Emotional abuse is so common in relationships. It can go unnoticed for the longest time! You get tricked into thinking that the abuse is normal. So, you can totally miss a common emotional abuse sign.
Abuse is not just physical. Your partner might have many other ways to mess with you, including slowly picking away at your sense of self. That’s abusive.
If this is a new concept for you, don’t worry! By reading this list of signs of emotional abuse, you’ll be more than prepared to know if someone is abusive.
And, if you’re in an abusive relationship, let this be the courage you need to leave. You don’t deserve that ish.
You will learn:
What is emotional abuse?
The most common signs of emotional abuse in relationships
Why you need to leave an emotionally abusive relationship
Plus, you can sign up to get your very own FREE Abusive Relationships Ebook, to finally start healing!
What is Emotional Abuse?
To understand what emotional abuse is, let’s first look at what abuse is. An abusive relationship is trademarked with a power imbalance, and one person (usually) out of the two trying to maintain their superiority.
This means that a healthy relationship is made up of two people who not only see each other as equals, but act like they’re equals.
Yup, actions speak louder than words. You need to walk the walk too.
So, even though your partner might say that they think of you as an equal, it’s their actions that determine if they truly mean that.
So, what about emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse is the abuse that messes with your mind.
It’s truly sick. It’s not the kind of abuse that gets you physically hurt, but it has the effects of messing with your mind so much that you lose your sense of self.
Another word for it is psychological abuse. Your abuser is uses manipulation tactics and quite literally bullies you to make you feel small.
If you’re still not sure whether your situation fits the bill of an emotionally abusive relationship, let’s look at a few common signs of emotional abuse to see if they resonate with you!
The Most Common Signs of Emotional Abuse in a Relationship
Before we begin, let me just give you a disclaimer: please read these with an open mind. Try to picture the scenarios in your head. If your partner fits the bill, they might have abusive traits.
To make this easier to read, I’m separating the different signs into two categories: bullying behaviour and control tactics. Who knows, you might be in a relationship with someone who falls into one category way more than the other!
Emotional Abuse Sign #1: They Humiliate You
An emotional abuser loves to humiliate you. They often do this in front of your friends and family as a power move. Ugh.
Here is an example to get your imagination running: You’re hanging out with your partner’s friends. They’re talking about something and you add your two cents. He laughs, and tells his friends “You’ll have to excuse her, she doesn’t know what we’re talking about.”
It’s abusive because they belittle you and embarrass you in front of people. They do it in such a way that you can’t call out their behaviour because you’re in front of people and don’t want to mess with the vibe of the group.
Plus, not many people have the guts to call out the abuser’s behaviour because of those reasons. Cue an awkward environment.
Do you see how this puts you in an awkward position? It’s to keep their power.
Any kind of sexist behaviour like that, or any belittling comments, are abusive.
Emotional Abuse Sign #2: They Criticize You
It’s like you can’t do anything right. No matter what you do, they will always find something to pick on you for.
This rings especially true when you accomplish something you’re proud of. To avoid you feeling confident, your abuser will criticize something about your accomplishment to humble you.
If it isn’t an accomplishment, an emotional abuser could criticize:
Your physical appearance and/or weight
A gift you’ve given them or your cooking
Anything is fair game.
The difference between abusive criticism and a normal critique is that an abuser digs deep and doesn’t offer constructive criticism. To put it bluntly, they’re insults that they disguise as being constructive criticism.
Emotional Abuse Sign #3: They Use Your Weaknesses Against You
So, this is similar to criticizing you. However, it runs much deeper than just simply criticizing you.
An emotionally abusive person will find your weaknesses, and use them against you.
Take me, for example. I told my ex that I was insecure about becoming an adult because I felt like I wasn’t ready for adulthood.
What did he do to use that against me?
He called me childish. If he wanted to get his way, he would dismiss my thoughts and opinions by telling me that I’m just “being childish”.
Do you see how this can mess with your head?
Early in the relationship, your abuser will ask you deep questions to get to know as much about you as possible. They will find your weaknesses and bookmark them in their brain to use as leverage later. (We’ll talk about this more in detail later.)
If this sounds absolutely sick to you, that’s because it is. They might not even realize they’re doing it.
So, think about your weaknesses. Ask yourself if your partner ever use those against you.
Emotional Abuse Sign #4: They Yell At You
Unless you’re five years old, you’re at the age where you know right from wrong. That’s why it’s so weird to have another grown person full-on yelling at you. It’s belittling.
While this might not happen in every abusive relationship, yelling at your partner is very common in abusive people.
Why is this abusive? Let me break it down for you.
They’re trying to dominate you by yelling at you. This shouldn’t be a parent-child dynamic where one person tries to discipline the other by yelling.
The entire goal of them yelling at you is to get you to submit to them and not ask questions.
They also have poor emotional regulation skills. In a healthy relationship, both people have healthy ways of dealing with their emotions, including anger. Someone who resorts to yelling when they’re mad clearly lack the ability to regulate their emotions.
No, thank you.
Emotional Abuse Sign #5: They’re Patronizing
This grinds my gears. Again, this goes with the theme of them treating you like a child.
An emotionally abusive person will be patronizing with you and mansplainthings (if they’re a man) to get you at your wits end.
A healthy dialogue is obvious when the two people in a conversation actually listen to each other and don’t act like one is the other person’s supervisor. It’s frustrating.
If you don’t want to deal with patronizing people in your day-to-day life, why deal with it in your romantic relationships?
Emotional Abuse Sign #6: They Love to Get Under Your Skin
Do you ever get the impression that your partner loves to pick fights? That’s not normal.
If your partner enjoys getting under your skin to the point of you snapping, and then act surprised that you get mad, that’s abusive.
In a normal relationship, no one wants to fight.
Emotional Abuse Sign #7: They Lack Accountability and Claim They’re Joking
When you finally crack under the pressure, do they avoid apologizing at all costs?
A lot of the times, after picking at their partner and having them snap, abusers like to say “I’m just joking” to clear their name.
As if that makes anything better.
The goal of claiming that they’re joking is:
To minimize your feelings
To make you feel crazy or too sensitive
A way to get out of trouble for them
A healthy partner takes accountability when they go too far, and apologizes when they hurt you. No one wants to see the one they love get hurt!
Emotional Abuse Sign #8: They Boss You Around
Here’s a reversal of the parent child dynamic that I mentioned in sign #4. Now, you’re expected to be a 50s housewife (or househusband) and cater to anything that your partner wants.
It’s one thing to do nice things for your partner to make them happy, but quite another when someone expects nice things.
If you start feeling like a maid, there’s a problem because you’re not an equal in this relationship.
Common things that an abusive partner might expect is:
You doing the cooking and cleaning while they just sit there
Intimacy, even if you’re recovering from an illness or surgery
Complete and undivided attention, at all times
Remember: A healthy relationship comes with mutual respect, so there’s a problem if you’re the only one making sacrifices!
Emotional Abuse Sign #9: They Accuse You of Abuse
When you finally get the courage to talk to your partner about abuse, how do they respond?
If they respond with either laughing it off, telling you that you’re crazy or even accusing you of abuse, you’ve got yourself an abusive partner.
There are surefire ways of knowing if you’re the abusive one, but it’s not super common to have two abusive people in a relationship (it can happen, but if they use it as a response to you calling them abusive, you’re a victim.)
If you’ve ever dealt with your abuser telling you this, you know that it messes you up.
Let me get a few things straight:
You’re not abusive if you call out abuse
You’re not abusive if you stand up for yourself and your boundaries
YOU ARE PROBABLY NORMAL IF YOU’RE WONDERING IF YOU’RE THE ABUSIVE ONE.
This isn’t foolproof, but usually if you’re wondering if you’re abusive, you’re probably not. If you can self-reflect on your behaviour, chances are you’re not the abusive one.
Emotional Abuse Sign #10: They Have Huge Outbursts
So, they haven’t outgrown the preteen stage. Your abusive partner might totally snap at you for surprising reasons.
You just can’t seem to tell what will set them off, so you walk on eggshells.
If your partner has big outbursts for random reasons, they’re abusive.
Why is this abusive? Well, two reasons:
They can’t control their emotions and take it out on you;
They’re trying to scare you by freaking out all the time.
I’m telling you right now, you don’t deserve that.
Emotional Abuse Sign #11: They Give You Insulting Nicknames
Your boyfriend or girlfriend has no chill. They might call you rude nicknames, but tell you that “it’s just a cute nickname”.
Um, it’s not.
If someone else called you “the Anchor” or “chubby”, would you be offended? If the answer is yes, ask yourself if you want them to stop calling you that.
In a normal relationship, if something hurts you, your partner will stop. It doesn’t matter if you have a naturally jokey relationship, if you don’t like something, your boyfriend or girlfriend will stop it.
Controlling Sign #1: They Talk Over and Interrupt You
There’s actually a term for this! When someone talks over you and/or interrupts you all the time to talk about themselves, it’s called conversational narcissism. It’s annoying.
Sometimes, abusive people will only talk about themselves because they don’t care about what you have to say.
A lot of the times, they take over the conversation to keep a sense of control.
Either way, while this may not always be a sign of abuse, be alert if your partner:
Never asks you about yourself or your day;
Rambles on for 20 minutes and expects you to just sit there and listen;
Starts debates and expects you to keep up.
I can tell you from first hand experience that conversational narcissism makes your head spin. The best thing you can do is ride the wave and let them talk!
Controlling Sign #2: They Hate Your Friends and Family
Your partner always has something bad to say about your friends and family members.
It gets to be controlling when they suggest that you stop hanging out with them.
This is abusive and controlling because their end goal is to isolate you.
Think about it:
How are you supposed to leave them if you don’t have anyone to run to?
How are you supposed to realize that they’re abusive if no one is telling you?
Isolation is the perfect tactic for abusers. Just be mindful of that when your partner starts commenting on your friends!
Controlling Sign #3: They Need to Know Where You Are All the Time
I once went out to lunch with my friend. She then asked me if she could take a photo of me to show her boyfriend, to prove to him that she was out with a girl.
It’s a no for me, bud.
It’s normal for your partner to want you to be safe, but it becomes controlling when they need to know where you are and get mad if you don’t tell them.
They usually make excuses for this kind of behaviour, like being cheated on before, but there is no valid excuse for being creepy.
Controlling Sign #4: They Get Upset if You Need Alone Time or Time with Friends
Hi, this is a friendly reminder that you’re allowed to have a social life. No partner or yours should be your only friend, since that puts a lot of pressure on them.
Similarly, no partner should want to be your only friend.
In a healthy relationship, you should have your own separate lives. That means having separate friends, hobbies, and time spent alone. Spending time alone is especially important if you’re an introvert.
Your partner wants to control you if they’re preventing you from having your own life. Period.
Controlling Sign #5: They Tell You How to Live
If you watch Keeping Up the Kardashians, you probably remember when Kanye West totally revamped Kim Kardashian’s wardrobe. While that might sound cute, it quickly got into controlling behaviour since he didn’t allow her to keep certain items.
In abusive relationships, you’ll often have Mr. or Mrs. Bossy Pants, telling you how to live your life. This can be things like:
What to eat (especially when they criticize your body);
What to wear;
Who to speak to (like we covered in controlling sign #2);
What to buy.
As humans, we have a right to be independent. When your partner starts treating you like an American Girl Doll and tells you how to dress, we’ve got a problem.
Controlling Sign #6: They Make Big Decisions Without Telling You
Remember when Jim Halpert bought a literal house without telling Pam? That’s a big decision.
This is something you commonly see people doing if they’re financially abusing their partner, but controlling where the money goes and making big decisions is not right.
Making big decisions without consulting you is like saying that you’re unimportant and not smart enough to have a say in decisions.
Any big purchase or huge life decision need to be discussed in a committed relationship or marriage. End of story.
Controlling Sign #7: They Threaten to Kill Themselves if You Leave Them
Someone’s mental health does not depend on you, unless you are a therapist.
Threatening to kill themselves is a tactic a lot of abusive people use on their partners when they feel like the abuse isn’t working anymore.
The reason why this tactic works so well is that you feel guilty enough to stay with them, and you keep putting up with their abuse.
I need to remind you right now that it’s not your fault if they hurt or kill themselves. You can’t force someone to get mental health help, so they have to take it upon themselves to seek counselling.
Controlling Sign #8: They Ignore You
Abusers love giving the silent treatment or witholding affection if you don’t do what they want. They also enjoy tuning you out if you’re not listening to what they want.
When they ignore you, they want toteach you a lesson. No one likes to be ignored, so you’ll be more likely to do what they want to avoid getting punished like that.
In healthy relationships, people talk out their feelings and try to come to a mutual agreement. This means that the silent treatment doesn’t happen.
Controlling Sign #9: They Love Bomb You
Everyone should know what love bombing is, because it might save you from entering a toxic relationship.
The short version is that love bombing happens when your partner showers you with gifts and affection to a ridiculous degree too early on in the relationship.
You see this with:
Your partner giving you a huge amount of gifts too early on in the relationship or to make you forgive them for something;
Them saying “I love you” after a few days or weeks of dating;
Any other kind of behaviour that makes your gut feeling think that the relationship is going too fast.
The goal with love bombing is to make you fall in love with them, and excuse their crappy behaviour. You’re more likely to remember the amazing good times when they’re being abusive, right? So, you stay in the relationship.
Why You Need to Leave an Emotionally Abusive Relationship
When someone emotionally abuses you, it messes with your sense of self. Little by little, you’ll start doubting who you are, what you believe in and what a normal relationship looks like.
If your abuser belittles you and criticizes you every chance they get, you’ll also have a low self-esteem problem. It’s really hard to see how much of a good person you are when you’re reminded of how terrible you’re supposed to be.
Finally, you need to leave an abusive relationship because the recovery process can be long. You deserve to get your life back on track and blossom into the person you’re meant to be.
You don’t need your abuser holding you back.
I’d like to take this moment to tell you that you’re worthy of having a relationship that doesn’t suck this much. It can be hard to believe, but not everyone acts like this.
You deserve to have a partner that makes you feel safe and loved. You are worthy of love.