For 17 years, Genesis Women’s Shelter has offered a year-round Lecture Series of educational speaking engagements to raise awareness around the many facets of domestic violence, and to improve our community’s response to abuse. Each year our Lecture Series has an overarching theme that is broken down into four different parts, each exploring different ideas within the theme.

This year’s Lecture Series is titled “The Abuser’s Handbook: Deciding Their Choice of Weapon,” which is a deep dive into the tactics, both seen and unseen, that abuser’s use to keep her tangled in the twisted web of abuse. In the second part of this year’s Lecture Series, “Identity Theft: The Tactics of Emotional Abuse & Isolation”, Jessica Brazeal, MA, LPC-S, EMDR Certified Counselor and Trainer spoke on the complexities of emotional abuse that often takes place in cases of domestic violence.



She defines emotional abuse as non-physical behaviors that are meant to control, isolate, and frighten the victim. From Brazeal’s perspective, “[emotional abuse] is so often interwoven with verbal abuse” which “makes it harder to disconnect the two.” She distinguished early on the difference between abuse and fighting, pointing out that while fighting about any issue may get heated, abuse typically presents in the form of an argument that morphs into being about the victim’s character and/or personality. Brazeal broke down the key components of emotional abuse into what she calls the 3 S’s:



When Brazeal considers the frequently asked question of “Why doesn’t she just leave or shut off all contact,” she compares it to the idea of seeing a shark fin circling around someone while they’re swimming. “If the shark fin goes under the water because [she’s] blocked all contact with the shark, then that actually makes [her] feel more vulnerable because [she is] unclear on where the threat is coming from.”


Since emotional abuse in intimate partner relationships is incredibly pervasive and may be the most common form of domestic abuse (National Institutes of Health), the lecture primarily focused on the stereotypical behaviors that are present in emotional abuse cases. Many of these tactics, like gaslighting, manipulation and isolation involved attacks on a woman’s character or personality by trying to make her feel out of control mentally. The abuser’s goal is often to make the victim feel alone in their situation and guilty about themselves so that they are less likely to reach out for help or believe they could get out of the relationship.


These behaviors work together to cut down the self-esteem of the victim and cause her to believe that these negative aspects of herself are true. Brazeal articulated such behaviors in a way that made them easily understandable for a diverse audience and consistently provided real-life examples to help listeners to digest the weight of what was being said. Being able to comprehend what emotional abuse looks like allows people to recognize the warning signs and get help sooner, not feel so alone and break the cycle of domestic violence.


To close the lecture, Brazeal shares thoughts around what to consider if you are in an emotionally abusive relationship and how to support loved ones who may be experiencing emotional abuse. She encourages victims to share their stories with an attorney if they are able and feel safe to do so to document proof of the abuse if the aggressor tries to create any legal difficulties in the future. Women are the experts of their own unique situation, so while “sharing your experience is always a good thing…choosing to say nothing and not respond to those [false accusations] is also an option” that must be respected if she feels it will keep her out of harm’s way. For parents, she emphasized the importance of communicating and having conversations with their kids about what it means to have healthy relationships. Creating a safe environment in which children can disagree and object to things that bother them will help make them more comfortable about speaking their mind in future relationships. To support friends or loved ones going through emotional abuse, she recommended that we listen to their experience and believe them.

“Advocating for them to get support via therapy…and communicating that message that this is not their fault.
There is nothing you can do to make someone else abuse you.”

If you would like more information or support on the topic of emotional abuse, check out Jessica’s reading recommendations below.



Trigger warning, some of the content in these books may depict instances of domestic violence that could be upsetting or triggering for some.


This blog post was written by Genesis Women’s Shelter Spring 2024 Fund Development Intern Cedar Rice.