How to deal with emotional abuse from husband

What is emotional abuse? | The National Domestic Violence Hotline

“I don’t want you going out with them. I trust you; I just don’t trust them.”

“You know you can’t get anyone better than me. You are lucky to be with me.”

“Are you sure you want to eat that? I’m just attracted to someone who takes care of themselves.”

“You’re so dumb. I knew this would be over your head.”

Do any of these sentences sound familiar? If so, you might be in an emotionally abusive relationship.

Many people hear the word “abuse” and think of physical violence. Physical abuse is one type of abuse, but it is certainly not the only one.

According to  The Hotline’s 2020 Data, 95% of contacts stated they were experiencing emotional abuse. Emotional abuse may not be what most people think about when they picture abuse, but that does not make it any less real or less serious. Because of its subtleties, emotional abuse can be quite difficult to detect when it is being experienced. Emotional abuse is also a foundation for other forms of abuse. Often, it is used erode a person’s self-esteem and self-worth and create a psychological dependency on the abusive partner. Let’s look at what emotional abuse is and how to know if emotional abuse is present in your relationship.

Emotional abuse includes non-physical behaviors that are meant to control, isolate, or frighten you. This may present in romantic relationships as threats, insults, constant monitoring, excessive jealousy, manipulation, humiliation, intimidation, dismissiveness, among others. Sometimes emotional abuse is more obvious, like a partner yelling at you or calling you names. Other times it can be more subtle, like your partner acting jealous of your friends or not wanting you to hang out with someone of another gender. While these emotionally abusive behaviors do not leave physical marks, they do hurt, disempower, and traumatize the partner who is experiencing the abuse.

Over time, emotional abuse can wear down a person’s self-worth, confidence, and their mental and emotional strength.

It’s difficult to feel sure of yourself when a partner is demeaning, dismissing, and second-guessing you constantly. Additionally, when you care about someone and have invested time in the relationship with them, you want to believe the best of them, and you may convince yourself that you were overreacting in how you interpreted their hurtful actions or words. An emotionally abusive partner may try to gaslight you by telling you outright that you are overreacting, being dramatic, being too emotional, or that you can’t take a joke.

For these reasons and more, it can be tough to detect emotional abuse and see it as a dangerous concern. Even then, survivors of emotional abuse are often hesitant to seek help or tell friends and family about their relationship concerns because they fear they will not be believed or taken seriously. Nonetheless, emotional abuse is serious, and it is not uncommon for emotional abuse to escalate to physical violence. In some relationships this escalation to physical abuse is slow, and in others it can happen rapidly.

So how do you know if you are in an emotionally abusive relationship?

Here are some red flags:
  • Your partner name calls you or demeans you.
  • Your partner tries to control you, your time, and your actions.
  • Your partner tells you what to do and what to wear.
  • Your partner often makes you feel silly or dumb.
  • Your partner questions your reality and says that things that you know happened didn’t happen. This is called gaslighting.
  • Your partner is critical of your appearance.
  • Your partner is jealous of time spent with your friends or family.
  • Your partner punishes you by withholding attention or affection.
  • Your partner doesn’t want you hanging out with someone of another gender.
  • Your partner makes threats to hurt you or others to get what they want.
  • Your partner wants you to ask for permission before doing something or spending time with other people.
  • Your partner monitors where you go and stalks your whereabouts.
  • Your partner doesn’t want you to work.
  • Your partner embarrasses you in public.
  • Your partner does not trust you and acts possessive.
  • Your partner threatens breaking up or divorce to manipulate an argument.
  • Your partner wants access to your phone, your passwords, or your social media.
  • Your partner threatens suicide during arguments.
  • Your partner is constantly accusing you of cheating.
  • Your partner blames you for their unhealthy/abusive behaviors.
  • Your partner makes you feel guilty or immature for not wanting to have sex.
  • Your partner overloads you with compliments and gifts, and then uses that to manipulate you later (love bombing).

If any of these red flags feel familiar to you, know that you do not deserve to be treated that way and that you are not alone. It can be hard to decide what your next step should be, after learning that your relationship is not healthy. You might consider reaching out to a trusted friend or family member to talk about what you have been going through. You can also reach out to our Hotline advocates to talk about next steps and options available to you.

We are here 24/7 via phone, online chat, and text to provide you with education, support, and safety planning. The Hotline is completely free and confidential.

Answers shouldn’t be hard to find.

We're here to help!

6 Strategies to Deal With Emotional Abuse in a Relationship

In This Article

If you suspect your relationship is unhealthy, it probably is.

We’re not talking about rude behavior, occasional transgression, or a mistake made in public. Much like a single instance of bad behavior isn’t bullying; a relationship isn’t unhealthy because of a few poor choices.

An unhealthy relationship negatively impacts those (or more likely just one person) in the relationship and can take a toll on one’s mood, confidence, behavior, other relationships, and body.

When bad behavior is repeated amongst kids, acquaintances, or co-workers, we quickly call it bullying. There isn’t a lot of debate about what to call threats to injure or actual bodily harm.

However, when bad behavior (that isn’t physically violent) repeatedly happens in our intimate (romantic or familial) relationships, people often struggle to define it. If you suspect your relationship is unhealthy, it probably is. 

Related Reading: 7 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship

What is emotional abuse?

Emotional or psychological abuse can be hard to describe and even harder to recognize. Often this behavior occurs behind closed doors and is subtle, passive-aggressive, covert, or even plausibly deniable.

Verbal aggression, insults, threats, intimidation, coercion, manipulation, or isolation that affect the targets sense of safety (physical or emotional), self-esteem, and even perception of reality ARE emotional or psychological abuse.

Most people are unlikely to identify themselves as victims of abuse, even if the behaviors they have experienced are classic signs of emotional abuse. Victims of abuse frequently have difficulty identifying the emotional severity and impact of the abuse they have experienced.

Understanding the behaviors, feelings, and impact of unhealthy relationships is an essential part of moving towards a healthier and happier self, regardless of what happens with that relationship.

Recipients of abuse often blame themselves for not doing enough when they are taking on too much.

Emotional abuse in relationships erodes confidence and self-worth, leading to self-doubt, anxiety, depression, isolation, and increased dependence on the abuser. Recipients of abuse often blame themselves for not doing enough when taking on too much.

Recipients coping with emotional abuse often feel responsible for accommodating the abuser, responsible for others’ feelings or actions, or feeling obligated to keep the peace or go with the flow to avoid outbursts, moods, or tantrums.

People experiencing emotional abuse tend to isolate themselves from supportive friends or family. They might feel disconnected, or if the abuser is critical or expresses negative views of the friends, they may find themselves less likely to risk conflict or judgment by seeing those people.

Introverts may be at an additional risk of isolation if they don’t have a strong social or support network.

The more isolated one becomes, the easier it is for inappropriate behavior and emotional abuse to become normalized, excused, or overlooked. Isolation prevents us from feeling connected to others, getting perspective, or seeing and experiencing other, healthy relationships. Isolation contributes to people staying in abusive relationships.

Emotionally abusive relationships are not a two-way street. The psychologically abusive relationship benefits one person- the abuser. You are not stuck with having to accept this as usual. You deserve the kindness and compassion you give so freely to others.

Finding a therapist helps you in overcoming emotional abuse and manage the complicated feelings that may arise from being in and leaving an emotionally abusive situation.

Related Reading: 8 Ways to Stop Emotional Abuse in Marriage

Consider the CREATE strategy as a tool to help you deal with emotional abuse and create a path forward:

1. Connect

Connect with friends and family. Reach out to meaningful connections, even if it has been some time since you last spoke. Let people care about you, build a support system, and feel less isolated.

2. Recognize

Recognize behavioral patterns of abuse. Knowing and anticipating behaviors will help you gain clarity about your situation.

Do you want to continue the habits and roles you’re observing, or do you want something different?

Being able to anticipate abusive tactics can make it feel less personal and empower you a bit more. Even though you may be targeted, this isn’t about you. It is about the abuser.

3. Establish

Establish your boundaries and decide how you want to be treated and what you no longer wish to tolerate.

What do you want? What do you need?

It can help to think about how you would treat others and remember that you should expect the same for yourself.

4. Assert

Assert your needs. If you need help, speak up. If your feelings were hurt, say so. Don’t put your needs aside to accommodate someone else’s feelings or wants.

A healthy partner wouldn’t want you to suppress your feelings to accommodate their own. A healthy relationship will account for everyone’s needs, feelings, and desires equally. If they don’t consider your feelings when you express them, maybe that invalidation is the only answer you need for stopping emotional abuse.

The video below discusses useful tips for being assertive without coming out as rude, like getting in touch with your own needs, signaling flexibility by giving options, and more. Learn more below

5. Take back

Take back your power. You don’t have to continue to give up your power. You can control the conversation. You can control what you expose yourself to. You are not obligated to listen to someone berate you.

You do not need to answer unreasonable questions or demands. You can be kind and firm without accommodating inappropriate behavior. You can tell someone not to speak to you in a certain way or remind them that you see things differently.

6. Exit

Exit when needed. You can end a conversation, phone call, or physically leave if things escalate, become critical, unproductive, or are upsetting. You don’t need to stick around and bear the abuse just because you did in the past.

None of this is easy to do. Dealing with a psychologically abusive relationship can be very emotional, intimidating, and challenging. The more consistent, the easier it will get. You are enforcing your boundaries, and you’ll develop more confidence in your ability to do so.

A professional’s support will guide and support in getting past emotional abuse while you regain your voice and make yourself a priority without guilt or fear. A therapist will empower you throughout this challenging situation and establish and sticking to boundaries less stressful and lonely than if you try to go it alone.

Related Reading: Effective Ways to Deal With the After-effects of Physical Assault


Psychological violence and ways of coping

Zyuzkina Anastasia Andreevna, psychologist of the health care institution "City Clinical Psychiatric Dispensary"

Often domestic violence against women and children is not perceived as an act of violence.

The topic of psychological abuse is broad, this issue is relevant not only in the field of the family system, but also in the sphere of work.

For example, in the scientific literature, psychological violence is called mobbing - the employer's disrespectful attitude towards employees in the context of labor relations. Situations where periodically (at least once a week) the employee is humiliated and harassed by the team or the manager, the purpose of which is to dismiss the employee during the period of employment. Mobbing is manifested in the oppression of a long period of time and includes negative statements, unfounded criticism, social isolation of an employee, dissemination of deliberately false information about a person, and more. nine0003

Psychological consequences for the object of mobbing are so serious that social significance is perceived as traumatic and compared with murder, rape and robbery. Some people even think about suicide.

Most often, psychological abuse occurs in the family. The main victims of domestic violence are women and children. The consequences of psychological violence include sleep and appetite disorders, alcoholism, reckless committing of traumatic actions, a change in the nature of the individual. nine0003

Psychological violence is a form of influencing the emotions or psyche of a partner through threats, intimidation, insults, criticism, condemnation, etc. That is, a constant verbal negative impact on another person. More often this type of violence is subjected to wives from their husbands, much less often vice versa.

Psychological abuse can escalate into physical abuse.

Domestic violence also spreads in cohabitation as cohabitation. Most often it is a form of psychological abuse. Psychological abuse is on a par with physical abuse, since the personality is violated by suppressing self-esteem. Under such conditions, the person who is targeted by the negative impact does not assess the situation as dangerous and sometimes it is necessary to convince them that they have become precisely the victims. Beliefs are formed as if she herself is to blame, misunderstood, did not tolerate, did not prove, provoked. As a result, personal characteristics are formed: self-restraint, alienation, negativism, refusal to express one's own position. nine0003

Insults, violence, mistreatment in psychology is called abuse. The person who forces to do something, offends, forces to perform actions that are unpleasant to another person, respectively, is an abuser.

The reasons why one partner affects the psyche of another are varied, the most common: the need for self-realization and self-affirmation at the expense of the other, difficulties in the inability to express one's desires and thoughts, past experience, financial dependence on one's partner, the perception of violence as a norm in family behavior, propaganda of violence in the media / movies / video games, psychological deviations in the form of a psychological trauma. nine0003

With constant criticism, the self-esteem of the victim decreases to a certain level and self-confidence is shaky, in this state it is easier for the tyrant to impose his opinion and desired behavior. The victim in such a state of mind doubts the correctness of his actions, a feeling of insignificance and guilt is instilled. By psychologically influencing such a person, another model of life is laid, the position of a tyrant is adopted and control is exercised on his part.

There are many signs of psychological violence and a combination of signs is used to determine it, and not each factor individually:

  • criticism - a rough assessment of shortcomings, comments about appearance, intelligence, taste preferences, such criticism may be followed by insults.
  • Humiliation - insults, rough treatment.
  • Accusation - conviction of guilt, for example, in family failures and shifting responsibility for everything that happens.
  • Despotism - commanding tone in communication, orders and instructions instead of requests.
  • Intimidation - Threats of physical violence against the victim and their loved ones, limiting prohibitions on contact with children and threats from the tyrant to commit suicide. nine0038
  • Prohibition to communicate with relatives, friends, colleagues, deprivation of means of communication.
  • Prohibited from visiting places outside the home and obtaining permission from a partner to leave the house.
  • Permanent presence, partner rarely leaves alone.
  • Monitoring behavior and communication outside the home, checking private messages, checking call lists, checking email, installing software, hidden or open surveillance (video surveillance). nine0038

Emotional abuse also includes jealousy, which manifests itself in constant accusations of adultery.

A psychological abuser has such qualities as: disrespectful attitude towards a partner and his life principles; the imposition of help that was not asked for, generosity that puts you in an awkward position; total control; jealousy; threatening behavior; the presence of double standards “I can, but you can’t”; life credo "a man (woman) is never guilty of anything. " nine0003

There are several types of psychological violence. Gaslighting is one of the most severe forms of psychological abuse. The gaslighter denies their partner or child adequateness using the phrases “it seemed to you”, “it didn’t happen”, “you just don’t understand it”. The victim is instilled that the perception of the environment is erroneous, therefore, the victim is convinced that she is going crazy. Neglect - ignoring any needs, arguing that a person does not need it, deliberate negligence. Sometimes the abuser pushes his partner to plastic surgery, refuses to deal with everyday life and children. In this situation, it is best to isolate yourself from the abuser. nine0009 Visholding - refusal to discuss an exciting topic. Emotional blackmail - ignoring any action of the victim, emotional coldness, silence, blackmail with personal information. The purpose of such behavior is the subordination of another person, deprivation of one's own will, and only by limiting communication can one protect himself from this. Ignoring - emotional withdrawal. Isolation - prohibition of communication with everyone except the abuser himself, so the request for help is difficult to carry out. nine0009 Control - tight control over any actions of the partner. Criticism - pointing out shortcomings and miscalculations, that in front of other people it looks like ridicule. The purpose of such behavior is to form an inferiority complex, after such an impact it is difficult to recover from such a relationship, faith in oneself, partnership is lost.

It is best for the victim to get out of the situation of violence (even run away, disappear from view). Victims of psychological abuse cannot avoid mental problems. Such people are in a state of psychological trauma and experience anxiety, fear, may become depressed, and suicidal attempts are not excluded. There is also emotional dependence, neglect of one's needs, various addictions may arise, for example, alcohol or drugs. nine0003

According to studies, in those families where various types of violence (physical, psychological) are used, signs of a delay in the physical and neuropsychic development of children are noticed.

In each specific case of violence, a psychological consultation is required.

It is important to take responsibility for your life, set your own goals, learn to listen to yourself and your feelings, stop negative influences and report what is unpleasant, not tolerate when something causes negative feelings. nine0003

In difficult social, economic and psychological situations, you should contact crisis centers to receive the necessary assistance.

For psychological support, you can contact the helpline, where they will listen, support and determine the type of assistance.

If the partner does not beat, but deprives the will. 7 Ways to Recognize Psychological Abuse

Moral abuse is an even more subtle topic than physical abuse. The partner does not drink, does not raise his hand to you, but deprives you of the will psychologically. nine0010

With the recognition of physical violence, everything is more or less clear to modern people. Thanks to the educational work of psychologists, it is no longer a secret that violence is not necessarily sexual coercion or beatings. Keep a person at home when he wants to leave or, on the contrary, not let him in when he wants to go home; taking away keys, phone, documents or money to make it difficult for him to move around is also physical abuse. Yelling or hitting a wall/table to break your will during an outbreak of conflict is physical abuse, even if no one has even touched you (yet). An abusive partner intuitively argues very simply: rough physical actions in your presence, in front of your eyes, frighten you and paralyze your will. nine0003

Finished reading here

But what about moral violence? There is no noise, no destruction. No punches, no slaps. No broken things, no other people's letters read without permission. How to recognize him? Let's look at the types of psychological abuse.

1. Instant cold changeovers. Let's start with the harmless. Hearing that you don't want to visit his parents again this weekend, your partner silently draws a face. The look was covered with frost, lips in a thread. He says OK. But his voice! It's like he just wrote you a ticket. Clearly, guests cannot be canceled (you guessed it). nine0003

2. Partially ignored. Filter questions according to your goals. If you cut a pancake cake, then it is striped on the cut. It also looks like "on the cut" communication with a moral abuser. Some answers are successful, others are not.

— How about Friday? I missed.

— Yes, dear!

- And who is Masha Hibiscus, does she flirt with you on Facebook?

He does not answer.

— Honey, what do you want for dinner?

— Please bake my favorite sea bass with lemon and rosemary. nine0003

— Hey, why do you talk on the phone from the bathroom in the evenings with the shower on? Do you have someone?

He does not answer.

You can, of course, go for broke, wait for the meeting and ask: why do you skip uncomfortable questions? In such cases, moral rapists have other tricks.

3. Stare without comment. This is when he is Boa Kaa, and you ... you yourself understand who.

- Dear, we could reschedule the trip out of town, I absolutely need to get to this conference for work. nine0003

In response, he looks at you without looking away.

- Did I ask something wrong?

Without blinking, he continues to pierce the bridge of your nose with his eyes.

You got scared and your question disappeared somewhere. Then, when you ask: “Are you not happy that I refused that conference, because you were so against it ...”, he will say with a yawn: “I was against it? Stop blaming me for your own mistakes. " And he will be right. He didn't say he was against it. He just looked between your eyes. By the way, try to squeal that he somehow looked wrong. He will say: “Did I watch? I stood with my back to you and mixed Cointreau with a martini. Perhaps you drank too much that evening? And it's already called... nine0003

4. Gaslighting. 1948 detective film "Gas Light" about how a young wife became a hostage of her husband's criminal goals. He made her look crazy in the eyes of her relatives, and most importantly, made her doubt her own sanity. Gaslighting refers to the intentional "madness" of another person. The gaslighter deliberately asserts and even "proves" that the victim's psyche is flawed and cannot be relied upon. And the victim believes. Your friend does small things (like lying a little all the time) or even some big things (spending the general money on his personal climbing equipment, blackmailing you into having an abortion, or sleeping with your girlfriend). And then he says one of the phrases: “What is wrong with you?”, “Are you in a bad mood?”, “It’s not true, we agreed”, “You yourself wanted this”, “Oh, are you starting again?”, “I don’t meant it”, “You misunderstood me”, “It never happened”. In romantic relationships, gaslighters use the universal property of falling in love - regression. Are you in love and feel like a little child? So nice to submit to a wise and charismatic friend? Let him do as he sees fit, to dissolve in it - a pleasure? If your man is strong and mature, he will thank you for your trust and will only love you more. If you are dealing with a moral abuser, waking up from love, you will find yourself in a relationship where you decide nothing and where everything is against you if you do not agree with it. And to the question "why is everything so?" He will say: "You yourself wanted this." And he will be right. nine0003

5. Blackmail, shame or guilt and seduction. Your friend reports that because of a missed visit to the family nest, mom has a bad heart, dad tore his meniscus while running to the pharmacy, and he is now so upset that he doubts the prospects of your relationship. (as usual, he looks down the bridge of your nose). In this example, the whole “package” is visible: the manipulation of guilt, an attempt to shame / scare you, blackmail by breaking up a relationship. If you come to your senses and immediately promise everything that you refused yesterday, he will immediately become nice and make amends with affection, sex or a walk in your favorite park. nine0003

6. Ignoring, disappearing for the purpose of punishment. The once-famous pediatrician Benjamin Spock did not recommend going in at night to a crying baby so that he "understands" that good babies sleep at night, and do not cry. At the same time, another doctor, John Bowlby, with numbers in his hands, proved that the baby, again and again experiencing the inability to call on his mother, plunges into "anaclitic depression", from which he can even die despite complete care. We also experience a weak solution of infantile horror-despair when a dear person disappears “from the radar” without any comments. Moral abusers intuitively use this tool to intimidate their partners: “Nice girls don’t ask their lover uncomfortable questions about flirting and phone calls from the bathroom. Twitch, sort out our quarrel on the personnel. Find the mistake, guess where you were wrong. And the day after tomorrow, perhaps, I will forgive you.” nine0003

7. He is actually the victim. Do you remember that Sunday when you didn't want to visit and he heavily hinted that he would leave you? If one day you risk outplaying him and immediately react with blackmail for blackmail, you will be amazed at the enchanting metamorphosis. Say: “Darling, I get so upset when they put pressure on me that I don’t even know what the prospects for our relationship are ...” - here you need to look at him for a long time between the eyebrows. I know a story when yesterday's moral rapist cried for two weeks without a break and littered all the messengers of his girlfriend with pleas to forgive him. It turned out he was unaware of her discomfort. When blackmail stops working, and seduction is inappropriate, he presses on pity. You soften and everything starts again. nine0003

The core of any violence is the object manipulation of another person. Even wrapped in politeness, seduction or cunning, violence betrays itself according to the main feature - in a relationship you are an object, not a subject, not a person, not a person with his own feelings and will. And they treat you like an object: they manipulate you functionally, sorting through different techniques, looking for master keys. If you are malleable, use soft tricks. If soft ones are not effective, use pressure.

Very often a partner prone to psychological violence alternates aggression with seduction.

Learn more