Recognizing Abuse

Recognizing the Signs of an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Emotional abuse is behavior from another person that makes you consistently feel badly about yourself, like you just can’t be you. Emotional abuse is not limited to romantic partner, but can be perpetrated by a family member, friend or coworker. Emotional abuse can make you feel guilty, ashamed, silenced, violated, uncomfortable or many other things. Emotional abuse can be harder to identify since no one else can necessarily “see” its effects like they can a bruise, cut, or a scar.

Watch this video by Vivian McGrath. She asks some very pertinent questions which can help you determine whether or not you are in an emotionally abusive relationship.

See the rest of her article at:

Oftentimes, people in emotionally abusive relationships don’t understand that they are being abused because there’s no violence involved. Many will dismiss or downplay emotional abuse because they don’t think it’s as bad as physical abuse, but this is a mistake. Emotional abuse has major consequences and it’s often hard to recognize. This form of abuse deteriorates a person’s self-esteem, independence, and dignity. Not only is it serious because it affects a person’s well-being and could turn fatal, but also because the person has been brainwashed to think that the behaviors are normal aspects of a relationship!

In the this informative article, onelove has defined the stages and signs of an emotionally abusive relationship. They are as follows:

If you recognize some or any of these behaviors in your partner or in your friends’ relationships, you should know that it is not in fact normal. These behaviors and stages are very commonly associated with an emotionally abusive relationship, and just because you are not being physically harmed, it doesn’t mean that the abuse isn’t taking its toll on your mental health.

Moreover, abusive relationships rarely start with physical violence. Instead, they start with the subtleties of an unhealthy and emotionally volatile relationship, which progressively worsen as the relationship continues. In time, emotional abuse can escalate in severity, turning from verbal attacks and mental manipulation to physical beatings and possibly even death.

Recognizing that these behaviors are unhealthy and abusive could help you or someone you know out of a dangerous relationship. If you or someone you know may be in an abusive situation, we highly encourage you to check out our real time resources. (taken from )

  1. Constantly criticizing what you do, say, or look like
  2. Shaming or blaming you for your behavior, either subtly or implicitly
  3. Calling you names — even when you ask them to stop
  4. Humiliating you at home and in public
  5. Threatening you or those you care for if you don’t do what they want
  6. Threatening to hurt themself if you don’t do what they want
  7. Using ultimatums to get you to do or say what they want
  8. On the flip side, withholding communication or affection from you if you don’t do what they want (e.g., giving you the silent treatment)
  9. Logging into your email, phone, or social media profiles without your permission
  10. Discouraging you from spending time with other people, going to work or school, or other necessary appointments
  11. Controlling your finances or other assets
  12. Deflecting blame or their responsibility for any of the above actions, leaving you to feel like you’re the one at fault (aka, gaslighting)

You may not realize that abusers feel powerless. They don’t act insecure to cover up the truth. In fact, they’re often bullies. The one thing they all have in common is that their motive is to have power over their victim. This is because they don’t feel that they have personal power, regardless of worldly success. To them, communication is a win-lose game. They often have the following personality profile:

  • Insecure.
  • Needy with unrealistic expectations of a relationship.
  • Distrustful.
  • Often jealous.
  • Verbally abusive.
  • Needs to be right and in control.
  • Possessive; may try to isolate their partner from friends and family.
  • Hypersensitive and reacts aggressively.
  • Has a history of aggression.
  • Is cruel to animals or children.
  • Blames their behavior on others.
  • Suffers from untreated mental health problems including depression or suicidal behavior.

Using Past abuse as a justification for their own abuse:

Abusers will try to use excuses like past abuse against them as a justification for their own abuse, said Rhonda Stanford-Zahn, a therapist who primarily works with victims of sexual abuse.

    1. Monitoring your activities with family and friends
    2. Constantly checking up on you
    3. Questioning your behavior
    4. Setting time limits when you are out with friends
    5. Isolating your from family and friends
    6. Banning you from seeing certain people
    7. Stopping you from working in certain places
    8. Controlling how you spend your money
    9. Controlling how you dress or style your hair
    10. Repeatedly telling you that you’re worthless
    11. Allowing you no privacy
    12. Damaging your property
    13. Using children to report on you
    14. Getting angry at the slightest little thing
    15. You are constantly living in fear of upsetting them

Creating boundaries is a good way to keep your relationship healthy and secure. By setting boundaries together, you can both have a deeper understanding of the type of relationship that you and your partner want. Boundaries are not meant to make you feel trapped or like you’re “walking on eggshells.” Creating boundaries is not a sign of secrecy or distrust — it’s an expression of what makes you feel comfortable and what you would like or not like to happen within the relationship.

Remember, healthy boundaries shouldn’t restrict your ability to:

  • Go out with your friends without your partner.
  • Participate in activities and hobbies you like.
  • Not have to share passwords to your email, social media accounts or phone.
  • Respect each other’s individual likes and needs.

Relationships that are not healthy are based on power and control, not equality and respect. In the early stages of an abusive relationship, you may not think the unhealthy behaviors are a big deal. However, possessiveness, insults, jealous accusations, yelling, humiliation, pulling hair, pushing or other abusive behaviors, are — at their root — exertions of power and control. Remember that abuse is always a choice and you deserve to be respected. There is no excuse for abuse of any kind.

If you think your relationship is unhealthy, it’s important to think about your safety now. Consider these points as you move forward:

  • Understand that a person can only change if they want to. You can’t force your partner to alter their behavior if they don’t believe they’re wrong.
  • Focus on your own needs. Are you taking care of yourself? Your wellness is always important. Watch your stress levels, take time to be with friends, get enough sleep. If you find that your relationship is draining you, consider ending it.
  • Connect with your support systems. Often, abusers try to isolate their partners. Talk to your friends, family members, teachers and others to make sure you’re getting the emotional support you need. Remember, our advocates are always ready to talk if you need a listening ear.
  • Think about breaking up. Remember that you deserve to feel safe and accepted in your relationship.

Even though you cannot change your partner, you can make changes in your own life to stay safe. Consider leaving your partner before the abuse gets worse. Whether you decide to leave or stay, make sure to use our safety planning tips to stay safe. Remember, you have many options — including obtaining a domestic violence restraining order.Laws vary from state to state so chat with a peer advocate to learn more.

    • Expected to spend all your time with partner
    • You're required to check in constantly
    • There are rules about who you can talk to
    • They're suspicious
    • They're possessive
    • They have a quick temper
    • They monitor your communications
    • They're emotionally intense

Unhealthy Relationship Behaviors: Jealousy

Unhealthy relationships often start with small things like a suspicious partner hunting for evidence of cheating. If they come up empty, rather than feel satisfied, they’ll vent their frustration through a variety of methods while breaking down their significant other’s self-esteem with accusations, blaming, name-calling, and threats before moving onto emotional and physical abuse. Their tactics take on many forms, but as their jealousy grows, so does the chance for escalation. That’s why it’s important to identify red flags early.

They are Hyper-Critical or Judgmental Towards You

It is human nature to critique or judge, but in emotionally abusive situations, someone takes it to the next level. This can look like someone is:

      • Putting you down in front of others
      • Humiliating or embarrassing you
      • Using sarcasm or “teasing” or “jokes” to make you feel badly about yourself
      • Having an opinion about a lot of what you say, do, or think
      • Upset if/when you don’t agree (e.g., how you dress, how you spend your money, who you spend time with, what you are interested in)

They Ignore Boundaries or Invade Your Privacy

We all have the right to our own space. Sometimes it can be tricky to distinguish between the rush and thrill of any new relationship or connection and a violation of your space because you may feel that you want to spend all of your time with this awesome person. This can look like your partner:

      • Wants to move a relationship faster than you are comfortable with either emotionally or physically (e.g. saying “I love you” very quickly and pressuring you to do the same, pushing you to engage in sexual activities, pushing you to move in together)
      • Checks your texts messages, email or social media accounts without your permission

They are Possessive and/or Controlling

The abuser may try to restrict your behavior through unreasonable jealousy such as:

      • Monitoring your actions
      • Constantly calling or texting when you are not around
      • Getting upset when you want to spend time by yourself or with family or friends alone
      • Isolating you from other people in your life and/or activities you enjoy or work
      • Demanding access to your phone, email, or social media accounts

They are Manipulative

An emotionally abusive person may try many things to get you to do what they want or feel badly, such as:

      • Withdrawing affection when you’ve done something “wrong”
      • Ignoring or excluding you
      • Guilt trips
      • Making you doubt yourself
      • Denying something you know is true

They Often Dismiss You and Your Feelings

The abuser might try to play down your emotions or feelings by:

      • Saying you are too sensitive or calling you crazy
      • Making fun of your achievements or hopes and dreams
      • Refusing to talk about or take responsibility for their actions
      • Blaming you or someone else for their actions (it’s never their fault)
      • Being indifferent to your feelings

by By Sherri Gordon

Feeling insulted and wounded. Never measuring up. Walking on eggshells. If these statements describe your relationship, it is likely you are being emotionally abused. In general, a relationship is emotionally abusive when there is a consistent pattern of abusive words and bullying behaviors that wear down a person's self-esteem and undermine their mental health. What's more, mental or emotional abuse, while most common in dating and married relationships, can occur in any relationship including among friends, family members, and coworkers.

Emotional abuse is one of the hardest forms of abuse to recognize. It can be subtle and insidious or overt and manipulative. Either way, it chips away at the victim's self-esteem and they begin to doubt their perceptions and reality.

The underlying goal in emotional abuse is to control the victim by discrediting, isolating, and silencing.

In the end, the victim feels trapped. They are often too wounded to endure the relationship any longer, but also too afraid to leave. So the cycle just repeats itself until something is done.

Impact of Emotional Abuse

When emotional abuse is severe and ongoing, a victim may lose their entire sense of self, sometimes without a single mark or bruise. Instead, the wounds are invisible to others, hidden in the self-doubt, worthlessness and self-loathing the victim feels. In fact, many victims say that the scars from emotional abuse last far longer and are much deeper than those from physical abuse.

Over time, the accusations, verbal abuse, name-calling, criticisms, and gaslighting erode a victim's sense of self so much that they can no longer see themselves realistically. Consequently, the victim begins to agree with the abuser and becomes internally critical. Once this happens, most victims become trapped in the abusive relationship believing that they will never be good enough for anyone else.

Emotional abuse can even impact friendships because emotionally abused people often worry about how people truly see them and if they truly like them. Eventually, victims will pull back from friendships and isolate themselves, convinced that no one likes them. What's more, emotional abuse can cause a number of health problems including everything from depression and anxiety to stomach ulcers, heart palpitations, eating disorders, and insomnia.

How to Spot the Signs of Emotional Abuse

When examining your own relationship, remember that emotional abuse is often subtle. As a result, it can be very hard to detect.

If you are having trouble discerning whether or not your relationship is abusive, stop and think about how the interactions with your partner, friend or family member make you feel. If you feel wounded, frustrated, confused, misunderstood, depressed, anxious or worthless any time you interact, chances are high that your relationship is emotionally abusive.

Here are signs that you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship. Keep in mind, even if your partner only does a handful of these things, you are still in an emotionally abusive relationship.

Do not fall into the trap of telling yourself "it's not that bad" and minimizing their behavior. Remember, everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect.

Emotionally abusive people display unrealistic expectations. Some examples include:

  • Making unreasonable demands of you
  • Expecting you to put everything aside and meet their needs
  • Demanding you spend all of your time together
  • Being dissatisfied no matter how hard you try or how much you give
  • Criticizing you for not completing tasks according to their standards
  • Expecting you to share their opinions (you are not permitted to have a different opinion)
  • Demanding that you name exact dates and times when discussing things that upset you (when you cannot do this, they dismisses the event as if it never happened)

​Emotionally abusive people invalidate you. Some examples include:

  • Undermining, dismissing, or distorting your perceptions or your reality
  • Refusing to accept your feelings by trying to define how you should feel
  • Requiring you to explain and explain and explain how you feel
  • Accusing you of being "too sensitive," "too emotional," or "crazy"
  • Refusing to acknowledge or accept your opinions or ideas as valid
  • Dismissing your requests, wants, and needs as ridiculous or unmerited
  • Suggesting that your perceptions are wrong or that you cannot be trusted by saying things like "you're blowing this out of proportion" or "you exaggerate"
  • Accusing you of being selfish, needy or materialistic if you express your wants or needs (the expectation is that you should not have any wants or needs)

​Emotionally abusive people create chaos. Some examples include:

  • Starting arguments for the sake of arguing
  • Making confusing and contradictory statements (sometimes called "crazy-making")
  • Having drastic mood changes or sudden emotional outbursts
  • Nitpicking at your clothes, your hair, your work, and more
  • Behaving so erratically and unpredictably that you feel like you are "walking on eggshells"

​Emotionally abusive people use emotional blackmail. Some examples include:

  • Manipulating and controlling you by making you feel guilty
  • Humiliating you in public or in private
  • Using your fears, values, compassion or other hot buttons to control you or the situation
  • Exaggerating your flaws or pointing them out in order to deflect attention or to avoid taking responsibility for their poor choices or mistakes
  • Denying that an event took place or lying about it
  • Punishing you by withholding affection

Emotionally abusive people act superior and entitled. Some examples include:

  • Treating you like you are inferior
  • Blaming you for their mistakes and shortcomings
  • Doubting everything you say and attempting to prove you wrong
  • Making jokes at your expense
  • Telling you that your opinions, ideas, values, and thoughts are stupid, illogical or "do not make sense"
  • Talking down to you or being condescending
  • Using sarcasm when interacting with you
  • Acting like they are always right, knows what is best and is smarter

Emotionally abusive people attempt to isolate and control you. Some examples include:

  • Controlling who you see or spend time with including time with friends and family
  • Monitoring your phone calls, text messages, social media, and email
  • Accusing you of cheating and being jealous of outside relationships
  • Taking or hiding your car keys
  • Demanding to know where you are at all times or using GPS to track your every move
  • Treating you like a possession or property
  • Criticizing or making fun of your friends, family, and coworkers
  • Using jealousy and envy as a sign of love and to keep you from being with others
  • Coercing you into spending all of your time together
  • Controlling the finances

If you suspect your partner, family member or friend may be emotionally abusing you, contact a counselor, an advocate or a pastor for assistance. You also can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or visit their website and chat online with someone right away.

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