Emotional abuse: what it is and how to spot it.

Emotional abuse: what it is and how to spot it

Abuse comes in many different forms, but perhaps the most insidious, subtle, and psychologically scarring form it can take is emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is distinctly different from physical abuse in that abusers will often dominate and control their victims without ever laying a hand on them in violence. Abuse of this kind is common, and manifests itself in the same places any kind of abuse can be found. It’s most commonly found between romantic couples, but also frequently occurs between parents and children and other close relationships.

Emotional abuse is a pattern of different behaviours, including verbal abuse, that individually may not seem to be too awful, but examined collectively and over an extended period of time amount to an extremely controlling, frightening, unfair, and dysfunctional relationship dynamic. It’s easy enough for victims of physical abuse to rationalize and excuse the behaviour of their abusers – it’s even easier when the abuse takes the form of subtle, controlling behaviour that chips away at a person’s identity and sense of self-respect.

Many victims of emotional abuse aren’t even aware of the fact that they’re being abused

The fact that emotional abuse can be so difficult to detect means that it’s vitally important that you learn the warning signs of it. That way, you’ll be more prepared if you ever find yourself or someone close to you is the victim of an emotionally abusive relationship.

15 common signs of emotional abuse


You’re accused of things you didn’t do. Your partner tries to convince you you’re remembering wrong, or that something didn’t happen the way you know it did. – This is called ‘gaslighting’ and being a victim of it is particularly horrendous. You begin to doubt your own sanity and trusty yourself less as a result of this abusive and intentional behaviour.

They play the victim, often. They rarely admit to things being their fault or apologise. They shift the blame onto you or others instead of acknowledging their mistakes. – This often goes hand in hand with them blaming you for their actions and for them being upset.



You do not feel safe or comfortable disagreeing with your partner or having your own opinion. – And are often subject to verbal abuse if you dare to speak up. This is frequently accompanied by your partner pressuring you to adopt their opinion and always agree with them.

Your partner decides what is best for you. This applies to your career, your clothing, and how you spend your time. – Being able to tell you how to dress, making your decisions for you, and telling you what you should be doing at any given moment are all ways to control you and restrict your individual liberty.


You do not feel safe poking fun at your partner in the same way they poke fun at you. – They are quick to dish out insults and make fun of you but can’t take it when you do the same to them. This stems from insecurity and wanting to feel more important than you. Belittling you makes them feel better about themselves and superior.

Your partner checks up on you often. They demand to know where you are and who you are with at all times. – They’ll often attempt to guilt trip you if you haven’t told them every little detail about the things you’ve been doing.



They often ‘joke’ about things they know really upset and hurt you. – Putting you down and upsetting you are power tactics to keep you feeling worthless and inferior. It’s especially common for emotional abusers to bring up things they know embarrass you or that you’re ashamed of.

Your partner often implies that you are the lucky one in the relationship. You feel as though you are beneath them. – Another way to keep themselves in the dominant position in the relationship.


Your ambitions and accomplishments are not taken seriously. They are secondary to your partner’s. They don’t acknowledge your strengths and belittle your achievements. – This is intended to make you feel inferior to them, to be relegated to a cheerleader in their lives and restricted from creating your own destiny without them.

 When you are upset, your partner tells you that it is your own fault for being too sensitive. – It’s also common for them to overreact to you being upset, either getting angry or apologising relentlessly. The goal is the same in the end – to make confrontation as uncomfortable for you as possible. 

You fear you partner’s disapproval and walk on eggshells to avoid disappointing them. If you can’t disagree with your partner or do something they don’t approve of because you’re deeply afraid of the way they will react, your relationship is unhealthy.



You are not allowed to see certain friends or family members as often as you would like to. – This prevents other people from having too much influence over you. Your partner wants your main influence to be themselves in order to have more control over your actions and your life.

Your partner is hot and cold – their mood shifts frequently – This is intended to destabilise you and keep you unsure of where you stand. Showering you with attention and affection one day and then being totally distant and unresponsive the next is a form of abuse used because it’s frustrating, exhausting, and emotionally overwhelming.

 Your partner will not allow you to control your own finances. – This is a form of controlling you and your freedom. Being in control of your finances means that you partner can effectively restrict the way you live your life, where you can go, and how independent you can be. The goal is for you to be as reliant on them as possible.

They threaten to commit suicide to manipulate you – This is the biggest of all red flags. Someone who uses this tactic IS emotionally abusing you – in every case. There is no excuse for ever using the threat of killing yourself to control another person’s behaviour.

Written by Maverick, Staff Writer.


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  1. thanks for making me feel miserable again. i wont influence or force. but i
    wont be able to tell anyone too.

    your ego. your suspicions. your lack of trust in me. your fears. your cowardice. your lies. your silly tests on me. these have not led us anywhere.

    when i see someone seeking my hand today and i am speechless because you have not given me a reason to say them “i am already taken”.

    thank you. and you need to do nothing. i wont bother you anymore. but dont bother if i unfriend you too. just that i dont want to bother you. so.

  2. Most of these warning signs still hit home with me even after thirty five years of leaving that relationship. It’s always been embarrassing for me to speak of the details. I look back and see how my self esteem was taken slowly day by day from me. My greatest wish in my lifetime is to help others to see there is a way out. My lightbulb lit up and my decision to stop this came about when I read these words in a book. “You are where you are because you choose to be there.” It was these amazing but simple words that gave me the courage to get out of this. I will always carry shame for the things I allowed to happen. I just find it more important to remember all of the wonderful things that have occurred since. Be strong and carry on.

  3. I had a relationship with a full-blown narcissist and didn’t realize it until after I had gotten out of said relationship. He did his best to control and destroy me at the same time. The fortunate thing was we decided on a separation to try and work things out..that time away from him is what gave me time to see how much better life was without him. He cried, begged to stay and then love-bombed and Hoovered me and then when he saw he’d lost me, the threats started. :/

    Just recently I became very ill and housebound and a seemingly concerned neighbor came around but as time went by, things got strange, she would berate me, then be very nice, then withdraw favors she was doing for me and then the strange, bizarre calls started which made no sense. Thank goodness, a friend pointed out she was ‘gaslighting’ me and I started to review her actions and saw how sick she was and how cruel to emotionally abuse me like she did.

    One has to be on the alert and listen to their ‘gut’, when it feels wrong, it is!!!!

  4. This was my ex. Who i have a 6 1/2 yr old son with. And every single day I have fears that my son will turn out like him, however my son has already made comments about only wanting to live with me. Still, its scary.
    In fact i looked up and listed signs of emotional abuse in my home and my ex has read them , and yet no comment on it or anything. I have to protect my son from this asshole.

  5. Sticks and stones will break our bones but words will never hurt us. Who wrote that! It is the names..word that stick for life in our minds. This abuse destroys the soul. It ought to be a major criminal offense as they are or those meant for institutions. To be treated though an awful oerson with hateful ways and words relentlessly one is left shattered. To top it off it is not looked at seriously so even telling others yields little understanding feeling all the more abusive. The bruises heal. We show nothing of its harm and are treated as though is was not anything truly abusive like physical it is but if our hearts and souls were seen the damage would reflect this cruel abuse that destroys long after its abuse a persons entire life

  6. Very few people I think have a narcissist son. I have not had contact or seen him in 10 years, as he is married to a controlling witch. An argument between my boys has gotten so out of control, no one talks to the oldest, but somehow this is all my fault. I let him back in my life for a very short time via FB. I sent him a simple birthday card with some money in it and he texted me that I was just a controlling narcissist and if I think THAT will make everything hunky dory I am insane. Can’t even repeat what he said to me. I am devastated once again. I am done, closed the book, never again. How do people deal with this when it’s your flesh and blood…

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