Does Mental Illness Cause Abuse?

Does Mental Illness Cause Abuse?

This post was written by Alexander, a digital services advocate

A lot of people who contact loveisrespect assume that abuse is caused by their partner’s mental health condition (for example, their partner might have bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), narcissistic personality, borderline personality or antisocial personality). While these are serious mental health conditions, they do not cause abuse, although there are a few mental illnesses or disorders that can increase the risk of abusive patterns to show up in a relationship and in other areas of life. Mental illness tends to affect all areas of a person’s life, such as work or school, interactions with friends or family members and personal relationships. In contrast, abuse primarily affects personal relationships and typically not the other areas of life. Abusive behavior in an intimate or dating relationship and mental illness are two separate things.

We know that abuse in a dating relationship is about power and control, and that an abusive partner usually will not show their negative or harmful behaviors with friends, coworkers or family members. An abusive partner tends to put on what can be considered a “fake mask” for the rest of the world to see. When it’s just the victim and the abusive partner together, that mask comes off and the victim sees a different side that others aren’t allowed to see. Being the only person to see this behavior can be pretty isolating, as a victim might think (or the abusive person may even say) that no one else will believe them, since no one else knows about or sees these behaviors. This also makes it easier for the abusive person to make their partner feel responsible for their abusive behavior, which can make a victim feel even more isolated.

Lundy Bancroft, who has written several well-known books about abusive relationships, says that an abusive partner’s “value system is unhealthy, not their psychology.” If the abuse were caused by a mental illness, an abusive partner would also yell at and/or hit their family members, friends and coworkers when upset. With dating abuse, however, the abusive partner usually yells at and/or hits only their partner.

Abuse and mental illness can happen at the same time. There are people who have a mental illness and are also abusive to their partners. There are also people who have a mental illness and are healthy and supportive partners. If your partner has a mental illness and is abusive towards you, it’s important to keep in mind that the mental illness and the abusive behaviors need to be handled separately by the abusive partner. It is the abusive partner’s responsibility to seek out support and create their own plan for managing their mental illness and be accountable for their abusive behavior. If your partner is not owning up to their actions, is not admitting to how much they’re hurting you, and is not seeking out professional help then that’s a sign that your partner isn’t willing to change. If that’s the case, then the abuse in the relationship tends to continue and escalate over time.

The following questions may help you figure out whether what you’re partner is doing is abuse or abuse with mental illness:

  • Does my partner yell or scream at others (friends, coworkers, family members) outside of our relationship?
  • Does my partner make others check in to see where they’re at and who they’re with?
  • Does my partner hit others outside of our relationship?
  • Does my partner minimize or verbally tear down others?
  • Does my partner pressure others to do things that they aren’t okay with?
  • Does my partner make threats to others when they say something my partner doesn’t agree with?

If you answered no to most of the questions, then most likely your partner is abusive without mental illness. If you answered yes to most of the questions, then it’s possible your partner is abusive and also may be experiencing some form of mental health issue or illness. There are resources that can help, and it’s a good idea to connect with a support network that might include counselors or support groups that can help you figure out your options.

Even if your partner does have a mental illness, there is NEVER an excuse for abuse. Abuse is a choice someone makes in order to maintain power and control over a partner. If a partner is abusive towards you, regardless of whether they have a mental illness or not, they have no right to treat you that way. You always deserve to have a healthy and safe relationship 100% of the time.

Do you have questions or concerns about your relationship? Call, chat or text with a loveisrespect advocate today!

Comment section

27 replies
    1. Kela,

      Thank you for reaching out. If you’d like to contact us, we would be happy to talk with you and help you with any concerns you have. You can reach us 24/7 at 1-866-331-9474, or online chat at http://www.loveisrespect.org. We hope to hear from you!

      Advocate MT

  1. I guess praying and waiting patiently doing good deeds is not therapy enough and most of all I FORGIVE EVERYONE

  2. If only I could listen to the answers someone mentioned to me or the answers i heard just by judging his actions

    1. Heather,

      Thanks for reaching out. It can be hard to recognize and identify the differences between abuse and mental illness. It sounds like you might be in a tough situation and we would definitely be happy to talk with you about that, if you’d like to connect us directly. You can chat with an advocate 24/7 at 1-866-331-947 or through online chat at http://www.loveisrespect.org

      Advocate MT

  3. Thank you for this article. I still am having a hard time dealing with my abusive marriage, even though we have been separated for a year now. Thought time would heal, but I find myself withdrawing, fearful, and sad. What happened to me? I thought I would get stronger by now. It is so challenging for me to heal. I am thankful that people have shared there stories. It helps shed light on an issue I feel like I can’t express the depths and complexity with anyone, except someone who has been through it. My husband does have mental health issues but as the article describes he could masquerade his meanness in front of everyone and look like he is the greatest guy in the world. I feel very degraded and very lost.

    1. Mary,

      Thank you for reaching out and sharing your story. Recovering from an abusive relationship is not easy and it can take time. Abusive people do what they can to make their partner feel powerless, worthless, and confused, so the way you’re feeling is completely natural. While it does take time to heal from trauma like that, there are some things you could think about doing to help yourself through that process, such as building a strong support system with friends and family, talking with a therapist or support group at a local DV program, and doing activities that make you feel good about yourself and empowered. If your ex is in your life at all at this point, minimizing or cutting that contact could be another good option, because even if you’re no longer together, any contact could expose you to further emotional abuse, which can slow the healing process. Here is a page with some tips on healing after abuse . If you’re interested in finding some more options for support, we would be happy to help you with that. You can reach us 24/7 at 1-866-331-9474 or through online chat at http://www.loveisrespect.org.

      We wish you all the best!
      Advocate MT

  4. Hi, I’ve been in and out of a abusive relationship for the last 3 years and need help I’ve tried to reach out for help and tried to leave my partner but end up coming back he tells me he will change he will treat me good for awhile then treat me like badly after a few months I don’t know what I can do…

    1. Hi Sabrina,

      I’m so glad that you’re reaching out for support. It sounds like you’ve been surviving a very painful situation for a long time and are feeling confused by what’s happened. It’s understandable to want to believe your partner when they apologize and promise that things will be different, and I know how much it hurts when the relationship becomes abusive again. Only your partner can choose to stop being abusive, and you don’t deserve to be treated this way.

      You have the right to be safe and our advocates are here to talk about what safe means for you. Every person is different so every situation is different. We trust that you’re the expert on what you’re going through and know what’s going to work for you. We can help you connect to local resources if you like and brainstorm options around your safety and self-care. We’re here 24/7 by phone (1.866.331.9474), online chat and text (Text: loveis to 22522) so please feel free to reach out anytime you’re safe to talk!

      Take care!

      Advocate AS

    1. Hi Billy Bob Junior,

      Thank you for reaching out for support. There is nothing you could ever do to deserve any form of abuse. Regardless of what your girlfriend says or tries to make you believe, her abuse is never your fault. It is a choice she is making. Since every situation and person is different, there is no set way to move forward through an abusive situation. If you would like to talk in-depth about your situation and your options, you are always welcomed to reach out to an advocate. We are here 24/7 through chat, 1-866-331-9474, and by texting “loveis” to 22522.

      Take care,

      Advocate LC

  5. Sounds like you’ve answered your own qsteuions. If you have any doubts, keep it casual. You have to heal and be the best you before you commit to anyone else. It’s hard being alone or not in a relationship when you are used to being in one, but it is so worth it. Discuss your fears with the new beau and if he supports your need to move slow, he may very well be what you need! Good luck.

    1. Hi Jumana,

      Thank you for commenting and participating in our online community. You are right that transitioning out of a relationship can be really difficult. If you or anyone you know would like to speak with an advocate directly about their relationship concerns we can be reached 24/7 through chat, at 1-866-331-9474, or by texting “loveis” to 22522.

      Take care,
      Advocate RG

  6. Id first like to thank the LIR Advocate. As you know it helps us alot to talk about this. We have been isolated and totally manipulated by a man or woman whom we loved and trusted .. I spent 18yrs in an abusive relationship with a.man that I felt strongly about. I did everything for him. Paid for everythiing. Dressed up all the time..and it was never good enough. So I dressed up more. Paid for more..catered to this man thinking he would treat me better…It never happened. Then one day he noticed I was getting mentally stronger and he told me to ge the hell out of his life.. I turned around and it snapped.. I said you know ..I THINK I WILL. It been over a year now..I,have good days and bad days. But it is sites like this that help me move on. Sabrina….everyone told me..HE IS NOT GONNA CHANGE. But I,had to leave when I was ready to leave..Dont be hard on yourself for going back etc. Find ways to keep aome things to yourself. Dont tell him everytbijg anymore. It was little baby steps that made me stronger.. I want to thank everyone for speaking up on this page and encourage others to do so too. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. 🙂

    1. Hi Diane,

      Thank you for sharing your story of strength and how you became a survivor! That must have taken so much courage and resiliency to be able to leave, but it’s great to hear that you did. You deserve to be respected and you deserve to be safe, so it’s awesome to hear that you were able to realize this and find the courage within yourself.

      You are also right that only the survivor is the expert in their situation, so they have to be the one to decide when is the right time for them to leave. One statistic said that it takes the average person 7 times to leave an abusive relationship, so it is also great advice to not be hard on yourself and realize leaving is a process that takes time and planning.

      I hope that you continue to stay safe and strong in the future, but if something changes and you do need to speak to an advocate directly, or if you’re just looking for local DV resources such as counseling, we are always here 24/7 by phone 1-866-331-9474, by texting LOVEIS to 22522, or on our homepage chat.

      Best wishes!
      Advocate KB

      1. KB

        Thank you for your heart felt response. This is a great site. When i was in the thick of all my problems. I searched and searched for help and could not find a place like this. I am so happy I have found it now. Thank you. I personally did not want to seek out a counselor. It is much easier to know that I can call, TEXT or chat. Wish I found you sooner. At times I was very desperate and hurt. I am going to continue to follow this site to keep me strong and to help others. I understand what it means when no wants to hear it. Your friends and family tell you just leave him. Thry dont understand. The first step for me was understanding and knowing this beahviour IS NOT RIGHT. Once I came to grips with the fact that how I was being treated WAS WRONG.. I took baby steps to fixing myself, exercised, learned how to defend myself, aligned myself with positive people, videos and sites like this to read. I eventually went back to school and obttained my masters degree. It was at this point , he told me he didnt like my atttiude. LOL.. HE DIDNT LIKE THAT I WAS BECOMING STRONGER. One other point I’d lime to make is, he would not end the relationship civilly. He still needs control. I hope my story helps others. I had NO IDEA the level of deceit and manipulation I was dealing with. Why do they (the perpertrator) want to live their life so unhappy?

  7. I wish there was an article about if the victim has mental illness…

    I struggle trusting myself… And that’s easy pickings for being gaslit.

    Idk if I’m delusional or being abused. I do know I feel bad and have (many) mental disorder(s).

    1. Hey Ellie,

      Thank you for reaching out to us and sharing your experience. It can be really hard if you are experiencing abuse from someone when you also have mental illnesses. Especially if you are unsure of yourself. However, we often tell our chatters to follow their gut, so if you are feeling like you are being emotionally abused, it is important to trust your instincts.

      No matter if you have a disability or not, you still deserve to be RESPECTED, validated, and equally part of the relationship. If that is not how your relationship is going, then it might be good to talk long-term with a professional? If you would like to reach out to us directly, we may be able to talk to you further, or find a local counselor in your area!

      You deserve to be respected and supported always, so if you do need to reach us, we are always here 24/7 by phone 1-866-331-9474, by chat on our homepage, or by texting “loveis” to 22522. Thanks again for bravely reaching out!

      Stay safe!
      Advocate KB

  8. Hi! I’m not sure who to turn to. I love my boyfriend.

    My boyfriend suffers from anxiety, he used to be in therapy for anxiety and anger issues. We have been dating 8 months. He rushed to put a relationship label on us.

    He has never hit me, but occasionally shouts.
    I can’t talk to my family about this as they are already unsure about him.

    He can’t take any jokes. He is extremely jealous. Any one who touches me or talks to me in a way he doesn’t like ( often just innocent friendly people) he gets upset and in a mood, but he just blames it on anxiety. Even when my sister made a joke about me wanting a chocolate called bendicks- ——- – set him off and he went next door to take a nap and was sad for over 2 hours.

    He wants us to sleep next to each other every night and sees it as a step back if I were to spend the night at a friends. Even though he said I can do what I want, he said he will be extremely unhappy about it. So I feel like I can’t actually do that.

    We both used to be stoners before we met. He told me if I were to ever smoke he would be disappointed. I said I would never ask you to smoke, but if I were to smoke once a year with a vaporiser could you just accept it? And respect my wishes? He said he would still be disappointed in me. So I feel like I don’t have the freedom to.

    I’m not sure if I’m being taken for a ride, why he is setting all the rules, we are in couples therapy together so that’s a good start and makes me hopeful for change, but she just talks with us and notices patterns but I think my boyfriends problems are more emotional.

    He also gets upset whenever I mention my sisters name, as once she slapped him for taking rudely to me. He felt “abandoned” by me for not sticking up for him and for asking him what he did. And 6 months later still hasn’t fully forgiven me. I confronted my sister months after as he didn’t let it go but it didn’t fully help as he still hasn’t forgiven. I can’t talk about her to him. I can’t mention a female friend ( best friend of mine) as he knows I made out with her years ago. I can’t talk about another friend of mine who fell out with both of us but wants to get back in tough with me.

    I can’t mention anything about my ex, and anything which triggers any thing that reminds him I have one.

    I love him very much, we are very close, this is just a very stressful start to a relationship and there are issues on most days and I don’t know how much energy I have!!!
    Please help!!

    1. Hi there Sarah,

      Thanks so much for reaching out about your concerns, those are all really valid things to be worried about.

      I’m sorry to hear that things are so stressful in your relationship right now. It definitely sounds like your boyfriend is showing some red flags of abuse. It’s not ok for him to shout at you, make all of those decisions, and try to control who you talk to or hang out with. I’m glad you found this article, because while he may be blaming these things on anxiety that’s simply not true. There is no mental illness that causes abusive behaviors. Abuse is based on power and control, and it is a choice. While you may be hearing plenty of apologies and excuses, that doesn’t make this ok and you definitely don’t deserve to be treated that way. A healthy relationship has to have two partners who treat each other as equals, and be based on a foundation of respect, trust, and open communication. You deserve a safe and healthy relationship 100% of the time, even if there is 80% good and 20% bad you never deserve to have to go through that 20%.
      We don’t usually recommend couples counseling when abuse is present in a relationship, because many therapists don’t recognize the red flags or you may not feel safe or comfortable disclosing your feelings because of how he may react after the session. You can click here to read an article on our sister site about that topic. You should always feel like you’re able to talk about concerns with your partner, without fear of how they will respond. I’m hearing that you really do love your partner, and I think our article called “Is Love Enough?” will also be really helpful for you.
      I encourage you to come in and chat with us if you’re able! It sounds like a lot to process, and you’re not alone in this by any means. We’d love to talk more about your situation through our chat online, through text (send “loveis” to 22522), or you could call us at 1.866.331.9474. We are available 24/7!

      Best Wishes
      Advocate JL

  9. Thank you for this article. I have had the most difficult year of my life, because I have a mental illness and now I know am in an abusive relationship. I have my share of problems, I don’t handle things well, I even yell, scream, and have broken things when I am upset. My meltdowns happen in all situations, I have lost friends, a job, and made myself look psychotic in public, even been put on psych hold in the hospital. I am on medication, in weekly group and individual therapy. I am doing everything I can to get better.

    It wasn’t untill this past week when I was strangled to the point of blacking out I realized, it might not be all my fault. The more I read, the more I realize maybe it wasn’t all me and mental illness. Maybe I was just responding poorly to emotional abuse, maybe he was just abusive. What if i am really healthy, and my medications are working, and my meltdowns are just my inability to tolerate abuse any longer? Beyond an overwhelming thought.

    Thank you for the well written, clear article and the help that it has given me.

    1. Hi Heather,

      Thank you for sharing a part of your experience with us. It sounds like you have endured so much, and I want you to know that the abuse is absolutely not your fault. It is not okay for anyone to physically assault you. Being in an abusive relationship is by no means easy, and I can understand how living with a mental illness on top of enduring that abuse has led to some overwhelming thoughts. You absolutely deserve to feel safe and to make your emotional well-being your top priority. If you’d like, we are available to chat online – as well as by phone 1-866-331-9474 – about what’s going on in your situation and can even look for resources (specific to IPV) in your area for further support. We’re here 24/7!

      Take care,
      Advocate GP

  10. We just learned in recent months that our daughter-in-law is verbally abusive and controlling to our son and doesn’t care if our toddler grandchild hears this as we recently observed. This sad revelation happened when the abuse started to finally spill onto other members of the family and was witnessed by several of us on multiple occasions. It has been occurring in their home for many years, we’re heartbroken to learn. We feel like we are in the twilight zone and in shock as we’ve known her for so long, and she’s been kind and considerate to us. We don’t know how to maintain a relationship with someone who has suddenly expressed such contempt and yet they expect us to go on as if nothing happened. All adults involved are accomplished professionals. We have clearly stated that the behavior is abusive and controlling and needs professional help. Withholding contact with our grandchild is being used in an attempt to control us now. I’m actually afraid of her and what she could do. I would only want to meet in a public place. It’s made me trust people less, not knowing if they could turn on me like she has.

    Know that it is agonizing for friends and family to be aware but helpless when the couple continues in denial and the family of the daughter-in-law is also in cover up and appeasement mode.

    1. Hi SK,

      Thank you for reaching out. It is crushing to find out that someone you love, especially a child, is being treated with abuse. There is absolutely nothing your son could ever do to deserve any form of abuse. For the abuse to be going on around children and for it to be directed at you as well is very painful. Abuse is something that doesn’t discriminate. It crosses all socioeconomic, race, religion, education level, sexual orientation, and gender lines. Being all accomplished professionals doesn’t make any of you immune to abuse unfortunately. As you move forward, you deserve to be able to be safe from abuse and to be able to support your son. We have a page on supporting loved ones who are being abused at this link. I also encourage you to reach out to an advocate about your situation. We are here 24/7 on chat, at 1-866-331-9474, and through text (text “loveis” to 22522).

      Take care,

      Advocate LC

  11. Hello, I’ve been in an abusive relationship for about a year now. I have so many unanswered questions about my spouse. Im researching and educating myself trying to find answers. Maybe you can help me find some closure. Then I can start healing from the abuse thats left me scarred and mest up both physically and mentally. Mostly mentally.

    [Admin: This comment has been edited for safety per our Community Guidelines]

    1. Hello Bree,

      This sounds like such a scary and difficult situation, and you absolutely deserve support. I encourage you to reach out to us directly to speak confidentially with an advocate. We’re available 24/7 at 1-866-331-9474, or you can chat via our website or text “loveis” to 22522. Please reach out whenever you feel safe and ready.

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