Signs of Emotional Abuse in a Relationship


When you hear the word abuse, you most certainly imagine a black eye and bruises. These are the consequences of domestic violence. However, there is another, more covert and cunning manifestation of violence – emotional abuse. It doesn’t leave traces on your body, but it does undermine your psyche. Emotional abusers are good manipulators: you’ll not even notice the moment your relationship has turned into a toxic one. In order not to overlook that moment, you need to be aware of how to diagnose emotional abuse.

what is emotional abuse

Definition of emotional abuse

A man should not necessarily lay hands on his partner to be called an abuser. Today, abuse comes in various forms. What is emotional abuse? Degrading remarks, shouting, fights, reproaches, silent treatment, and overall control – this is what emotional abuse in a relationship is about. The effects of emotional abuse can be very serious. To the most apparent of them belong lowered self-esteem, lack of self-respect, the conviction that you’re worthless.

The victims of emotional abuse gradually fall into depression. This is one of the long-term effects of emotional abuse. They find it hard to get rid of pathological anxiety. There is an assumption that a prolonged submission to the abuser causes a state similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Signs of emotional abuse

Women tend to overlook some potentially-abusive patterns of behavior when they are in love or hope that their men will change. By the way, the victims of emotional abuse are predominantly women. The best way to avoid an abusive relationship is to watch out for the red flags that indicate an abusive partner. Don’t date, live with, or marry a man if he:

  • disregards your feelings, emotions, values, aims, desires, plans;
  • deprecates your accomplishments, wishes, feelings;
  • tries to demonstrate that he is better, smarter, and more practical than you;
  • always has the last word when making a decision that concerns the interests of you two;
  • overtly or indirectly punishes you for violating his instructions or not following his decisions;
  • sees your relationship through the prism of stereotypes, public opinion, his parents’ example, but doesn’t focus on your wishes;
  • verbally insults you;
  • thinks he knows what is best for you;
  • blackmails you that he will deprive you of his attention, support, disgrace you in front of your friends or relatives;
  • deliberately causes such situations that make you behave in a way you regret later
  • … and reassures you it’s normal;
  • believes that it is you who should change or adjust your lifestyle, because he already made the most important move – entered a relationship with you;
  • strives to be a leader, to have control over you;
  • wonders if you don’t obey;
  • considers himself to be a more important personality.

Not all of these signs and symptoms of emotional abuse should be there to ring the bell. Usually, two or three of them are enough.

Types of emotional abuse

Along with general signs that may be indicative of an emotionally abusive relationship, there are typical behaviors that cause psychological harm. Here are some of them.

1. Gaslighting. You might have heard this term somewhere in social media. It’s quite popular today. The victims of gaslighting are imposed that they are out their mind and don’t understand anything. The abuser tries to twist his partner’s words in such a way that she finally can’t distinguish between real facts and lies. For example, a man blames his woman for the thing he’s done.

spousal emotional abuse2. Withholding. You can’t communicate with your partner effectively, because every time you touch upon some important topic or initiate a serious talk, they change the subject, joke, or omit to answer your questions. They don’t reject talking to you, but that talk you have leads nowhere. All you feel after such conversations is emotional devastation and helplessness.

3. Neglect. It’s one of the passive forms of emotional abuse. It can be defined as inability or unwillingness of a person to provide care and comfort, help and support to their partner. It also comprises the depreciation of the victim’s needs and health, as well as financial abuse. For example, a man refuses to use a condom, burdens his woman with all household chores, refuses to put on headphones when playing video games/listening to music while his partner wants to sleep. If your partner prevents you from going to the doctor’s, it’s neglect. If you ask for help and hear in response, “You don’t need this” – it’s neglect.

4. Guilt-tripping. This form of manipulation is similar to gaslighting. The abuser, by the means of deception, induces the feeling of guilt on the victim and makes them apologize for what they haven’t done.

5. Emotional blackmail. In this case, the abuser increases the emotional distance or imposes a boycott if the victim does something he doesn’t like. The abuser as if says, “I’ll stop to communicate with you if you do/don’t do this.” This is done to make the victim behave in a particular way. This type of abuse is especially hurtful for those who experienced something similar in their childhood.

6. Lack of empathy. The one who abuses is indifferent to the abused. They don’t care about the feelings of their partner: there is no compassion when their partner is sad, there is no shared joy when their partner is happy.

7. Jealousy. Abusers are very possessive. For them, their partners are the items that they think belong to them. Emotional manipulators are jealous of all people that their partner is close with: friends, parents, relatives. Even pets.

8. Criticism. Any unasked-for criticism of a person’s character is a violation of their boundaries. It is so popular that it’s often considered to be a normal part of communication. Abusers consider themselves to be the right people to point out their victim’s flaws. Criticism is often taken for granted, as even adults don’t know how to react when they hear it from their nearest and dearest. Negative remarks are always insulting, they hurt your self-esteem and make you think there is something wrong with you.

9. Financial abuse. Manipulators know how to keep their victims under control. They resort to different methods, and one of them is financial abuse. It can be subtle, when they prepare the environment for financial isolation (a man asking his woman to quit her job and dedicate her time only to their household), and it can be straightforward, when a man may intimidate his partner and have an overall control of her finances.

10. Overprotection. Abusers are manipulative and controlling. Sometimes, their actions acquire the signs of stalking: they spy on their victim when she is at work or in a store, her phone and e-mail box are constantly checked, she receives the instructions with whom to communicate and whom to avoid. The aim of the abuser is to be one on one with their victim and enjoy their domination.

As you may have noticed, emotional abuse is realized mostly verbally and through a certain attitude. Some psychologists distinguish between verbal and emotional abuse, while some specialists claim that verbal insults inevitably affect the victim on the emotional level. You should know that emotional violence may sooner or later turn into physical one.

Emotional abuse in marriage

Few women will discern a potential emotional abuser in their boyfriend. They are overwhelmed by emotions and blind to red flags. However, the beginning of a relationship is a perfect time for a partner inclined to dominance and control to lay the foundations for further manipulations. When a relationship has just started, it can be quite difficult to foresee how your partner will behave when you’ll start living as a couple. When the whirlwind of feelings calms down and people get used to the comfort of being together, they often start taking one another for granted. This is where such problems as lack of respect, poor communication, emotional insults begin.

Very often, victims don’t or don’t want to notice the signs of emotional abuse in marriage. Good manipulators know how to do their job. Since there is a certain method to their behavior, you can uncover an emotional abuser by analyzing their verbal expressions. Here is a list of insulting phrases that signal your relationship is getting dysfunctional and the health of your psyche is under threat.

  • “If you love me, you will do this and that.”
  • “If you value our relationship, you must …”
  • “If you really loved me, you would guess what I really need.”
  • signs of emotional abuse in marriage“I thought you are different.”
  • “Are you insane?”
  • “You are talking nonsense.”
  • “How can you be friends with these idiots?”
  • “If you don’t do it straight away, I will…”
  • “You’re a woman/man that’s why you must…”
  • “I don’t want you to be around these people.”
  • “Don’t you dare to cry!”
  • “Who will ever want you?”
  • “Who do you think you are to ask/make/tell me…?”
  • “You’re stupid” (said in public)
  • “You’re talking nonsense.” (said in public)
  • “I forbid you to do this.”
  • “It’s your problem, not mine.”
  • “You can’t do anything properly.”
  • “You’re a loser.”

Those women who want to find a man who will be their reliable rock, who will take care of everything and provide for them are at a high risk of spousal emotional abuse. Such women are ready to give their man the reigns of powers and make him a superior in their relationship (when a healthy relationship is a union of two equals). This is often the price they pay for a strong and dominating husband.

How to stop emotional abuse

The most effective way to prevent emotional abuse in relationships is not to let your partner violate your psychological boundaries. If you feel discomfort after certain words you partner says to you, don’t be silent but tell them how they make you feel and demand respect. How to deal with emotional abuse?

1. Determine whether you are a victim. Psychological abuse is never a one-time insult. It’s done systematically. If you fight about one and the same issue, if you repeatedly hear humiliating jokes and disdainful remarks, if you’re being controlled, and if all this leads to the drop in productivity, insecurity and changed plans, you are most certainly living with an emotional abuser. Look at your relationship from the side and think whether this is what you wanted it to be when you made your vows.

2. Find support. Discuss your concerns with someone you trust. It can be your close friend or relative that you know will be on your side. Emotional abuse is a tremendous stress for your mental health, so it’s hard, almost impossible, to deal with it on your own. Professional help of a psychologist is what is recommended in this case, as recovering from emotional abuse requires dealing with stress and anxiety.

3. Quit an abusive relationship. You should find strength to pause or end a relationship that contains the signs of emotional mistreatment. Overcoming emotional abuse is impossible if you stay with an abuser. So, you need to remove yourself from the abusive environment. Respect yourself and never let anyone trespass your psychological boundaries.