If you are currently in a relationship that leaves you feeling perpetually scared, confused, lonely, and afraid, you may be experiencing emotional abuse and are not yet aware of it. Unlike physical abuse, where the signs of abuse are more visible, emotional abuse is often insidious. That is why it takes longer for people to realize that they are being abused.
While emotional abuse is most common in romantic and sexual relationships, it can occur in any relationship, including among friends, family members, or co-workers. Emotional abuse is subtle and often hard to recognize. Here, we will explore the tell-tale signs of emotional abuse and learn how to recover from it. First of all, let us understand what emotional abuse entails.
In This Article
What Is Emotional Abuse?
Emotional abuse is characterized by a person acting 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 gaslighting, among other ways of emotional manipulation. Even though emotional abuse is non-physical, it is often a precursor to physical abuse.
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 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:
- Â Spouses/partners
- Â Parents and children
- Â Siblings
- Â Caretaker and patient
- Â Business partners
- Â Co-workers
- Â Friends
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 subtle in the beginning, emotional abuse does not take long to intensify if not curbed as soon as possible. If you spot the following 21 signs in your relationship, you are likely being emotionally abused:
Â 1. Verbal Outbursts/Yelling
Does your partner get angry quickly and yell at you if you donât 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 ânot listening.â
2. Blatant Lies
If you catch your partner lying often, it might be a sign of something sinister on a deeper level. Abusers are known to be blatant liars and donât 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 donât honor their partnerâs 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.
If your partner calls you âstupid,â âfoolish,â âidiot,â âloser,â âpathetic,â 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 emotional abuse.
5. Frequent Walkouts
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 âPet Namesâ
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. âChubby Pumpkin,â âFatso,â and âBaldyâ 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 personâs insecurities and comment on their physical appearance in ways that make them feel insulted. Such comments might target someoneâs 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, be aware that your partner is emotionally abusive.
10. âJokesâ And Sarcasm
It is common for abusive people to âjokeâ 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 âspoilsport.â Please remember that people who genuinely care about their partnerâs feelings never resort to derogatory jokes.
11. Belittle Your Accomplishments
Abusers are bad at giving credit to their partner when it is due. They thrive on belittling their partner and making them feel insignificant. Your abusive partner might tell you that your accomplishments donât 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 donât like to see their partners happily engaged in fun activities with other people and mock their hobbies and interests.
13. Constantly Trigger You
Once your abuser figures out what hurts and triggers you, they will constantly bring up the very same topic 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 donât stay.
15. Monitor Your Whereabouts
While constantly keeping a check on you might seem âromanticâ 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 call 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 an emotionally abusive relationship. The victim may even be denied access to bank accounts and forced to beg for money from the abuser.
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 get alert regarding their true intentions.
20. Unpredictable Behavior
Is your partnerâs behavior unpredictable? Do they sometimes shout and yell at you for hours and then shower you with expensive gifts the next day? If your partnerâs 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.
Experiencing even a few of these signs could be an indication that you are being manipulated in this 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 donât respect your family and friends and may even prevent you from interacting with them and get 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. TheyÂ 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 âtoo sensitiveâ or âcrazy.â
They donât accept your opinions and ideas as valid and suggest that you canât be trusted. They donât listen to any of your valid grievances and accuse you of being selfish. They donât trust you and may accuse you of cheating if you spend 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 partnerâs reactions if you donât 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 donât. 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.
Effects Of An Emotionally Abusive Relationship
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:
- Â Being emotionally abused can leave one feeling confused, scared, and hopeless.
- Â People who are emotionally abused tend to feel a deep sense of shame and worthlessness.
- Â Victims of emotional abuse may experience racing heartbeat, mood swings, and muscle tension.
- Â Being subjected to emotional abuse may make it difficult for you to concentrate.
- Â Those who survive long-term emotional abuse may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Â People who have been exposed to long-term emotional abuse may suffer from insomnia, anxiety, and chronic pain as well.
- Â Victims of emotional abuse may develop self-esteem issues and lose confidence in themselves.
- Â 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
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 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. Donât 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 donât 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 well-being (3). Drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated, and 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.
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.
Emotional abuse is very insidious and subtle but can have numerous serious short- and long-term effects on the victim. If you are being emotionally abused by someone, you can be proactive and take a few steps to protect yourself. Rebuilding your life as a survivor of abuse of any kind takes effort, and it is recommended you consult a therapist to guide you on your journey of healing from emotional abuse.
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