

“Maybe your partner is suggesting that there are things wrong with you hanging out with other people,” Francis said.

An abusive person can start to manipulate his or her partner into believing that something is not true even when the abused person knows it is true. If the partner begins to question their own sanity that’s called gaslighting, she said.

“Often in emotionally abusive relationships, there’s a pattern of criticism, kind of constant, about lots of things — things you need to do to change yourself to be more pleasing to your partner,” Francis said.

An abusive partner will neglect the victim over time if their wishes go unfulfilled.

“That’s why it’s so hard for people to recognize it because it’s kind of insidious and creeps in,” she said.

“How do we keep a person from becoming isolated in an abusive relationship?” Boyd asked.

Related: Elizabeth Smart offers advice for survivors and those who love them

Begin by having a non-judgmental conversation with the person who you suspect may be in an abusive relationship.

“Recognizing that, labeling it — those are the first steps in helping someone recognize that they are being abused,” Francis said.

If you are feeling you are in an abusive relationship, get feedback from someone you trust, she advised. 

Francis said almost always a physically abusive relationship begins with emotional or psychological abuse. If you are emotionally or psychologically pushing your partner or are being pushed in that way, it is time to have a conversation.

“Really trying to approach conversations about intimate partner violence in a non-judgmental, very soft way, I think is really important,” Francis said.

Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson can be heard weekdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app. 

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Emotional abuse in relationships can become physical abuse