Nothing is more damaging to your confidence and self-esteem than being in an emotionally abusive relationship. Unlike physical abuse which rears its ugly head in dramatic outbursts, emotional abuse can be more insidious and elusive. In some cases, neither the abuser nor the victim are fully aware it’s happening.
The most obvious scenario for emotional abuse is in an intimate relationship in which a man is the abuser and the woman is the victim. However, a variety of studies show that men and women abuse each other at equal rates.* In fact, emotional abuse can occur in any relationship — between parent and child, in friendships, and with relatives.
So what is emotional abuse? It involves a regular pattern of verbal offense, threatening, bullying, and constant criticism, as well as more subtle tactics like intimidation, shaming and manipulation. Emotional abuse is used to control and subjugate the other person, and quite often it occurs because the abuser has childhood wounds and insecurities they haven’t dealt with — perhaps as a result of being abused themselves.
Are you living with an emotional abuser?
They didn’t learn healthy coping mechanisms or how to have positive, healthy relationships. Instead, they feel angry, hurt, fearful and powerless.
Male and female abusers tend to have high rates of personality disorders including borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. Although emotional abuse doesn’t always lead to physical abuse, physical abuse is almost always preceded and accompanied by emotional abuse.*
The victim of the abuse quite often doesn’t see the mistreatment as abusive . They develop coping mechanisms of denial and minimizing in order to deal with the stress. But the effects of long-term emotional abuse can cause severe emotional trauma in the victim, including depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder.
If you aren’t sure what constitutes this damaging behavior, here are 30 signs of emotional abuse.
1. They humiliate you, put you down, or make fun of you in front of other people.
2. They regularly demean or disregard your opinions, ideas, suggestions, or needs.
3. They use sarcasm or “teasing” to put you down or make you feel bad about yourself.
4. They accuse you of being “too sensitive” in order to deflect their abusive remarks.
5. They try to control you and treat you like a child.
6. They correct or chastise you for your behavior.
7. You feel like you need permission to make decisions or go out somewhere.
8. They try to control the finances and how you spend money.
9. They belittle and trivialize you, your accomplishments, or your hopes and dreams.
10. They try to make you feel as though they are always right, and you are wrong.
11. They give you disapproving or contemptuous looks or body language.
12. They regularly point out your flaws, mistakes, or shortcomings.
13. They accuse or blame you of things you know aren’t true.
14. They have an inability to laugh at themselves and can’t tolerate others laughing at them.
15. They are intolerant of any seeming lack of respect.
16. They make excuses for their behavior, try to blame others, and have difficulty apologizing.
17. The repeatedly cross your boundaries and ignore your requests.
18. They blame you for their problems, life difficulties, or unhappiness.
19. They call you names, give you unpleasant labels, or make cutting remarks under their breath.
20. They are emotionally distant or emotionally unavailable most of the time.
21. They resort to pouting or withdrawal to get attention or attain what they want.
22. They don’t show you empathy or compassion.
23. They play the victim and try to deflect blame to you rather than taking personal responsibility.
24. They disengage or use neglect or abandonment to punish or frighten you.
25. They don’t seem to notice or care about your feelings.
26. They view you as an extension of themselves rather than as an individual.
27. They withhold sex as a way to manipulate and control.
28. They share personal information about you with others.
29. They invalidate or deny their emotionally abusive behavior when confronted.
30. They make subtle threats or negative remarks with the intent to frighten or control you.
The first step for those being emotionally abused is recognizing it’s happening. If you recognize any of the signs of emotional abuse in your relationship, you need to be honest with yourself so you can regain power over your own life, stop the abuse, and begin to heal. For those who’ve been minimizing, denying, and hiding the abuse, this can be a painful and frightening first step.
The stress of emotional abuse will eventually catch up with you in the form of illness, emotional trauma, depression, or anxiety. You simply can’t allow it to continue, even if it means ending the relationship. A licensed counselor who is trained in abusive relationships can help you navigate the pain and fears of leaving the relationship and work with you to rebuild your self-esteem.