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22 Key Indicators of Emotional Abuse

Are You Experiencing One Of These 22 Signs?

Author, Som Dutt - Dating and Domestic Violence Monthly Insights from Bill Mitchell


The world is full of people who are emotionally abusive, and that's something we need to talk about. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), emotional abuse occurs when one person controls another through fear and intimidation.

The abuser may use verbal threats, such as "I'll leave if you don't give me what I want," or physical violence like hitting or shoving their partner.

While this can happen in any relationship, there are certain elements that make a healthy one from an unhealthy one.

Emotional Abuse Is Insidious

It has a number of examples such as commenting on a woman's body, deliberately not respecting a woman's boundaries, threatening to leave her, or otherwise threatening her self-esteem.

“So often survivors have had their experiences denied, trivialized, or distorted. Writing is an important avenue for healing because it gives you the opportunity to define your own reality. You can say: This did happen to me. It was that bad. It was the fault & and responsibility of the adult. I was — and am — innocent.” The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass & Laura Davis”.

― Ellen Bass

In addition to being emotionally abusive in various ways, narcissists also lie frequently (and often without remorse).

They may tell their partners that they don't love them anymore or that they're going out with friends when really they're planning something else entirely--like cheating on them with someone else.

1: You Always Get A Strange Feeling About Yourself

If you feel like something is wrong in your relationship, it probably is. If your partner is emotionally abusive, they are likely to try to convince you that nothing is wrong and that their behavior is normal.

They might even blame other people or situations for their actions--not themselves or their relationship with you.

“The only person that deserves a special place in your life is someone that never made you feel like you were an option in theirs.”

― Shannon L. Alder

If this kind of thing happens frequently enough and long enough, it may cause you to doubt your abilities and become perplexed about the true nature of your interaction.

You may start questioning yourself instead of looking at what's happening from an objective point of view (e.g., "Maybe my partner doesn't mean any harm by this? Maybe I'm just being too sensitive?").

“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated.

When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams healing can begin.”

― Danielle Bernock

This can make it harder for victims of emotional abuse to realize when they need help getting out because they've been taught by abusers themselves not only how important but also how impossible it seems for them ever achieve independence.

2: In a Relationship, You Constantly Feel Like You’re Taking Precautions While Expressing Yourself

  • You feel as though you must approach your lover with caution, and even then they can still get mad at you for something that wasn't even your fault.

  • Your partner makes fun of or insults you in front of other people (or behind their backs).

3: You’ve Stopped Seeing Your Beloved Ones

You’ve stopped seeing friends and family members who are concerned about what’s going on with you and/or who may not approve of your partner’s behavior toward you or toward them when they’re around one another.

“An abuser can seem emotionally needy. You can get caught in a trap of catering to him, trying to fill a bottomless pit. But he’s not so much needy as entitled, so no matter how much you give him, it will never be enough. He will just keep coming up with more demands because he believes his needs are your responsibility until you feel drained down to nothing.”

― Lundy Bancroft

You may even start to hide the truth from these people, avoiding conversations about your relationship, even if only briefly.

This can be a sign that you're feeling ashamed or embarrassed about what's going on in your life and want to avoid having to explain it to anyone else.

“The scars from mental cruelty can be as deep and long-lasting as wounds from punches or slaps but are often not as obvious. In fact, even among women who have experienced violence from a partner, half or more report that the man’s emotional abuse is what is causing them the greatest harm.”

― Lundy Bancroft

It could also be that the emotional abuse has become so severe that it's becoming difficult for those around us (including our closest family members) not only to understand but also accept as well - especially if they see no signs of improvement.

4: You Find Yourself Constantly Making Excuses To Others For Your Partner's Behavior

  • The abuse may be so subtle that it's hard to pinpoint, so you'll find yourself explaining away things like: "He didn't mean it," "He was just stressed out," or "She's under a lot of pressure."

  • You might even start telling people how great the abuser is because you want them to see him or her in a positive light.

5: Your Partner Makes You Feel Stupid For Having Emotions About Something Or For Thinking Something Is Wrong In The Relationship

This is a common tactic of emotional abuse and manipulation. Your partner will either dismiss your concerns or make you feel like they're invalid, even if what you're saying is true. An abuser might say things like:

  • "You shouldn't feel bad about yourself."

  • "I'm not going to listen to this nonsense anymore."

They might also try to get you on their side by telling you that someone else thinks the same thing as them (i.e., "My friend has been trying to tell me something similar for years now.")

6: You're Afraid Of How Your Partner will Respond To Specific Aspects of Your Behavior

If you have a fear of how your partner will react to something you say or do, then this is a sign of emotional abuse.

You may be afraid that if you say something that angers them, they'll get angry and punish you in some way.

“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams healing can begin.”

― Danielle Bernock

Or maybe they've told you that if they catch even the slightest hint of disrespect from anyone close to them (including their partners), there will be hell to pay--and those fears are making it hard for you to feel comfortable expressing yourself freely around the person who supposedly loves and cares about all parts of who they are.

The truth is that being afraid of what someone might do after speaking up isn't love; it's manipulation disguised as concern for another person's well-being or safety--and either way, it means there's no room for true communication between two healthy partners who trust each other enough not only not hurt one another physically but also emotionally and psychologically at times when things get heated or tense during an argument or disagreement over something important like money management issues where people tend to get upset easily but need patience when working through hard situations together instead getting mad just because someone said something wrong without thinking first before saying anything else back...

7: You've Stopped Doing Things You Used To Love Because Your Partner Doesn't Like Them And/or Doesn't Want You To Participate In Them Anymore

If your partner has stopped you from doing things that are important to you or taken away the things that bring joy into your life, it's time to start asking questions.

“My dad had limitations. That’s what my good-hearted mom always told us. He had limitations, but he meant no harm. It was kind of her to say, but he did do harm.”

― Gillian Flynn

If this is happening to you, it's important that you start making plans for yourself outside of the relationship.

If possible, try making new friends and finding activities that will help keep up your self-esteem when things get tough with your partner.

8: Your Self-esteem Has Decreased Since The Relationship Began Or Worsened Over Time Along With Your Partner's Behaviors Towards You

You have a hard time understanding why you would be treated this way by a person who claims to love and respect you, however, if you stop to think about it, it is perfectly rational about how your partner treats others in their lives.

9: They Say You're Crazy

  • When your abuser starts to question your sanity, it can be difficult to tell if it's just an excuse for them to manipulate and control you or if they're trying to help. If you feel like your partner is trying to make sure that no one else understands what's going on in the relationship, then this could be an indicator of emotional abuse in progress.

  • It's important not only for victims but also bystanders and family members who may be experiencing the same thing with their own partners or loved ones, too--particularly if those people are questioning their own sanity as well!

10: You Feel A Constant Need To Apologize

The abuser is trying to control your behavior and make sure you're always in charge.

“With emotional abuse, the insults, insinuations, criticism, and accusations slowly eat away at the victim’s self-esteem until he or she is incapable of judging a situation realistically. He or she may begin to believe that there is something wrong with them or even fear they are losing their mind. They have become so beaten down emotionally that they blame themselves for the abuse.”

― Beverly Engel

They might also be making excuses for their own bad behavior by blaming it on others--and if this is happening in your relationship, it can be especially difficult because there may not seem like anything wrong with what they're doing at first glance.

11: They Undermine You

When you feel like you're going crazy, it can be hard to believe that someone wants to hurt you.

But emotional abuse is deliberate and calculated--and often the abuser is aware of how their behavior affects their partner.

A partner who undermines your self-esteem is trying to make sure that they have control over every aspect of your life, including how confident and secure in yourself as a person (or partner) you always feel.

For example:

  • They criticize everything about your appearance or personality in front of other people--including family members, friends, and coworkers--even though they tell everyone else how much they love and support each other's individuality!

  • They constantly tell others about what an idiot/loser/failure/etc., their partner is, but never admit this when confronted by them directly!

12: Your Partner Is Jealous of Your Family And Friends

If they constantly make comments about how much time you spend with other people or act aggressively when they see you interacting with someone else, it could be a sign that they are trying to isolate you from friends and family members in order to have more control over your life.

Emotional abusers often use jealousy as a tool for controlling their partners' behavior--and this can start early in the relationship.

For example, if your partner gets angry when they see pictures of exes on social media (or even just pictures taken before meeting them), it's probably because they want all attention focused solely on themselves.

13: Your Partner Makes You Question Reality

Your partner may have a very different view of reality than you do. They might say that your friends don't like them, or that you are being unreasonable when you feel angry about something they did.

Your partner might tell you that any feelings of anger or frustration are not justified and should be ignored, even though they seem real to you.

Your partner might also try to make it seem as though there is something wrong with how other people see things: "Your family doesn't understand how much I love and care for them" or "My friends don't believe me because they're jealous."

14: You’ve Been Isolated And Controlled By Your Partner

Your partner may keep you from seeing them or make excuses for why you can’t go out with them. They might also try to control how much time and money you spend on social activities, including online friendships and gaming.

If your partner has been abusive in the past, they might use these tactics as ways of making sure that their abuse doesn’t get out into the open again — but this kind of isolation is also used by abusers who don’t have a history of violence (or if they do have such a history).

In many cases, isolating their victims is part of what makes emotional abuse so effective: it keeps victims feeling alone and afraid in their own homes!

15: Your Partner Uses Threats To Try To Control You

If your partner tries to control you by threatening to hurt themselves if you leave them, this is emotional abuse. This is a very common tactic used by abusive partners to keep their victims from leaving the relationship.

It’s important for people who are being emotionally abused not only because it can be used as a way of keeping someone from leaving the relationship but also because it is often one of the first signs that there may be other forms of violence occurring within their relationship as well. Such threats should never be underestimated!

16 Your Partner Makes You Second-guess Yourself

  • If your partner is constantly criticizing, demeaning, and undermining the way you think or feel, it’s a sign that they don’t respect or value your opinion. This can be incredibly damaging to your self-esteem over time — and it often leads to depression and anxiety disorders as well as other mental health issues.

  • You find yourself apologizing for everything. A person who love and respect their partner will never make them feel guilty for expressing their feelings or trying to speak up for themselves; instead of making excuses for themselves when they say something that upsets their partner (or even if they don’t), an emotionally abusive person will use guilt trips against them until they’re forced into silence again — or worse yet: apologize profusely until their victim feels like there’s no point in ever voicing any kind of dissent again because it’ll only cause more problems!

17: You’re Not Appreciated Or Supported By Them

If you feel like your partner doesn’t appreciate the things you do for them, it could be a sign of emotional abuse.

They may use words like “lazy” or “selfish” to describe your actions, even if those words don’t reflect reality. If your partner constantly criticizes everything about your personality, including how much work ethic you have and whether or not they think there’s anything wrong with that in the first place (there isn’t), then this could also be an indicator of emotional abuse occurring in the relationship.

18: You Have To Ask For Permission From Your Partner Before Doing Things

If your partner is constantly telling you what to do and how to do it, this can be a sign that they are trying to control you. When someone feels like they have no power in their relationship, they may begin taking out their frustration on their partner by controlling them.

If this happens often enough and the victim doesn’t stand up for themselves or leave the situation, then it’s likely that emotional abuse has been occurring for some time now without anyone realizing what was going on until now!

19: They Keep Score. Everything Is A Competition With Them, And They Get Angry When They Don’t Win

You’ve probably heard about “keeping score” in a relationship, but you may not have realized that it’s a sign of emotional abuse.

If your partner always must win and makes sure everyone knows when they do — or if they make sure you know when someone else wins over them — that’s not just competitive: it’s abusive.

20: They Show No Remorse For Their Actions, Even When They Hurt Others Or Themselves

They may say they’re sorry, but they don’t mean it. They will never apologize for their actions and take responsibility for how they’ve hurt the people around them or themselves.

If you find yourself in this situation, it’s time to leave before things get worse — you deserve better than someone who won’t take responsibility for themselves!

21: They Lack Empathy For Others. Everything Is About Them And Their Feelings Don’t Matter To Anyone Else, So Why Should Anyone Else’s Matter?

This is an important sign to look for in a relationship. It’s not just about you and your feelings, but also about the other person.

If they don’t care about what you have to say or how you feel, then that’s a red flag for abuse. They might even be willing to put others down in order to make themselves feel better or get attention from someone else.

You should also keep an eye out for this if you find yourself feeling guilty about something when talking with your partner; this could mean that they’re trying to make use of your empathy as well as draining it from others who might need it more than they do!

22: Your Partner Lashes Out In Anger Over Everything But Won’t Explain Why They’re Angry

When you’re in a relationship with an emotionally abusive partner, they will often fly into a rage over things that don’t seem like they should cause anger at all.

This can be confusing to the victim because it doesn’t make sense that something so insignificant could cause such a strong reaction from someone else.

In many cases, this is because there isn’t actually anything wrong with what happened — it’s just that something else has been bothering your partner for a while and now that there’s an excuse for them to let their frustration out on someone (you), it makes sense for this person to take advantage of it without having any real concern about how their actions will affect others around them or even themselves!

If these 22 things sound familiar, it’s important that you reach out and speak with someone you trust about what’s happening in your relationship, as soon as possible

It may be helpful to have a list of questions ready so that the person on the other end of the line can help guide you through this process.

  • Are they controlling? Do they tell you what to do and when? Do they make decisions for both of you without asking first?

  • Are they manipulative or passive-aggressive (e.g., withholding affection)?

  • Is their anger out of proportion with situations or situations that don’t warrant anger at all (e.g., losing a pair of socks)?

  • Have they isolated you from others by cutting off communication with friends and family members who might offer support or challenge them on their behavior?


While emotional abuse is often dismissed as a “coaching” tactic, the truth is that it can really damage your health, career, and relationships.

If you or someone you know experiences emotional abuse, please don’t suffer in silence. Please take action now before things get worse.

Researchers have tried many different approaches which include the use of drugs such as antidepressants; talking therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or psychodynamic psychotherapy; exercise regimes such as Tai Chi Chuan or Yoga; an even meditation!

But none of these treatments provide guaranteed results every time so it’s important not to give up hope if your first attempt at therapy doesn’t work out after several weeks or months.

Find more information on When Dating Hurts -

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