Emotional Abuse in Relationships: What Does It Look Like?

When we think about abusive relationships, we often think of someone being hit or physically assaulted by their partner.

However, there’s another form of abuse that is prevalent in toxic relationships that are used to control and manipulate partners.

Emotional abuse isn’t always recognizable – but it’s present in so many relationships.

If your relationship is leaving you feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and exhausted, it may be worth considering if you are suffering at the hands of emotional abuse.

What is an Emotionally Abusive Relationship?

Emotional abuse does not always involve physical violence, but it is a form of domestic abuse that creates psychological harm.

Relationships become emotionally abusive when a pattern of abuse happens over and over. One or two incidents can be chalked up to fights and arguments, but several incidents will create an abusive dynamic in a relationship.

These incidents include things like verbal threats, manipulative and controlling behavior, insults, gaslighting, and isolating you from other people.

The type of treatment in a relationship can result in anxiety, depression, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Types of Emotional Abuse

In order to help you fully understand what emotional abuse is, let’s look at the different types of emotional abuse:

  • Intimidation
  • Bullying
  • Ridicule
  • Coercion
  • Harassment
  • Isolation
  • Silent
  • Manipulation
  • Control
  • Threats

It’s important to note that the different types of emotional abuse in a relationship include behaviors that happen over time.

For instance, calling someone “stupid” in the heat of an argument is not emotional abuse. Constantly calling them “stupid” as a means of belittling is.

We are all human beings who experience complex emotions every day, so we can’t simply call foul on everyone who hurts our feelings and call it “emotional abuse.”

However, if these behaviors persist and don’t change after an open and honest conversation, you need to explore the type of relationship you are involved in.

To help you with that, here are more signs of an emotionally abusive relationship:

Signs of an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Emotional abuse can be difficult to recognize compared to physical abuse, and the treatment typically starts as subtle behavior and escalates over time.

However, if you feel that you may be involved in an emotionally abusive relationship, here are some signs to look out for:

Jealousy

Jealousy is not a sign of a healthy relationship. It is a controlling behavior that frames possessiveness as positive feelings.

You may think your partner cares about you if they are jealous, but they are trying to control you and limit your access to things like money and friendships.

They may expect you to answer their calls and texts immediately, question what you are doing, openly dislike your friends and accuse you of cheating with no evidence.

Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic emotional abusers will use to make their partners question their reality, such as blaming you for their own terrible behaviors.

They may say that they never said something you remember them saying or telling you that you are crazy and that other people are lying to you.

Ultimatums

An emotionally abusive partner may hold your relationship hostage by threatening to break up if you don’t do what you want them to do.

Or, in extreme cases, they may threaten suicide or self-harm if you try to end the relationship.

This is known as emotional blackmail, and it creates a dynamic of control because their affection relies on you meeting their requirements.

Insults and Mean Jokes

In an emotionally abusive relationship, the abuser may put you down or insult you.

This typically starts as mean jokes, so they can accuse you of being overly sensitive or taking things too seriously when you get upset.

What Does Emotional Abuse Do?

Emotional abuse is used to destroy the self-esteem and confidence of the victim, so they are easier to control and manipulate.

Along with decreased self-esteem and confidence, victims also suffer from a lack of self-worth and identity.

After being under the control of someone else for an extended period of time, it becomes difficult to make independent decisions and trust other people.

While these effects occur during the relationship, they can last even after the relationship is over.

Here are some other side-effects of emotional abuse:

  • Feelings of confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Frequent crying
  • Emotional numbness
  • Over-compliance (People Pleasing)
  • Powerlessness

How to Deal With an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

It may take multiple attempts for you to leave the emotionally abusive relationship, but it is possible!

You may be hesitant to break up because you have children together, your partner provides you with financial stability, or you don’t have the confidence to leave.

However, there are ways you can get out of an emotionally abusive relationship and deal with your mental health afterward:

Talk to Someone

Emotional abusers treat their victims in specific ways to create confusion so their partners become dependent on them and are less likely to leave.

The first step in dealing with an emotionally abusive relationship is to talk to someone. This could be a friend, a family member, an online support group, or a therapist.

You need to start building a supportive network and talking about your experience to make sense of it.

Safety Plan

Emotional abuse can escalate to physical abuse, so you need to come up with a safety plan to get out of the relationship quickly and with as little conflict as possible.

This involves saving money, planning where you will go, and how you will get there.

Put Yourself First

Going through an abusive relationship can take a toll on your mental health, so while you are making plans and leaving the relationship, you need to prioritize your well-being.

Figure what makes you feel calm, relaxed, and distracted from the situation, and incorporate these activities into your daily life.

Click here to check out some self-care ideas.

Supports and Resources to Find Help

It’s completely normal to feel scared when leaving an emotionally abusive relationship – but you are not alone!

There are many resources out there to help you navigate this tough situation.

Crisis Text Line

  • If you are in the United States or Canada, text “Home” to 741741.
  • In the UK, text “Home” to 85258.
  • In Ireland, text “Home” to 50808.

Hotlines

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-779-SAFE (7233)
  • Safe Horizon Hotline: 1-800-621-HOPE (4673)

Websites

If you are ever in immediate danger, do not hesitate to call 911 or your country’s local emergency number!

Emotional Abuse in Relationships – You’re Not Alone!

While it is unfortunate to think that there are many people out there suffering from emotional abuse in relationships, this means that you are not alone.

If you are suffering from emotional abuse in a relationship, you likely feel isolated. However, it’s important to know that there is someone out there that completely understands your situation.

Never hesitate to reach out, even if it’s online. Connecting with those who share your experience is both liberating and validating.

This will help you leave the relationship and begin your healing journey.

Check out these articles for more information about emotional abuse and what you can do:

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