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Emotional Abuse


Emotional abuse is a type of abuse that is just as harmful and damaging as physical abuse. It’s important that you remember no one has the right to control, threaten or force or you to do anything that you don’t want to do and what’s happening is not your fault.

You could be a victim of emotional abuse if your partner, or ex-partner ever:

​• Belittles you, or puts you down
• Blames you for the abuse or arguments
• Denies that any abuse is happening, or plays it down
• Isolates you from your family and friends
• Stops you from going to college or work
• Makes unreasonable demands for your attention
• Accuses you of flirting or having affairs
• Tells you what you should wear, who you can see, where you can go, and what you should think
• Controls your money, or doesn’t give you enough to buy food or other essential items

Emotional abuse can be hard to recognise at the beginning of a relationship, however over time it will often intensify. Victims of emotional abuse can feel broken down by what has happened and may start to believe that they’re powerless, worthless or useless.

​Controlling behaviour is usually associated with intimate relationships but you can also be emotionally abused by friends, family members, colleagues or others who you interact with in your daily life.

While you’re in a relationship or a situation, it can be hard to know if you’re being emotionally abused.

Some of the following are signs to look out for:

• Being told what you can/can’t do
• Prevented from seeing friends/family
• You may feel undermined
• You may no longer feel you are able to express yourself
• You may struggle to make a decision
• You may no longer trust your own judgement
• Your health can feel affected
• You may feel stressed, angry, diminished and depressed
• Friends or family members may tell you that the abuser’s behaviour is not right
• Often shouted and screamed at

​On going cases of emotional abuse can lead to a victim starting to doubt their own sanity. This is called gaslighting, it’s a form of emotional abuse where the abuser is psychologically manipulating a person to gain power to an extreme. The victim may become so controlled by the perpetrator that they stop believing what is real.

The abuser is on a mission to make their partner feel small. To do that, they often shout or act aggressively to make their partner scared. An abusive person may call a partner unpleasant names, make unkind remarks, or totally degrading comments.

An abusive person often refuses to acknowledge any successes their partner may have, but they will frequently belittle all strengths or accomplishments, which can heavily affect a persons self-esteem and self-confidence.

​If you think you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship or situation, the first step is to speak to someone you trust about how you feel, maybe a close friend, family member or even one of us at Rehouse to Rehome. This may give you a clearer perspective on the behaviour you thought was normal, as it may seem unreasonable or abusive to someone else.

You may want to:

​• Keep a diary of everything that happens, so you have a record of the abusive behaviour
• Write your concerns in a letter and give it to a trusted family member or friend
• Contact the police as coercive control within intimate and family relationships is a crime.

It can be extremely hard to help a family member or friend who is experiencing emotional abuse, especially if they don’t recognise the abuse themselves.

If you are concerned that someone is a victim of abuse, you can help them by:

• Letting them know you’ll always be there for them
• Tell them that you don’t think they’re being treated right, and the way they should be. You may want to tell them that, you think it could be emotional abuse what they’re experiencing
• Encourage them to speak to someone from a specialist service who will provide professional and consistent support to all victims of domestic abuse.

​“At Rehouse to Rehome we believe that, the people who have the desire to control others, don’t have any control over themselves.”

The Details

Emotional abuse is a way to control another person by using emotions to criticise, embarrass, shame, blame, or otherwise manipulate another person. In general, a relationship is emotionally abusive when there is a consistent pattern of abusive words and bullying behaviors that wear down a person’s self-esteem and undermine 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 hardest forms of abuse to recognise. It can be subtle and insidious or overt and manipulative. Either way, it chips away at the victim’s self-esteem and they begin to doubt their perceptions and reality.

The underlying goal of emotional abuse is to control the victim by discrediting, isolating, and silencing.

In the end, the victim feels trapped. They are often too wounded to endure the relationship any longer, but also too afraid to leave. So the cycle just 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 very hard to detect. If you are having trouble discerning whether or not your relationship is abusive, stop and think about how the interactions with your partner, friend, or family member make you feel.

Here are signs that you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship. Keep in mind that even if your partner only does a handful of these things, you are still in an emotionally abusive relationship.

Do not fall into the trap of telling yourself “it’s not that bad” and minimising their behavior. Remember: Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect.

If you feel wounded, frustrated, confused, misunderstood, depressed, anxious, or worthless any time you interact, chances are high that your relationship is emotionally abusive.

Have Unrealistic Expectations 

Emotionally abusive people display unrealistic expectations. Some examples include:

  • Making unreasonable demands of you
  • Expecting you to put everything aside and meet their needs
  • Demanding you spend all of your time together
  • Being dissatisfied no matter how hard you try or how much you give
  • Criticising you for not completing tasks according to their standards
  • Expecting you to share their opinions (i.e., you are not permitted to have a different opinion)
  • Demanding that you name exact dates and times when discussing things that upset you (and when you cannot do this, they may dismiss the event as if it never happened)

​Invalidate You 

Emotionally abusive people invalidate you. Some examples include:

  • Undermining, dismissing, or distorting your perceptions or your reality
  • Refusing to accept your feelings by trying to define how you should feel
  • Requiring you to explain how you feel over and over
  • Accusing you of being “too sensitive,” “too emotional,” or “crazy”
  • Refusing to acknowledge or accept your opinions or ideas as valid
  • Dismissing your requests, wants, and needs as ridiculous or unmerited
  • Suggesting that your perceptions are wrong or that you cannot be trusted by saying things like “you’re blowing this out of proportion” or “you exaggerate”
  • Accusing you of being selfish, needy, or materialistic if you express your wants or needs (the expectation is that you should not have any wants or needs)

​Create Chaos 

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 in order 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

Act Superior 

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:2

  • 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 a possession or property
  • Criticising 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 a number of 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
  • Criticism
  • Gaslighting
  • Isolating the individual from their family and friends
  • Name-calling and verbal abuse
  • Refusing to participate in the relationship
  • Shaming or blaming
  • Silent treatment
  • Trivialising 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 their entire sense of self, sometimes without a single mark or bruise. Instead, the wounds are invisible to others, hidden in the self-doubt, worthlessness, and self-loathing the victim feels. In fact, research indicates that the consequences of emotional abuse are just as severe as those from physical abuse.

Over time, the accusations, verbal abuse, name-calling, criticisms, and gaslighting erode a victim’s sense of self so much that they can no longer see themselves realistically. Consequently, the victim may begin to agree with the abuser and become internally critical. Once this happens, most victims become trapped in the abusive relationship believing that they will never be good enough for anyone else.

Emotional abuse can even impact friendships because emotionally abused people often worry about how people truly see them and if they truly like them. 

Eventually, victims will pull back from friendships and isolate themselves, convinced that no one likes them. What’s more, emotional abuse can cause a number of health problems including everything from depression and anxiety to stomach ulcers, heart palpitations, eating disorders, and insomnia.

Tips for Dealing With Emotional Abuse 

The first step in dealing with an emotionally abusive relationship is to recognise the abuse. If you were able to identify any aspect of emotional abuse in your relationship, it is important to acknowledge that first and foremost.

By being honest about what you are experiencing, you can begin to take control of your life again. Here are seven more strategies for reclaiming your life that you can put into practice today.

Make Yourself a Priority 

When it comes to your mental and physical health, you need to make yourself a priority. Stop worrying about pleasing the person abusing you. Take care of your needs. Do something that will help you think positively and affirm who you are.

Also, be sure to get an appropriate amount of rest and eat healthy meals. These simple self-care steps can go a long way in helping you deal with the day-to-day stresses of emotional abuse.

Establish Boundaries 

Firmly tell the abusive person that they may no longer yell at you, call you names, insult you, be rude to you, and so on. Then, tell them what will happen if they choose to engage in this behavior.

For instance, tell them that if they call you names or insult you, the conversation will be over and you will leave the room. The key is to follow through on your boundaries.

Do not communicate boundaries that you have no intention of keeping.

Stop Blaming Yourself 

If you have been in an emotionally abusive relationship for any amount of time, you may believe that there is something severely wrong with you. But you are not the problem. To abuse is to make a choice. So stop blaming yourself for something 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 by being different. An abusive person makes a choice to behave abusively.

Remind yourself that you cannot control their actions and that you are not to blame for their choices. The only thing you can fix or control is your response.

Avoid Engaging 

Do not engage with an abusive person. In other words, if an abuser tries to start an argument with you, begins insulting you, demands things from you or rages with jealousy, do not try to make explanations, soothe their feelings, or make apologies for things you did not do.

Simply walk away from the situation if you can. Engaging with an abuser only sets you up for more abuse and heartache. No matter how hard you try, you will not be able to make things right in their eyes.

Build a Support Network 

Although it can be tough to tell someone what you are going through, speaking up can help. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or even a counselor about what you are experiencing. Take time away from the abusive person as much as possible and spend time with people who love and support you.

This network of healthy friends and confidantes will help you feel less lonely and isolated. They also can speak truth into your life and help you put things into perspective.

Work on an Exit Plan 

If your partner, friend, or family member has no intention of changing or working on their poor choices, you will not be able to remain in the abusive relationship forever. It will eventually take a toll on you both mentally and physically.

Depending on your situation, you may need to take steps to end the relationship. Each situation is different. So, discuss your thoughts and ideas with a trusted friend, family member, or counselor. Emotional abuse can have serious long-term effects, but it can also be a precursor to physical abuse and violence.

Remember too, that abuse often escalates when the person being abused makes a decision to leave. So, be sure you have a safety plan in place should the abuse get worse. Healing from emotional abuse takes time. Taking care of yourself, reaching out to your supportive loved ones, and talking to a therapist can help.

Potential Complications 

Sometimes attempts to deal with or reduce emotional abuse can backfire and actually make the abuse worse. Some tactics that are not effective ways of dealing with abuse include:

  • Arguing with the abuser. Trying to argue with an abuser can escalate the problem and may result in violence. There is no way to argue with an abuser because they will always find more ways to blame, shame, or criticise. They may also try to turn the tables and play the victim.
  • Trying to understand or make excuses for the abuser. It might be tempting to try to make sense of the other person’s behavior or to come up with excuses to justify their actions. Finding ways to sympathize with or minimise an abuser’s actions can make leaving the situation that much more difficult.
  • Attempting to appease the abuser. Appeasing the other person might seem like a form of de-escalation, but it tends to backfire in the long-run and may serve to enable further abuse. Instead of trying to change yourself or your behaviors to suit the abuser’s whims, focus on establishing clear boundaries and avoid engaging with them if possible.
  • Very well Mind 


     Reviewed by 

    Updated on September 17, 2020



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