10 Signs of Emotional Abuse

Domestic abuse comes in many forms; all can be devastating and dangerous. Current statistics show that one in every four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime (85% of abuse victims are women). The most common form of abuse in relationships is emotional abuse. Because it is often overlooked and underreported, it is certain that these statistics on abuse in relationships are most definitely higher. Emotional abuse doesn’t leave visible scars; it leaves wounds that run deep and can take years to heal. Unlike physical or sexual abuse, where abuse is made up of single incidents, emotional abuse is made up of on-going incidents, and a pattern of behavior that occurs over time.

I would love to be able to say that there is a distinct profile for a person who is susceptible to abusive relationships, but it is not that simple. Abusers are masterful at knowing how to manipulate their victims. They know not to show signs of control and abuse too soon in the relationship. So finding yourself in a relationship with a person who was once loving and attentive, but turns into someone who constantly degrades you, tries to control your every move, is jealous and manipulative, can be shocking. Even if the victim was a strong, independent, and self-assured person prior to the abusive relationship, most end up being unsure of themselves, co-dependent, frightened, depressed, and deeply confused.

Here are 10 important signs that you or someone you love is in an abusive relationship:

1) Constant put downs

This is the cornerstone of emotional abuse. It includes attempts to humiliate, excessively making fun of the partner, using sarcasm, or “teasing” to put down their partner. They regularly demean or disregard their partner’s opinions, feelings, and needs. This behavior happens in private and in front of others.

2) Controlling

Another cornerstone of emotional abuse is the abuser’s need to control their partner. The abuser will create a dynamic of making the victim feel like they don’t have the ability to make their own decisions. They withhold attention (both sexual and emotional) as a way of punishing or scaring their partner. They often try to control the money, as a way of making their partner dependent on them.

3) Engaging in ‘Gas-lighting’

Gas lighting is a form of emotional abuse where the abuser uses psychological techniques to get the victim to doubt their own memories, feelings, or judgement. They use different forms of manipulation including accusing the victim they are ‘too sensitive,’ convincing the victim that their memories are false, reversing the blame of events, and denial.

4) Jealousy

Abusers are typically very jealous people. They may become jealous or threatened of time spent with friends and family, and try to limit this time, or sabotage these relationships. They will often prohibit their partners from having relationships with people of the opposite sex, and can become paranoid and lash out when they do.

5) They make their partner feel dependent on them

This is part of the attempt to isolate their partners as a way of keeping them under their control, and to keep them engaged in the relationship. This includes the victim partner feeling like they have to get ‘permission’ to do almost anything outside of the relationship.

6) They refuse to accept responsibility for their actions

Abusers are, at their core, very insecure people. They engage in emotional abuse as a way of making themselves feel better, and to assure that their partner will not leave them. Being able to control their partner makes them feel safe and secure in the relationship. These people make excuses for their behavior or blame others for their problems (most often the blame is focused on the victim). They have an inability to laugh at themselves and become upset at others laughing at them. They have an irrational need for respect and are intolerant of any sign of disrespect. They almost never apologize for their behavior, unless it is in an attempt to win back their victim or manipulate.

7) Abusers engage in manipulation

This comes in various forms, and seems to be underlying throughout most of the interactions. This is at the very core of emotional abuse.

8) They are moody, and can be emotionally unpredictable.

Often abusers have some amount of emotional instability and may suffer from untreated mood disorder. This includes being distant or emotionally unavailable. These mood swings may be associated with attention-seeking, control, or manipulation.

9) They follow a ‘Cycle of Abuse’

The Cycle of Abuse describes a pattern of many violent relationships, and involves three distinct stages. The first stage, the ‘tension building phase’ involves a heightening of issues and conflict in the couple, typically over somewhat banal issues. Next, the ‘acute battering episode,’ which involves a peak in the tension and results in direct abuse. This episode of abuse is followed by a period termed ‘the honeymoon phase’ in which the abuser exhibits remorse and can beg for forgiveness, mostly though expressions of love. This is a cycle that is most common for people in physically violent relationships, but also occurs in couples where emotional violence is the issue. For more detailed information on this ‘Cycle of Abuse’ go to the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence.

10) They make it very difficult to get out of the relationship

Most abusers will make it very difficult for a partner to leave the relationship, and this is when the threats can increase and become more dangerous. This is also a time when manipulation may increase, including threats to harm self and others. These threats should always be taken seriously. Being safe when trying to leave an abusive relationship is very important, and having a safety plan is essential.

What to do if you’re in an abusive relationship…..

If you or someone you love is involved in a relationship with someone who demonstrates any of these signs, please call for help. It is very difficult to navigate through all the emotions that go along with being in an abusive relationship. The help of an unbiased and experienced professional can help guide the victim through these emotions, and hopefully toward healing. We are here to help and have experienced professionals that can help you through this tough time.

Davenport, B. (date unknown). 30 signs of emotional abuse in a relationship. Retrieved from http://liveboldandbloom.com/11/relationships/signs-of-emotional-abuse

Safe Voices, working to end domestic violence. (2016). Abuse statistics. Retrieved from http://www.safevoices.org/statistics.php.



This article and the information herein are for educational and informational purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional psychological or therapeutic services.  The self-help information provided by this blog are solely the opinion of the bloggers and should not be considered as a form of therapy, advice, direction, diagnosis, or treatment of any kind. Instead, the information is designed to be used in conjunction with ongoing treatment provided by a mental health professional. Use the information in this blog at your own risk. All of the information is provided “as-is,” with no warranties of any kind, express or implied.

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