21 Signs Of Emotional Abuse In A Relationship & Tips To Heal

Watch out for the red flags to identify the patterns and know when to move on.

Reviewed by Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, Ed.S., LMFT Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill Sharon Gilchrest O’NeillEd.S., LMFT twitter_iconyoutube_icon
Written by , Integrated MA, Certified Relationship Coach Sneha Tete Integrated MA, Certified Relationship Coach Experience: 4 years
Edited by , MA (English Literature) Madhumati Chowdhury MA (English Literature) linkedin_icon Experience: 7 years
Fact-checked by , Integrated MA, Certified Relationship Coach Sneha Tete Integrated MA, Certified Relationship Coach Experience: 4 years

Are you in a relationship that leaves you confused, lonely, afraid, and scared? If yes, you might not yet be aware that you are in an emotionally abusive relationship. Emotional abuse is often stealthy and different from physical abuse. The signs of emotional abuse are not so obvious or apparent. This is why people experiencing this form of abuse take a long time to realize what is happening to them in the relationship.

Emotional abuse commonly occurs in a romantic relationship, but it can also happen between friends, family members, colleagues. As already said, such abuse is toned down and difficult to recognize. In this article, we will discuss indicators of emotional abuse and how one removes themself from such abuse.

What Is Emotional Abuse?

Signs of emotional abuse
Image: IStock

Emotional abuse is characterized by a person behaving in a way to control, intimidate, or scare someone else. An emotionally abusive relationship often originates from a power imbalance.

It may take place in the forms of yelling, bullying, threatening, ridiculing, isolating, and gaslightingi  A form of manipulation or abuse intended to gain control over an individual by creating self-doubt, confusion, and dependency on the abuser. , among other ways of emotional manipulation. Even though emotional abuse is non-physical, it is often a precursor to physical abuse or domestic violence.

Emotional abuse is often very subtle and easy to miss in the initial stages. The person being abused may not even realize that their partner is manipulating them and may develop psychological trauma, including chronic depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Emotionally abusive behavior is perpetuated to subdue, control, punish, or isolate another person by humiliating them or scaring them, and it targets the emotional and psychological well-being of the victim (1).

While emotional abuse is most common in romantic and sexual relationships, it can take place in any kind of personal or professional relationship. These include:

  •  Spouses/partners
  •  Parents and children
  •  Siblings
  •  Caretaker and patient
  •  Business partners
  •  Co-workers
  •  Friends

protip_icon Quick Tip
According to a study, emotional abuse occurred in about 80% of the cases where 40% of women and 32% of men experienced expressive aggression and 41% of women and 43% of men described the presence of coercive control (5).

Since emotional abuse is often insidious, it is easy to miss the early signs. If you suspect you are being emotionally manipulated by someone you love, look out for the signs listed in the next section.

21 Signs Of An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Emotionally abusive relationships are often characterized by a power imbalance in the relationship. While it may be quite subtle in the beginning, emotional abuse does not take long to intensify if not curbed as soon as possible. If you see the behaviors in the following 21 signs in your relationship, you are likely being emotionally abused:

 1. Verbal Outbursts/Yelling

Yelling at a partner is often a sign of emotional abuse
Image: IStock

Does your partner get angry quickly and yell at you if you do not do what they want? Abusive people want to be in constant control and are likely to lose their temper at the slightest pretext. Yelling is a way of both controlling the person and shaming them for not listening

2. Blatant Lies

If you catch your partner lying often, it is a sign of deep psychological issues.. Abusers are known to be blatant liars and do not shy away from spreading rumors and malicious lies about the people they are abusing.

3. Trivialize Your Problems

While abusive people may pretend to be kind and caring in the initial days of the relationship, their insensitive nature surfaces with time. Abusers do not honor their partner’s emotions, and if the latter wishes to discuss their issues, the abusive partner may trivialize their problem and even criticize them for having the issue.

4. Name-Calling

If your partner calls you stupid, foolish, idiot, loser, pathetic, or any other such derogatory words, they are being verbally abusive and trying to put you down by humiliating you, especially in front of others. This is a major red flag that points toward verbal aggression and emotional abuse.

5. Frequent Walkouts

Boyfriend walking out during a fight
Image: IStock

While arguments arise in any relationship, people with a healthy mindset discuss their issues and resolve them amicably. However, abusers are more likely to leave a situation rather than talk to their partner and resolve it. By doing this, they shift all the blame on the other person and make them feel guilty.

6. Derogatory Pet Names

Assigning each other sweet pet names is normal in any loving relationship. However, giving someone a derogatory pet name is not a sign of love but emotional abuse. Chubby Pumpkin, Fatso, and Baldy are not terms of endearment. They are meant to attack a person based on their physical attributes.

7. Character Assassination

Character assassination is the deliberate effort to damage the reputation of an individual. To humiliate their partner, abusers often resort to blaming and shaming to make their partner look bad in front of others. They may also go as far as spreading rumors about their partner.

8. Make Fun Of Your Physical Appearance

Many people have insecurities regarding their physical appearances. Abusive people tend to tap into the other person’s insecurities and comment on their physical appearance in ways that make them feel insulted. Such comments might target someone’s height, weight, skin color, hair, etc.

9. Public Embarrassment

In emotionally abusive relationships, the abusive partner often picks fights in public, yells at you, threatens to expose your secrets, and makes fun of your perceived shortcomings in front of others. If this happens in your relationship, you are being emotionally abused.

10. Jokes And Sarcasm

It is common for abusive people to joke in a hurtful way and trivialize your feelings if you object to them. They may criticize you for not having a sense of humor and even put you down for being a spoilsport. Please remember that people who genuinely care about their partner’s feelings never resort to derogatory jokes.

11. Belittle Your Accomplishments

Abusers are unable to give credit to their partner when credit is due. They thrive on belittling their partner and making them feel insignificant. Your abusive partner might tell you that your accomplishments do not matter much and may even take credit for your achievements.

12. Mock Your Interests

A caring person encourages their partner to take up hobbies and other activities that interest them. However, abusive people do not like to see their partners happily engaged in fun activities with other people and will mock their hobbies and interests.

13. Constantly Trigger You

Once your abuser figures out what hurts and triggers you, they will constantly bring up those topics to push your buttons. Once you are triggered, they will shame you for acting up and losing your cool.

14. Threaten You

Abusers often resort to threats to keep their partner in control. If you are financially dependent on your abusive spouse, they might threaten to abandon you, leaving you alone to raise the children. If you are trying to break up with a controlling partner, they might threaten to kill themselves if you do not stay with them.

15. Monitor Your Whereabouts

While constantly keeping a check on you might seem romantic in the early days of your relationship, it is a control tactic. Monitoring your whereabouts all the time and insisting that you give them a detailed account of where you have been and with whom are subtle methods of curbing your freedom.

16. Take Important Decisions Without Consulting You

Did your spouse just decide to transfer your children to another school without consulting you? Did they sell your family car without asking you first? If your partner never consults you before making a major decision, consider this a red flag.

17. Financial Control

In a healthy relationship, the partners have open discussions about financial issues. However, abusive partners tend to control the finances in emotionally abusive relationships. The victims may even be denied access to bank accounts and forced to beg for money from the abuser.

18. Jealousy

Films and TV shows have romanticized the dangerous idea that being jealous in a relationship means your partner truly loves you. This is not true. If your partner is constantly jealous of the people you spend time with, it probably means they are insecure and controlling.

19. Track Your Social Media

If your partner asks you to share your social media passwords and checks your internet history, emails, texts, and call logs, then it is time to stay alert regarding their true intentions.

20. Unpredictable Behavior

Is your partner’s behavior unpredictable? Do they sometimes shout and yell at you for hours and then shower you with expensive gifts the next day? If your partner’s behavior often leaves you confused about their real intentions, you are probably being emotionally abused.

21. Social Isolation

Abusive people often cut off their victims from their friends and family so that they have no one to turn to in times of need. Social isolation can leave the victim feeling fearful, scared, helpless, and lonely.

protip_icon Quick Tip
According to a study, isolation was one of the most common forms of emotional abuse, and younger women were more likely to experience it (5).

Facing even a few of these signs could be an indication that you are experiencing manipulation in your relationship. Now, let us check out the various forms of emotional abuse.

Types Of Emotional Abuse

Emotionally abusive behavior can take many forms. Here are a few types of emotional abuse:

1. Controlling Behavior And Unrealistic Expectations

Controlling behavior is one of the most prominent characteristics of an abusive individual. The abuser controls who their partner meets or spends time with and even monitors their daily activities via regular calls and texts. They might spy on your social media and demand you share your passwords with them.

Instead of treating you like an individual worthy of respect, they treat you like a possession. They do not respect your family and friends and may even prevent you from interacting with them and will be jealous if you spend time with others. They have unrealistic expectations from you and are dissatisfied no matter how hard you try or how much you give.

2. Act Entitled

Emotionally abusive people act entitled. They think that they are superior to you and others and treat you with disrespect. They constantly doubt you and blame you for everything, even for their own mistakes and shortcomings. They mock you and put down your ideas, opinions, values, and thoughts.

Abusive people tell you that you are stupid, useless, and foolish. They talk down to you in a condescending tone and act like they are always right and are smarter than everyone else.

3. Constant Invalidation

Abusive people constantly invalidate others. They undermine and distort your perception of reality and make you doubt yourself. They refuse to acknowledge your feelings and make you explain yourself over and over. They accuse you of being too sensitive or crazy.

They do not accept your opinions and ideas as valid and suggest that you cannot be trusted. They do not listen to any of your valid grievances and accuse you of being selfish. They do not trust you and may accuse you of cheating even when spending healthy time with your family and friends.

4. Emotional Blackmail

Emotional blackmail is a favorite tool employed by abusive people. If you increasingly find yourself fearing your partner’s reactions if you do not comply with their unreasonable demands, you are probably being emotionally blackmailed.

Your partner may manipulate and control you to give in to their demands and make you feel guilty if you don’t. They may use your fears and insecurities to control a situation and exaggerate your flaws to make you feel less competent. They may also withhold affection or give you the silent treatment. Emotional abuse can affect victims in numerous ways, as detailed below.

Selena Soo, a blogger, shared her personal experience of being in an emotionally abusive relationship with her partner. She recounts, “Three months into our relationship, I remember him complaining about how expensive my team was, threatening to leave me if I didn’t let go of certain people. He saw my best friends and industry colleagues as “competitors,” warning me against spending time with them (i).”

Scroll down to the next section to find out how emotional abuse can continue and manifest a circular pattern.

Cycle Of Emotional Abuse

cycle of emotional abuse
Image: Shutterstock

The cycle of emotional abuse has four stages:

Tension building: The abusive partner starts to show signs of abusive behavior, like irritability, impatience, emotional outbursts, and temper. The non-abusive partner starts becoming anxious and finds ways to reduce the tension.

Incident: The cumulative tension and the abusive partner’s attempt to control the relationship result in abusive incidents, like humiliation, or name-calling.

Reconciliation: After the incident, the abusive partner shows remorse and shame for their behavior and takes steps to compensate for their behavior. They shower the victim with apologies and romantic gestures.
Calm: The abusive partner continues to be attentive but starts justifying their behavior, shifting the blame, and gaslighting you into believing the incident was not that big of a deal. This can feel confusing to the victim.

Effects Of An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Effect of emotional abuse
Image: IStock

Emotional abuse affects different people in different ways. It is important to recognize that not everyone who has been emotionally abused reacts in the same way. Here are a few effects of being in an emotionally abusive relationship:

  • Being emotionally abused can leave one feeling confused, scared, and hopeless.
  • People who are emotionally abused tend to feel a deep sense of shame and worthlessness.
  • Victims of emotional abuse may experience racing heartbeat, mood swings, and muscle tension.
  • Being subjected to emotional abuse may make it difficult for you to concentrate.
  • Those who survive long-term emotional abuse may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • People who have been exposed to long-term emotional abuse may suffer from insomnia, anxiety, and chronic pain as well.
  • Victims of emotional abuse may develop self-esteem issues and lose confidence in themselves.
  • People who have been emotionally abused develop trust issues and have trouble building close interpersonal relationships.

Being emotionally abused can leave you feeling vulnerable, sad, scared, and lonely. Thankfully, there is hope. Once you realize you are being emotionally abused, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself and make yourself feel safer. Check them out below.

7 Tips For Healing From Emotional Abuse

Woman looking upon new beginning and healing from emotional abuse
Image: IStock

Emotional abuse can leave you scarred both mentally and physically. You need to remember that the abuse was not your fault. Once you realize you are being emotionally abused and manipulated, you can start taking small steps to protect yourself from further abuse and nurture your wounded inner self. Here are a few good ideas to begin with:

1. Reach Out For Help

Recovery from emotional abuse need not be a lonely process. Turn to trusted friends and family members for emotional support. Join online and offline support groups for people who have experienced psychological trauma and abuse. You can also consult a good therapist for professional advice on emotional recovery.

2. Take Adequate Rest

Experiencing emotional abuse can leave you feeling physically and mentally tired all the time. Give your body adequate care and ensure you sleep well. You can relieve stress before bedtime by listening to soothing music, lighting scented candles, or taking a warm bath.

3. Do Not Engage Your Abuser

If possible, try to discontinue any form of communication with your abuser. If this is not possible, try to minimize your engagement with the abusive person and do not give them the response they are trying to elicit from you. Not engaging the abuser is a powerful way of asserting your boundaries.

4. Get Physically Active

Activities like jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, and dancing reduce anxiety and depression. Going through emotional abuse can affect you in many ways, and regular exercise may help you heal your body and mind. Physical activity can also improve your self-esteem and confidence level (2).

5. Eat Healthy

Make yourself a priority and develop healthy eating habits. A nutrient-rich diet composed of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds gives your body the nourishment it requires and boosts your physical and mental health and well-being (3). Drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated. Try to avoid junk or processed foods as much as you can.

6. Get Socially Active

Being subjected to emotional abuse can leave one feeling lonely and isolated. Make healthy social interactions a part of your healing process. Connect with friends and family, attend social gatherings, and maybe sign up for a hobby class to learn painting or pottery.

7. Volunteer

Volunteering your time for a cause close to your heart is a good way of investing your energy and emotions in something meaningful. Do you love animals? Volunteer at a local animal shelter. Do you feel deeply about the elderly? Call up a home for the elderly and spend time with the residents there.

Infographic: Things You Can Do To Heal From Emotional Abuse

Healing from any abuse can be challenging, but it is not impossible. From seeking professional help to indulging in self-care, you can do a wide range of things to give yourself the love you have always deserved. With that in mind, we have rounded up a list of some beneficial activities you can indulge in that can help you deal with the aftermath of emotional abuse in toxic relationships. Check it out in the infographic below!

things you can do to heal from emotional abuse (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

Relationships are considered a roller coaster of emotions, an emotionally abusive relationship is based on a power imbalance. Your partner can emotionally abuse you by yelling at you, threatening you, or isolating you to manipulate your emotions. Major signs of an emotionally abusive relationship are name-calling, character assassination, jealousy, and social isolation. If you notice any of the above signs, it is better to move out of the toxic relationship at the earliest as an emotionally abusive partner can leave you feeling confused, anxious, and low self-esteem.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between mental and emotional abuse?

Mental abuse involves a person’s attempt to frighten or isolate you, while emotional abusers make you feel stupid or incompetent. Emotional abuse targets the person’s feelings and emotions to manipulate, while mental abuse concentrates on questioning and influencing their thinking and reality.

What does emotional abuse do to a child’s brain?

Emotional abuse can have long-term effects on a child’s brain. It can affect how the child behaves, controls emotions, and functions in a social setting.

Can emotional abuse cause bipolar disorder?

Yes, emotional abuse can lead to bipolar disorder. A child who has suffered emotional abuse is more likely to develop bipolar disorder (4).

Do people in emotionally abusive relationships recognize the abuse?

Since the abuser is often a spouse or a romantic partner, people often take time to realize they are in an emotionally abusive relationship. However, it is always best not to encourage emotional abuse once you recognize it.

Key Takeaways

  • Emotional abuse may stem from power imbalance and manifest as threatening, yelling, bullying, gaslighting, ridiculing, isolating, etc. It often leads to physical abuse as well.
  • The signs are often subtle and may occur in romantic and other personal or professional relationships.
  • It can have many short and long-term effects on the victim.
  • Reach out for help when you notice the signs and prioritize your safety and wellbeing.

Check out this video to learn about four signs of emotional abuse that you may not even realize are happening to you. Explore the hidden signs that often go unnoticed and learn how to address this harmful behavior.

Personal Experience: Source


Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Emotional abuse in intimate relationships: The role of gender and age https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3876290/
  2. Exercise for Mental Health https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/
  3. Defining a Healthy Diet: Evidence for the Role of Contemporary Dietary Patterns in Health and Disease https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7071223/
  4. The Role Of Childhood Trauma In Bipolar Disorders
  5. Emotional abuse in intimate relationships: The role of gender and age
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Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill

Sharon Gilchrest O’NeillLicensed Marriage & Family Therapist

Sharon Gilchrest O'Neill is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Family Business Consultant with over 30 years of experience. She holds degrees in Marriage & Family Therapy, Organizational Psychology, and Developmental Psychology. An early, inspiring career experience as part of the group of professionals who founded the first freestanding hospice in the United States paved the way for her...read full bio

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