Recognizing Danger Signs
Before doing research on emotional abuse, we couldn't really put our finger on the reason why Austin and Marcia's relationship seemed so off. We had no concrete reasons for our panicky concerns --other than a strong gut-wrenching feeling that this relationship was very toxic. We saw a huge change in Austin. He was just not himself. Austin had been raised in a loving family with good strong relationships. He had never been exposed to emotional abuse and was unfamiliar and confused by what was happening. He didn't understand what was happening to him. He kept trying to fix things, but nothing worked. He was literally trapped in the relationship, and was unable to get out. He was not himself and it scared everyone who knew him. Even once he started to connect the dots and could see just how unhealthy the relationship was, he still needed the support of friends and family to truly escape the relationship. Understanding the signs and symptoms of emotional abuse is crucial to helping yourself or a loved one to maneuver out of a toxic, abusive, and controlling relationship.
Below is a list of just some of the red flags that Austin observed in his abusive relationship with Marcia. Of course, at the time, Austin was not aware of the seriousness of some of these behaviors. He knew something was wrong, but was unable to understand the extent of the abuse which was occurring. Even when he did start to understand, he was already so trapped, that he felt unable to get himself out of the situation.
Danger Signs or Red Flags: This is Emotional Abuse
- Isolating you from family and friends
- Threatening to hurt themselves if you don't do what they want
- Using ultimatums to get you to do or say what they want
- Logging into your email, phone, or social media profiles without your permission
- Discouraging you from spending time with other people, going to work or school, or other necessary appointments
- Controlling your finances or other assets
- Starting fights whenever you want to go out or spend time with friends
- Demanding constant attention. Feeling bored when you are not entertaining them or making them the focus of your attention
- Making you feel guilty when you spend time away from her
- Making you feel like you must ask permission before going out or doing anything alone
- Making you late for work, disturbing or distracting you at work, so that your job is at jeopardy
- Accusing you of having affairs
- Constantly threatening to leave you
- Threatening to commit suicide or self harm, in order to make you do what they want
- Making you feel worthless, compare you to others
- Bringing up all your past mistakes and never allowing you to move on
- Claiming that you are mentally unstable or mentally ill (when in reality you were just fine before you were pushed to your limits in this toxic relationship)
- Disliking your family, your friends, your hobbies, or anything else that draws your attention away from them
- Constantly checking up on you
- Making sure you can account for any time when you were apart
- Constantly questioning your behavior, your thoughts, your past, your feelings
- Allowing you no privacy and encouraging you to share all your secrets with them
- Monitoring all your conversations and interactions with others, asking you what you talked about and what was said
- Irrational and intense jealousy; constantly suspecting you of wanting to cheat on them
- Retroactive jealousy: Irrational jealousy about your past
- Suicidal threats or behavior or self-injury, often in response to fear of separation or rejection
- Inappropriate, intense anger, such as frequently losing your temper, being sarcastic or bitter, or having physical fights
- Assaulting you physically: slapping, throwing items at you, punching, scratching
- Intense mood swings
- Controlling how you spend your money, making sure that much of your money is spent on them
- Controlling how you dress or style your hair.
- Repeatedly telling you that you're not measuring up to their expectations or that everything is your fault
- Damaging your property
- Getting angry at the slightest little thing
- Constantly putting down your interests--or anything else that does not revolve around them or benefit them
- Deflecting blame or their responsibility for any of the above actions, leaving you to feel like you’re the one at fault (aka, gaslighting)
- Causing you to live in constant fear of upsetting them
Signs that you are dealing with a Narcissist, Borderline, or Psychopath
- An intense fear of abandonment, even going to extreme measures to avoid real or imagined separation or rejection
- Extreme and irrational feelings of jealousy
- A pattern of past unstable intense relationships, such as idealizing someone one moment and then suddenly believing the person doesn't care enough or is cruel
- Constant need of attention, bored easily
- Constant need of validation
- Wide mood swings lasting from a few hours to a few days, which can include intense happiness, irritability, shame or anxiety
- Great need for control
- Lack of responsibility--blaming and deflecting
- Lack of boundaries
- Lack of empathy--they only care in as much as the situation affects their own well-being
- High anxiety
- Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of them
- Anger, abuse, and aggression, followed by insincere apologies or acting as if the abusive behavior never occurred
- Revenge and the Ability to Make Your Life a Living Hell...especially after you leave
Emotional abusers often have distinct personality and behavior patterns. Once you've been exposed to these traits, you may be able to recognize them in future relationships before abuse begins. They are often self-centered individuals who lack empathy. They may feel like they have no control over their own lives and have a strong desire for asserting control where they can, including in their relationships with others. You can watch for the following signs to determine whether a person is a risk for coercive behaviors. Knowing these patterns can help you avoid entering an abusive relationship in the future.
- The person seems insecure or uncomfortable around others.
- They are paranoid about people's motivations, constantly looking for insults or hidden agendas where there aren't any.
- Overreacts about simple situations or seems edgy or uptight.
- Has overbearing parents or has family members that have taken care of everything for them, past an appropriate age to do so.
- Expresses road rage and thinks other drivers are "morons."
- Brags or boasts.
- Overly needy, constantly requiring emotional support.
- Unreasonable resentment of past partners and blaming failed relationships on the other person, constantly bring up their continued anger or grievances over the former partner.
- Plays the sad puppy, looking for your pity, and bemoaning how poorly they have been treated in the past.
- Acts pushy in conversations, by not letting others having an opinion, always getting in the last word, and arguing over petty issues that don't seem worth arguing about.
- Pressures you to do things you don't want to.
- Makes decisions for you, without consulting you.
- Invades your privacy, always being nosey about where you are, what you're doing, or who you're with.
- Behaves possessively over you.
- Lies about small things that it would be easy, to tell the truth about.
- Disregards boundaries you have set.
- You've heard accounts of other angry, violent, or abusive episodes from other people who know them.
If you see multiple patterns on this list in a person, you are at risk of emotional abuse.