Signs & Effects of Emotional Abuse: Is My Relationship Abusive?

While physical abuse is easy to recognize, emotional abuse is less obvious. It can be subtle, but its consequences for the victim’s emotional health can be severe. There are many types of emotional abuse but its ultimate goal is establishing control over another person through emotional manipulation.

For example, emotional abuse may include blaming, shaming, embarrassment, or criticism. People in emotionally abusive relationships face bullying and verbal abuse on a regular basis, and such relationships can have a significant negative impact on their self-esteem and mental health.

Emotionally abusive relationships are not necessarily romantic. Although such relationships are particularly common among sexual partners, relationships between relatives, coworkers, and friends can also be emotionally abusive.

Given that emotional abuse is more difficult to recognize than physical abuse, it’s important to know the signs of abusive relationships.

Quite often, emotional abuse isn’t direct. Its manipulative nature suggests that it can be hidden and subtle. However, that doesn’t mean that emotional abuse isn’t dangerous. Victims may develop PTSD from emotional abuse, and they may start to doubt their perception of reality.

Emotional abuse is often intended to silence and isolate the victim. Abusers often use gaslighting to persuadetheir victims that abuse only exists in their imagination and the relationship is normal. As a result, victims are often trapped in the cycle of abuse. They may realize that such a relationship is unhealthy but they may be afraid to leave, and their damaged self-esteem may keep them in the relationship despite all its negative consequences for their mental well-being.

The effects of emotional abuse may include low self-esteem, PTSD, anger problems, depression, and difficulties with building healthy relationships. If a person has been in an emotionally abusive relationship, recovering may take some time, and the best solution is therapy.

In this article, we will consider the types and signs of emotional abuse in more detail so that you can recognize abusive behavior and figure out whether your relationship is healthy or not.

What Emotional Abuse Looks Like

We’ve already mentioned that emotional abuse can be difficult to recognize. If you keep wondering, “Am I being emotionally abused?” you may want to carefully analyze your relationship with your partner and think of how this relationship makes you feel.

Many victims of emotional abuse think that their relationship isn’t that bad so they decide not to break up with their abusive partners. Usually, such a mindset is a direct result of manipulation and gaslighting.

The truth is that everyone deserves respect, and there are no “good” and “bad” abusive relationships. If your relationship makes you feel misunderstood, frustrated, traumatized, worthless, or anxious, you shouldn’t hesitate to break the abuse cycle.

Here are some of the most common signs of emotionally abusive relationships. Even if your partner demonstrates just one or two behavioral patterns from this list, this means that your relationship is abusive.


Abusive relationships revolve around control. Quite often, abusers use shaming to ensure control by lowering a person’s self-esteem. Abusers may use different practices to establish control and prevent their victims from making independent decisions.

For instance, an abusive partner may constantly monitor the other partner’s behavior and location. They may insist that their partner keeps them up to date about everything they do and respond to calls immediately. An abuser may also check the victim’s online history or use spying software to monitor the victim’s online activity.

Abusers often treat their partner like a child and make unilateral decisions. At the same time, they may appear helpless in some situations. It might be easier to do something yourself than explain it to someone else, and abusers know it. As a result, they may trick their partners into doing what they don’t want to do.

When a partner doesn’t agree to do what they say, abusers may throw temper tantrums and use threats. For instance, abusers often threaten to leave and take children with them. They may also shame their partners and claim that everybody thinks that their partners are wrong.

Abusers may also establish financial control over their partners by keeping bank accounts in their name so their partners need to ask for money and become financially dependent.

Humiliation and criticism

Sometimes, people have a hard time trying to answer a simple question: “Am I being emotionally abused?” When people are in a relationship, they may criticize each other and point out each other’s mistakes, but there is a difference between healthy, constructive criticism and criticism that turns into humiliation.

Emotional abusers may criticize their partner’s appearance, call them names, or crack jokes aimed at their partner’s vulnerabilities and insecurities. Quite often, abusers hide offensive comments behind jokes and sarcasm and then blame their partners for being too sensitive. Therefore, it’s important to know how to recognize verbal abuse.

Abusive partners also often belittle the other partner’s accomplishments or evenclaim responsibility for their partner’s success. When their partner shares their worries and talks about subjects that matter to them, emotionally abusive people often ignore their concerns and refuse to offer any help.

Emotionally abusive people also tend to be very judgmental. They may tell you that you “always” or “never” do something, or that you’re generally a bad person. Emotional abuse may also include public humiliation. When an abuser knows their victim’s vulnerabilities, they won’t hesitate to push their buttons.

Denial and blaming

Many people demonstrate abusive behavior in an attempt to compensate for their own insecurities. Dysfunctional relationships give them an opportunity to build a hierarchy where they sit at the top, while their partner is in a vulnerable and dependent position.

When their partner is unsatisfied with the emotional dynamic in the relationship, an emotionally abusive person may blame the partner and say that their abusive behavior is just a reaction to the partner’s failures and mistakes. Sometimes, abusers try to turn the tables and play victims so that their partners will feel guilty for their anger and frustration.

This is one of the main reasons why victims should not stay in abusive relationships, hoping that the situation will change for the better someday. On the one hand, if you don’t react to abuse, nothing will change. On the other hand, if you lose control and engage in reactive abuse, an abuser may make you responsible for the problems in your relationship and claim that you’re the one who should change their behavior.

Abusers often use gaslighting and make their victims question their sanity by acting surprised and saying that their partner’s complaints are just made up.

Isolation and neglect

When victims try to figure out how to heal from emotional abuse, they often don’t have the necessary support because they find themselves in complete isolation after escaping an abusive relationship. Abusers often don’t let their partners socialize, and they may even convince the victim’s friends and relatives that the victim is unstable and hysterical.

While abusers demand all of their partners’ attention, they may ignore their partners’ need for communication and withhold affection. An abuser may refuse to have sex with their partner and avoid any physical contact to punish the victim for not doing what they want.

Dealing With Emotional Abuse

Given that emotionally abusive relationships can damage the victim’s self-esteem and put them in a dependent position, escaping such relationships may turn out to be not an easy task. Abusers may put a lot of effort into convincing their victims that they are not worthy of love and respect so the latter may get stuck in abusive relationships out of fear of loneliness.

Besides, abusers may establish financial control and isolate their partners from their friends and families so that no one can tell the victim what their relationship really looks like and provide the necessary support. If some signs of emotional abuse from the list above look too familiar to you, don’t try to fix your relationship. In most cases, the only right solution is a breakup.

If you cannot figure out what to do or need emotional support, don’t hesitate to talk to a licensed therapist. Therapy can help you understand what keeps you in a relationship and how to break the vicious cycle of abuse.

While busy people may not have enough time for in-person therapy, online therapy platforms like Calmerry allow everyone to talk to a therapist from virtually anywhere, with no need to commute to a therapist’s office.

You can learn more about the benefits of talk therapy so that you will know what to expect from your first session. If your partner demonstrates abusive behavior, don’t hesitate to contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline. If you’re in immediate danger, call 911.

You’re not alone. You deserve safety and respect. If you realize that you’re stuck in an abusive relationship, now’s the time to make the first step toward a better life full of new opportunities.

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