Emotional abuse is a way to control another person by using them to criticise, embarrass, shame, blame, or manipulate another person.
In general, a relationship is emotionally abusive when there is a consistent pattern of abusive words and threatening behavior that lowers a person’s self-esteem and weakens 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 co-workers.
Emotional abuse is one of the most difficult forms of abuse to recognize. It can be subtle and insidious or overtake and manipulative.
Either way, it snatches the victim’s self-esteem, and they begin to doubt their perceptions and reality.
Finally, the victim feels trapped. They are often injured to endure the relationship for a long time but are also afraid to leave.
Therefore the cycle repeats itself until something is done.
How do you know?
When examining your own relationship, remember that emotional abuse is often subtle. As a result, it can be difficult to detect.
If you are having trouble sensing whether your relationship is abusive, stop and think about how you feel about a conversation with your partner, friend, or family member.
Here are the signs that you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship. Remember that even if your partner only does some of these things, you are still in an emotionally abusive relationship.
To yourself, “it’s not as bad,” and don’t fall into the trap of reducing their behavior. Remember: Everyone is entitled to be treated with kindness and respect.
Have unrealistic expectations
Emotionally abusive people exhibit unrealistic expectations. Some examples include:
- Make unreasonable demands of you.
- Expects you to keep everything separate and to meet their needs
- Demand that you spend all your time together
- No matter how hard you work or how much you give
- Criticizing you for not completing tasks according to their standards
- Expecting you to share their opinion (i.e., you are not allowed to have a different opinion)
- Demanding that you name exact dates and times when discussing things that bother you (and when you can’t, they can dismiss the event as if it never happened).
Emotionally abusive people invalidate you. Some examples include:
- Reducing, dismissing, or distorting your perceptions or your reality
- Refusing to accept your feelings by trying to define how you should feel
- You need to explain how you feel
- Accusing you of being “very sensitive,” “very emotional,” or “crazy.”
- Refusing to accept or accept your opinion or views as valid
- Rejects your requests, wants and needs as ridiculous or uncalled for
- Suggesting that your beliefs are wrong or that they cannot be trusted by saying “you are getting out of this proportion” or “you are exaggerating.”
- Accusing you of being selfish, needy, or materialistic if you express your desires 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.”
Use Emotional Blackmail
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 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 or giving you the silent treatment
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, know what is best, and are smarter
Control and Isolate You
Emotionally abusive people attempt to isolate and control you. Some examples include:
- Controlling who you see or spend time with, including friends and family
- Monitoring you digitally, including 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 possession or property
- Criticizing or making fun of your friends, family, and co-workers
- 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
Types of Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse can take several different forms, including:
- Accusations of cheating or other signs of jealousy and possessiveness
- Constant checking or other attempts to control the other person’s behavior
- Constantly arguing or opposing.
- Isolating the individual from their family and friends
- Name-calling and verbal abuse
- Refusing to participate in the relationship
- Shaming or blaming
- Silent treatment
- Trivializing the other person’s concerns
- Withholding affection and attention
It is important to remember that these types of abuse may not be apparent at the outset of a relationship. A relationship may begin with the appearance of being normal and loving, but abusers may start using tactics as the relationship progresses to control and manipulate their partner. These behaviors may begin so slowly that you may not notice them at first.
Impact of Emotional Abuse
When emotional abuse is severe and ongoing, a victim may lose a complete sense of self, sometimes without a scar or injury. Instead, the wounds are invisible to others, self-doubt, worthless, and the victim is hidden in self-loathing. In fact, research indicates that the consequences of emotional abuse are just as severe as physical abuse.
Over time, accusations, verbal abuse, name-calling, criticisms, and gaslighting cause a victim’s self-sense to become so high that they can no longer see themselves for real. As a result, the victim may begin to agree with the abuser and become intrinsically severe. Once this happens, most victims get caught up in abusive relationships believing that they will never be good enough for someone else.
Eventually, the victims will pull back from the friendship and isolate themselves, assuring that no one likes them. What’s more, emotional abuse can cause many health problems, including depression and anxiety of stomach ulcers, heartburn, eating disorders, and insomnia.
Tips for Dealing With Emotional Abuse
The first step in dealing with an emotionally abusive relationship is to recognize abuse. If you were able to identify any aspect of emotional abuse in your relationship, it is important to acknowledge it first and foremost.
By being honest about what you are experiencing, you can start retaking control of your life. Here are seven more strategies you can put into practice today to reclaim your life.
When it comes to your mental and physical health, you need to make yourself a priority. Stop worrying about making the person abusing you. Take care of your needs. Do something that helps you think positively and confirm what you are.
Also, get the proper amount of rest and eat healthy food. These simple self-care steps can go a long way to help you deal with the day-to-day stress of emotional abuse.
Tell the abusive person firmly that they can no longer shout at you, call you names, insult you, be rude with you, and so on. Then, tell them what will happen if they choose to engage in this behavior.
For example, tell them that if they name you or insult you, the conversation will end, and you will exit the room. The key is to follow through with your boundaries.
Stop blaming yourself
If at any time you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, you may believe that something is seriously wrong with you. But you are not the problem. A choice has to be made to misuse. So stop blaming yourself for something that you have no control over.
Realize you can’t fix them
Despite your best efforts, you will never be able to change an emotionally abusive person by doing something different or falling apart. The abusive person chooses to behave abusively.
Do not engage with an abusive person. In other words, if an addict tries to start an argument with you, starts insulting you, demands things from you, or rages with jealousy, does not try to clarify their feelings. Calms down or does not apologize for things.
Walk away from the situation if you can. Engagement with an addict only sets you up for more abuse and heartache. No matter how much you try, you will not be able to make things right in their eyes.
Build a Support Network
Although it can be difficult to tell someone what you are doing, speaking can help. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or even a counselor you are experiencing. Take as much time away from the abuser as possible and spend time with people who love and support you.
This network of healthy friends and confidants will help you feel less lonely and isolated. They can also speak the truth in your life and help you put things in perspective.
Work on an Exit Plan
If your partner, friend, or a family member has no intention of changing their bad choices or working, then you will not be able to remain in an abusive relationship forever. This will eventually take a toll on you mentally and physically.
Depending on your situation, you may need to take steps to end the relationship. Every situation is different. Therefore, discuss your thoughts and ideas with a trusted friend, family member, or counselor. Emotional abuse can have serious long-term effects but can also be a precursor to physical abuse and violence.
Remember, too, that abuse often increases when the person being abused decides to leave. Therefore, make sure that you have a safety plan in place that should prevent misuse. It takes time to avoid emotional abuse. Taking care of yourself, reaching out to your supportive loved ones, and talking to a therapist can help.
Sometimes one can try to deal with or reduce emotional abuse and actually make the abuse worse. Some strategies that are not effective ways of dealing with abuse include:
Arguing with misdemeanors. Trying to argue with an addict can aggravate the problem and lead to violence. There is no way to argue with an addict as they will always find more ways to blame, shame, or criticize. They can also try to turn the tables and play the victim.
Trying to understand or make excuses for addicts. It can be an attempt to make sense of the other person’s behavior or pretend to justify their actions. Finding ways to empathize with or minimize the actions of an addict can make the situation more difficult.
Attempts are being made to apprehend the offenders. Releasing the other person may seem like a form of de-escalation, but it leads to a backfire in the long run and can serve to enable further abuse. Instead of trying to change yourself or your behavior to suit the hijackers’ craze, focus on setting clear boundaries and avoid engaging with them if possible.