Signs you are being abused emotionally

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.

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What It Is and Signs to Watch For

You might be familiar with many of the obvious signs of emotional abuse and manipulation. But when you’re in an abusive situation, it’s easy to miss the subtle early signs that build up to a a persistent undercurrent of abusive behavior.

Emotional abuse involves attempts to frighten, control, or isolate you. This type of abuse doesn’t involve physical violence, though it might involve threats of violence directed toward you or your loved ones. It’s characterized by a person’s words, actions, and the consistency of these behaviors. Abuse may start gradually, but it happens again and again.

People of any age or gender can abuse or experience abuse. And abuse doesn’t just happen in the context of romantic relationships. The person abusing you could be your spouse or romantic partner — but they might also be your business partner, parent, caretaker, or even your adult child.

Regardless, you don’t deserve the abuse, and it’s definitely not your fault.

Continue reading to learn how to recognize the signs of emotional abuse and get some guidance on what to do next.

Someone abusing you may use different tactics to undermine your self-esteem.

Examples include:

  • Name-calling and derogatory nicknames. They’ll blatantly call you “stupid,” “a loser,” or use other insults. Maybe they use terms of “endearment” that actually highlight things you’re sensitive about — “my little nail biter” or “my chubby pumpkin” — and ignore your requests to stop.
  • Character assassination. This usually involves the word “always.” You’re always late, wrong, screwing up, disagreeable, and so on. They might say these things to you, or use them to describe your behavior to others.
  • Yelling. Screaming, yelling, and swearing can intimidate you and make you feel small and inconsequential. Maybe they never hit you, but they do pound their fist, throw things, or damage property.
  • Patronizing. They belittle you by saying things like, “I know you try, but this is just beyond the scope of your brain.”
  • Public embarrassment. They pick fights, share your secrets, or make fun of your shortcomings in public.
  • Dismissiveness. You share something important to you and they reply with, “What? Who cares about that?” Body language like eye rolling, smirking, head shaking, and sighing help convey the same message.
  • “Joking.” When you express discomfort with something they’ve said, they snap back, “Can’t you take a joke? Grow up. ” You’re left feeling foolish and wondering whether you are, in fact, too sensitive.
  • Insulting your appearance. As you head out, they stop you at the door. “You’re wearing that ridiculous outfit? No wonder you can’t get a date.” Or they constantly say you’re lucky they chose you, since they could find someone so much more attractive.
  • Belittling your accomplishments. They brush off your achievements, saying they don’t matter, or claim responsibility for your successes.
  • Putting down your interests. They suggest your hobby is a waste of time. “You’ll never be any good at the piano, so why do you keep trying?” Really, they’d rather you not participate in activities without them.
  • Pushing your buttons. Once they find something that annoys you or makes you uncomfortable, they begin to mention it every chance they get, ignoring your requests that they stop.

Abusive behavior relates to the desire to maintain power and control. Someone abusing you might attempt to manipulate you into doing what they want you to do, often by making you feel ashamed of your inadequacies.

They may try to control you by:

  • Making threats. They imply — or say outright — that they’ll fire you or report you for being an unfit parent. They might even say something like, “There’s no telling what I might do,” to keep things vague and leave you afraid.
  • Monitoring your whereabouts. They want to know where you are, always, and insist you respond to calls or texts immediately. They might show up at your work or school, just to check you did actually go there.
  • Spying on you digitally. They demand your passwords, or insist you go password-free, and regularly check your internet history, emails, texts, and call log.
  • Gaslighting. Someone abusing you may deny that specific events, arguments, or agreements ever happened. This tactic can leave you questioning your own memory, not to mention your mental health and well-being.
  • Making all the decisions. This might involve closing a joint bank account and canceling doctor’s appointments. They may insist you withdraw from school and resign from work — or do so on your behalf. Or maybe they tell you what to wear, what to eat (and how much), or which friends you can spend time with.
  • Controlling your access to finances. They keep bank accounts in their name and make you ask for money. They also expect you to keep your receipts and account for every penny you spend.
  • Emotional blackmailing. Someone using this tactic will attempt to get you to do things by manipulating your feelings. They might use tricky questions to “test” you, take on the role of victim, or try to guilt-trip you.
  • Lecturing you constantly. After you make a mistake, no matter how minor, they catalog all of your errors with a long monologue. They describe all the ways you’ve fallen short and make it clear they consider you beneath them.
  • Giving direct orders. From, “I don’t care what happened. You stay here until you get that client back, or you’re fired,” to “Stop taking the pill,” they expect you to do everything they say without question.
  • Having frequent outbursts. They told you to cancel that outing with your friend, or put the car in the garage, but you didn’t. So, they become enraged, angrily shouting about how inconsiderate and uncooperative you are.
  • Feigning helplessness. They say they don’t know how to do something, hoping you’ll simply do it yourself instead of taking the time to explain it.
  • Unpredictability. They explode for no clear reason, then suddenly shower you with affection. Or maybe their mood shifts from upbeat to dark and angry with little warning, leaving you never sure what to expect.
  • Walking out. A partner or parent might leave a social event suddenly, so you have no way home. A supervisor might exit during a discussion about your assignment, so your questions remain unresolved.
  • Stonewalling you. During a disagreement or conflict, they shut down, refusing to respond to your attempts to communicate.

People who abuse others often try to create a hierarchy that puts them at the top and you at the bottom.

Examples might include:

  • Jealousy. They accuse you of flirting or cheating, or say you’d spend all your time with them if you truly loved them.
  • Using guilt. They might try to guilt-trip you into doing something by saying things like, “You owe me this. Look at all I’ve done for you,” in an attempt to get their way.
  • Unrealistic expectations. They expect you to do what they want, when they want you to do it. They think you should always prioritize their needs, do things according to their standards — and you absolutely shouldn’t hang out with your friends or family if there’s any chance they might need you.
  • Goading and blaming. People who manipulate and abuse typically know just how to upset you. But once you do get upset, they pin the blame back on you — after all, it’s your fault for being so sensitive and incompetent.
  • Denying the abuse. When you express concerns about their behavior, they might deny it, seemingly bewildered at the very thought. They may even suggest you’re the one with anger and control issues, or say they only get angry because you’re such a difficult person.
  • Trivializing. When you explain how much something they said or did upset you and hurt your feelings, they accuse you of overreacting or misunderstanding the situation.
  • Blaming you for their problems. When things go wrong, they always blame you. If only you’d been a more loving child, a more supportive partner, or a better parent, they might say, their life would be fantastic.
  • Destroying and denying. They might throw your phone down to break it, “lose” your car keys, or destroy other important possessions, then deny it or say it happened accidentally.

Someone abusing you will generally try to get you to prioritize their needs and neglect your own.

Often, they’ll also make an effort to isolate you by coming between you and your supportive loved ones — a step which, of course, leaves you more dependent on them.

Tactics they might use include:

  • Dehumanizing you. They’ll intentionally look away when you’re talking or stare at something else when speaking to you in an effort to make you feel unimportant.
  • Keeping you from socializing. Whenever you have plans to go out, they come up with a distraction or beg you not to go.
  • Invalidating you. They might suggest or say straight out that your needs, boundaries, and desires don’t matter to them.
  • Trying to come between you and your family. They’ll tell family members you don’t want to see them or make excuses why you can’t attend family functions. Later, they might tell you that your loved ones don’t care about you or think there’s something wrong with you.
  • Using the silent treatment. They might ignore your attempts at conversation in person, via text, or over the phone.
  • Withholding affection. They won’t touch you, even to hold your hand or pat you on the shoulder. They may refuse to have any intimate contact if you offend them, or they want you to do something you don’t want to do.
  • Shutting down communication. They might wave you off, change the subject, or simply ignore you when you want to talk about important concerns.
  • Actively working to turn others against you. They might tell other people in your life, including co-workers, friends, and even your family, that you lie, have lost touch with reality, or have had an emotional breakdown.
  • Denying support. When you need emotional support or help with a problem, they might call you needy, say the world can’t stop and wait on your problems, or tell you to toughen up and fix it yourself.
  • Interrupting. They might get in your face when you’re in the middle of an activity and take away your phone or anything else in your hands to let you know your attention should be on them.
  • Disputing your feelings. No matter what feeling or emotion you express, they might insist you shouldn’t feel that way. For example, “You shouldn’t be angry over that,” or “What have you got to feel sad about?”

Learn more about codependency and how to overcome it.

If you believe you’re experiencing emotional abuse, trust your instincts.

Abuse is never your fault, and you don’t have to live with it

If you fear immediate physical violence, get to a safe place if you can. You can also call 911 or your local emergency services for help.

If you aren’t in immediate danger and you need to talk or find some place to go, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. This free, confidential 24/7 hotline can put you in touch with service providers and shelters across the United States.

Find more resources here.

These tips offer a place to start:

  • Don’t try to fix them. You may want to help, but it’s often difficult for abusive people to change their behavior without professional support. You can encourage them to work with a therapist, but they have to make the choice themselves.
  • Avoid self-blame. Remember, you never deserve abuse, no matter what you’ve said or done. The only person responsible is the one engaging in abusive behavior.
  • Prioritize your needs. Taking care of your physical and emotional needs can help you move forward to a place where you feel comfortable setting boundaries, reaching out for support, and leaving the abusive situation.
  • Avoid engaging with them. Don’t reply to their text messages, phone calls, or emails. If you can’t avoid working or spending time with them, try to keep another person with you and limit your conversation to essential topics.
  • Set personal boundaries. Decide how you’ll avoid responding to manipulation or getting pulled into arguments. Express those limits to the person using abuse tactics and stick to them. You might say, for example, “If you call me names, I’ll go home,” or, “If you start teasing me in public, I’ll leave.”
  • Build a support network. It might feel frightening to open up about what you’ve experienced, but reaching out to loved ones and a supportive therapist can go a long way toward helping you get the support you need to heal.
  • Exit the relationship or circumstance. State clearly that the relationship is over and cut all ties, if possible. Block their number and social media accounts, and ignore attempts to reach out.
  • Give yourself time to heal. Take space to focus on your needs and recovery. This might involve rediscovering your sense of self, creating a new self-care routine, and talking with a therapist who can offer guidance with recovery.

Leaving an abusive relationship often proves more challenging if you’re married, have children, or have shared assets. If that’s your situation, a good next step involves seeking legal assistance.

A domestic violence advocate or mental health professional can also help you develop an exit plan to leave the relationship safely.

The following resources can also help you come up with a plan:

  • Visit this website for educational information, a free hotline, and a searchable database of services in your area.
  • Love Is Respect. This nonprofit organization offers teens and young adults a chance to chat online, call, or text with advocates.

Hidden Relationship Violence: 8 Signs You're in Danger


Man and Woman Relationship Crisis Practices how to

Arguments and reconciliations are normal in a couple, but if they happen too often, there is reason to worry. Violence in a relationship is not always obvious, physical, when you are pushed, grabbed, hit. It can be insults, intimidation, humiliation, tracking every step, refusal to listen, disregard for your feelings, lies, sexual harassment.

Domestic violence specialist Tamara Star lists eight signs of hidden violence in a couple that can affect both women and men.

Those of us who have lived through a dysfunctional childhood are at greater risk than others. Children who have been yelled at, now showered with apologies and gifts, who have been intimidated, humiliated, morally and physically suppressed, made a scapegoat, grow up without knowing what a normal loving relationship is. If your childhood was filled with emotional ups and downs, as an adult you may mistake this type of relationship for love.

Signs of violence in a relationship that you should pay attention to in order to take action in time

upset him. You probably behaved the same way with your parents, and now - unconsciously - at home and with your friends and work colleagues.

You prefer to keep quiet, keep your opinions to yourself so as not to rock the boat, justify your mistreatment with all your might - “again, I overreact to everything.”

These are all signs that you are not listening to your inner voice. Whenever you are in doubt - "Am I allowed to be upset about this?" - you miss the important things that your inner voice says.

2. You have almost stopped communicating with friends

You don't have time to meet with friends, as before, because it takes all the time to sort things out with your partner. Instead of going out and having fun together, you spend the weekend in endless fights. You begin to feel isolated - the partner demands that you pay attention only to him.

Perhaps you make excuses for him and find explanations for his behavior. Gradually, the victims lose confidence in themselves and begin to blame themselves for all the problems in the relationship.

3. You try to avoid any conflicts

Instead of expressing everything that hurts, you are silent in order to keep the peace. Moreover, you avoid conflicts in any area of ​​life, not only at home, but also at work. Perhaps you do it out of habit or because you are too tired and do not find the strength to freely express your point of view after so many conflicts at home. It's like you're living huddled up.

Standing up for your interests is now an impossible task for you, it is much easier to adapt than to worry that your rebelliousness will turn into tension in the relationship.

4. You are not aware of your feelings and needs

Children who live with explosive unbalanced parents learn to put them first and take care of them. As a result, an adult who grew up in such a family gets used to being a parent for his own parents, and then for a loved one, justifying them and blaming himself, ignoring his needs and desires for the sake of loved ones.

5. You put yourself in danger because of your partner

This could be, for example, his aggressive, high-speed driving style. You are frightened and angry at heart, but remain silent so as not to provoke a fit of unbridled rage on his part.

6. You feel very tired

All day you feel terribly exhausted. It becomes more and more difficult for you to solve elementary everyday tasks related to your life needs - your head is in a fog, and you are no longer sure that your needs are so important. You no longer feel like a competent person, do not trust your knowledge and experience.

7. You have sex against your will

You don't want to, but you have sex just to keep the peace. Is this scenario happening more and more often? Every time you do something against your will, just to avoid conflict, you give others your power, you betray yourself.

8. You forgive again and again

Recently, you have broken off relationships for good several times lately, only to forgive again and promise to love each other for the rest of your life. You forgive rough treatment, give one last chance, and believe in empty promises that are never kept.

True love assumes that both partners are equal, they both give and take equally in a relationship. Of course, sometimes we can do something that we don’t want to do for the sake of a loved one, but when such actions become a habit, this is a bad sign. If two healthy individuals love each other, they respect each other's boundaries, share the burden of guilt when things go wrong, and together try to find a way out of the situation - without mutual insults and rage.

Text: Ksenia Tatarnikova Photo Source: Shutterstock

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Relationship crisis Man and woman

Of course, no woman wants to be the victim of violence. And once in such a toxic relationship, it is far from immediately decided to admit it to himself. According to American statistics, for example, women only after 5-7 cases of violence decide to leave their partner, and someone does not dare at all. And many, after a while, again fall into the same trap. But it could have been avoided.

Here are the obvious danger signals that should immediately alert us, according to the memo of the American Women's Center.

1. At the beginning of a relationship, he forces things. You haven't looked back yet, and he already passionately assures: "No one has ever loved me like you!" and literally forces you to live together.

2. He is constantly jealous . He is a terrible owner, calls you endlessly or unexpectedly comes to you without warning.

3. He wants to control everything. Partner persistently asks what you talked about with friends, where you were, checks the mileage of your car, manages the general money, demands checks for purchases, wants to be asked permission to go somewhere or do something.

4. He has unrealistic expectations about you. He expects you to be perfect in everything and to satisfy his every whim.

5. We find ourselves in isolation. He wants to isolate you from friends and family, doesn't let you use your phone or car, doesn't let you look for work.

6. He blames others for his own mistakes. His boss, family, partner - anyone but him is to blame if something goes wrong.

7. Other people are responsible for his feelings. He says "You made me angry" instead of "I'm angry". "I wouldn't be so angry if you didn't. .."

8. He is oversensitive. He takes offense at any reason and makes scenes because of the slightest injustices that life is full of.

9. He is cruel to animals and children. He mercilessly punishes or even kills animals. From children, he can demand that they are beyond their strength, or tease, bringing them to tears.

10. He enjoys playing violence in bed. For example, throwing the partner on her back or forcibly holding her in place against her will. Rape fantasies arouse him. He forces you - by force or manipulation - to do something for which you are not ready.

11. He uses verbal abuse. He constantly criticizes you or says something unpleasant: devalues ​​you, scolds you, calls you names, recalls painful moments from your past or present, while assuring that you yourself are to blame for everything.

12. He is a supporter of rigid gender roles in relationships. You must serve him, obey and stay at home.

13. His mood changes dramatically. Just now he was affectionate and loving - and suddenly he suddenly falls into a rage.

14. He used physical violence. He admits that in the past he raised his hand against a woman, but explains this by circumstances or assures that the victim herself brought him down.

15. He threatens with violence. For example, he may say: “I will break your neck!”, but then he will assure that he did not mean it seriously.

At a minimum, these signs indicate that your partner is prone to emotional abuse. But with a high probability it will sooner or later develop into a physical one.

Text: Alina Nikolskaya Photo Source: Getty Images

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