Six Signs of Emotional Abuse 

Are you interested in the most common signs of emotional abuse? Then this guide is for you!

Emotional abuse isn’t always easy to identify or understand. Victims of emotional abuse often struggle to prove or explain what’s happening to them.

Sometimes, they try to downplay the devastating effects and pretend that a relationship isn’t as terrible as it is.

Even though the details can vary widely from one relationship to another, typical patterns of behavior are associated with emotional abuse.

The effects of the abuse are also similar. Some or all of the following signs may resonate with you and give you insights about a current or former relationship.

1. Walking on eggshells

In a healthy relationship, there may be some friction and misunderstandings, but you aren’t regularly afraid of the other person’s reactions.

When you’re in a relationship with someone who is emotionally abusive, you feel as if you need to tiptoe around them.

Even if they don’t react with physical violence, their responses are still harmful and frightening.

You’re afraid that they’ll scream at you, threaten you, or make cutting remarks.

If they’re in a good mood, you’re afraid they’ll suddenly become cold and angry.

Maybe they’ll abruptly withdraw from you or speak to you with contempt.

It doesn’t take much to set off an upsetting reaction. You can’t always predict what will cause the abuser to lose their temper or act viciously in other ways.

They may suddenly choose to be offended or angry about something that never seemed to bother them before.

You have little control over their responses. Even so, you try to prevent an eruption by regularly censoring your speech, bottling up your emotions, and becoming a quieter and faded version of yourself.

2. Excessive control

Healthy relationships place some obligations on people, limiting their behavior in certain ways. For example, a husband and wife typically promise to be faithful to each other.

They usually agree to hold a discussion before making major purchases and work out how to share responsibilities for their family and home.

In an emotionally abusive relationship, the limitations are usually lopsided and excessive. The abuser imposes various forms of control on you, and you have little or no power to object.

The abuser may try to control major decisions, such as your job choice or whether you even work outside the home.

Their control may also extend to the more minor daily choices, such as what you eat, what you wear, and the hobbies you want to enjoy in your free time.

In a parental relationship, the adult is expected to set limits on the child. However, an emotionally abusive parent will place inappropriate restrictions for the child’s age and mental development.

They’ll often thwart their child’s ability to develop competence, independence, and a clear sense of self.

Emotional abusers impose their control in a variety of ways. They threaten dire consequences or inflict harsh punishments, including destroying your personal belongings.

They erupt in a fearsome temper tantrums and scream or throw things. They destroy your confidence by mocking you and insulting your abilities.

Other times, they remain calm while burdening you with profound shame or guilt. They convince you that you’re responsible for their hurtful behaviors, and they blame you for their problems.

In an abusive relationship, you aren’t meant to act on your own or express thoughts or feelings that the abuser doesn’t want you to have.

The abuser robs you of agency by controlling you and making you dependent on them.

You become fearful of making choices, and you lose confidence in your ability to live independently and build a life that you find fulfilling.

3. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a reliable way of generating unhealthy self-doubt and anxiety in another person.

When you’re the victim of sustained gaslighting, you start questioning many things about yourself. You wonder whether you remember events with accuracy.

You keep questioning whether you heard or saw certain things.

Your confidence in your memory, senses, and judgment deteriorates. Sometimes, you get overcome by the belief that you’re going crazy.

What does gaslighting look like? It can take on many forms. For example, let’s say you get into an argument with your abuser, and they scream a horrible insult.

If you later tell them their words hurt you, they’ll calmly deny insulting you. They’ll look puzzled and concerned about your ability to remember things.

Or they’ll act offended and claim that you’re lying or being overly sensitive.

Through various kinds of dishonesty, an abuser can generate confusion and anguish. They may recruit other people to back them up.

They may also resort to destroying evidence that supports you, such as a photo or a video.

You tell yourself, “This isn’t true. I know it isn’t true.”

But your words feel unconvincing, and your confidence weakens to the point where you can’t reliably defend yourself or call the abuser’s account into question.

4. Insults and humiliation

Emotional abusers are inconsiderate about your feelings, and their speech is often cruel or dishonest.

They break promises, lie to and about you, or say a variety of deeply hurtful things.

Under the guise of being helpful, they may subject you to excessive criticism, rarely seeming satisfied with anything you do.

If it doesn’t hurt their reputation, they’ll humiliate you publicly. There are many ways in which they do this, including slander and mockery.

Their humiliations also occur in private, where it seems they take a twisted pleasure in bringing you to tears or provoking your fear and anger.

They typically have a knack for zeroing in on your insecurities.

Your appearance, relationships and social status, job or academic performance, and deepest fears are all targets for their cruelty.

If you share a painful secret with them, they’ll likely throw it back in your face at some point.

You are living with a barrage of insults, and humiliation wears down your confidence and sense of worth.

If you internalize the abuser’s voice, you begin to speak to yourself in a cruel, unloving way. You come to believe that nothing you do can be good or worthwhile.

Public humiliation also undermines your credibility.

Especially if the abuser is persuasive, other people may perceive you as incompetent and troublesome. It becomes harder to find support in your social circle.

5. Isolation

You tend to feel alone when you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship.

You feel like there’s no one you can talk to about your suffering, or you assume that no one will believe you or want to help.

Out of shame or fear, you withdraw from other relationships. You don’t want people to know you’re experiencing mistreatment, so you put on a happy face for the rest of the world and struggle in private.

Your damaged confidence and diminished self-worth cause you to question whether other people truly like you.

You doubt they want to be with you even if they seem friendly or loving.

You avoid people and neglect to return calls and respond to emails or texts.

“No one will ever love you but me,” your abuser may have told you. It’s a lie, but it can feel true.

Even though your abuser treats you terribly, you stick with them, because you can’t imagine a loving relationship with other people or a life spent confidently on your own.

You may feel as if you don’t even deserve a better life.

Another reason you may be isolated is that your abuser has turned people against you. Abusers often cultivate misunderstandings to spoil relationships between people.

They can also seem charming to anyone they aren’t targeting for abuse. Your family and friends may see your abuser as a positive person.

If you tell them anything that contradicts their rosy opinion, they may react with disbelief and become angry with you.

6. Problems with mental and physical health

Emotional abuse inflicts trauma and scars people internally. The trauma of being abused affects the victim’s mental and physical health.

When you’re in an abusive relationship, your mood is often low, and your stress and anxiety levels are chronically high.

You may frequently feel tired, and various physical pain may flare up around your body.

Depression, anxiety disorders, and other psychological problems often develop or worsen in abusive circumstances.

Feeling trapped and helpless is another common response to living with abuse. Also, you may feel as if there’s something deeply wrong with you, a defect you can’t change.

Even after you leave an abusive relationship, these problems may linger. The effects of trauma and suppressed emotions don’t go away overnight.

Healing involves caring for yourself and working with your body, beliefs, and emotions to develop a healthy and meaningful life.

To heal, you put emotional distance between yourself and your abuser, and you process and release feelings that have been bottled up.

You work on changing self-destructive beliefs and get into the habit of expressing your thoughts without fearing harsh reprisals.

You use exercise to ease tension in your muscles. And you allow yourself to discover who you can be outside of an abusive relationship.

Can a gifted therapist help you too?

If you struggle with anxiety, depression, high-stress levels, relationship issues, or other specific challenges, one-on-one support from a therapist can help a lot.

You don’t need to go through this alone. There’s no shame in getting help!

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