SAVANNAH, Ga (WSAV) — The term domestic violence often makes people think of physical assault, but that’s not always the case. There are other harmful behaviors that many people don’t recognize as abuse.

The National Domestic Abuse Hotline includes sexual abuse, child/elder, financial, digital abuse, stalking, spiritual abuse, and immigration abuse. One of the most common and most insidious examples is emotional/mental abuse.

Emotional abuse is a subtle form of manipulation, and it comes in many forms but the primary motivation for abusers, is the same — to gain and maintain control of the victim.

Perpetrators often start by using demeaning behaviors to beat down a victim’s self-esteem, because a person with a weakened spirit is easier to control. Other manipulative behaviors include name-calling, hyper-criticism, neglect, isolating the victim, and excessive jealousy or possessiveness.

The tactic abusers use most often is called gaslighting. This involves telling lies specifically designed to mess with a person’s head. Mary Hubbard of Shrink Savannah, explains why this is effective.

“It denies the person’s reality and then, in turn, makes them feel crazy, and then they’re really confused.” Again, a confused person is easier to control.

If the behaviors go on, victims may begin to slowly develop feelings of shame, hopelessness, and fear. They may be in denial that they’re being abused, or they think they can deal with it. That’s when a victim may begin to experience anxiety or depression, insomnia, isolation, and shame. Those conditions can turn into long-term psychological damage like Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

The Office on Women’s Health says prolonged exposure can have harmful effects on the brain and body. A victim may develop chronic pain or sustain damage to the nervous system. Mentally, they can spiral down into a dark and dangerous place. Shrink Savannah sees many patients of emotional abuse presenting with suicidality and other dangerous conditions.

There are things a victim can do right away to take steps toward recovery. The National Domestic Violence Hotline says eating and sleeping well keeps the brain sharp. Walking or just having fun has been shown to reduce stress and release dopamine, which can counteract depression. Having a safe exit plan and a support system can help a victim take action when the time is right. Finally, seek professional help through therapy and support groups.

Emotional abuse is never the fault of the victim. Advocates say victims should seek help when they’re ready, in whatever way they feel comfortable.

Remember, any type of abuse is serious, and no one deserves to experience it. If you or someone you love is in an abusive situation, the best thing you can do is listen to them, validate their feelings, and be ready to act when the time is right.

Help is available. The number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233. The number for SAFE Shelter Savannah is 912-629-8888.