Signs of an Emotional Abuser

Edited by Kathy McGraw, Maria

In many ways, emotional abuse is much more damaging than physical abuse because bruises fade and broken bones heal over a relatively short period of time, while the damage from emotional abuse takes a much longer time to recover from, and the scars left behind will never fade. Another way emotional abuse is worse than physical abuse is that it builds up slowly over time, so that in many instances, you're not even aware you've been abused until much, much later when the damage to your self-worth and identity is already extensive.

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What is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse is when a person undermines the self-worth, efficacy, and autonomy of another person, usually in the context of a relationship. It can take many forms and includes humiliation, domination, and control. Because the abuser is often in a close relationship with the abused, the abused ends up taking the abuser at their word about their lack of self-worth, and this makes it hard for the abused to break free.

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Any Relationship Can Be Emotionally Abusive

Any relationship can become physically abusive:parent-child, siblings, friendships, teacher-student, boss-employee, etc. All that is required is for one person to relentlessly break the other person down in order to control them. When the emotional abuser is in a position of authority over the abused, the situation can have damaging consequences that go beyond the abused's mind. For instance, a teacher may hold a student's grades over them to get what they want out of the student, or a boss might threaten the employee with losing their job.

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Signs of Emotional Abuse

The signs of emotional abuse aren't always easy to detect as it's most often a pattern of behavior instead of any one single behavior. Some of the behaviors listed below occur in benign relationships and are not indicative of abuse in isolation. Rather, they rise to the level of abuse when they appear in concert with other behaviors and when goal of the behavior is to break down the other person's self-worth and sense of self.

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  1. 1
    Gaslighting
    .
    Gaslighting is any attempt to make you doubt your perceptions of reality. It's an attempt to control you through manipulating your sense of what's real and what isn't. The person who is being gaslighted often feels off-balance and in severe cases, may even question their own sanity.An example of gaslighting is
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  2. 2
    "I love you but"
    .
    Your partner implies that you really aren't good enough to have their love or places conditions on your continuing to get their love.
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  3. 3
    Your partner constantly puts you down and makes you feel like you're worthless
    .
    When someone constantly tells you that you're no good, you eventually start to believe them. This is why emotional abuse is more damaging than physical abuse: broken bones are quicker to heal than a damaged psyche.
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  4. 4
    Your partner is hypercritical
    .
    They are impatient, biting, and ready to jump on you over the slightest thing. Everything you do is wrong and is grounds for them to lash out at you. Hypercriticism devalues you as a person and makes you feel small and insignificant.
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  5. 5
    Refusing to communicate
    .
    Withholding communication is a common way for emotionally abusive partners to exert control in the relationship. It can take the form of the "silent treatment" in which the abusive partner ignores you or retreats to another part of the house and shuts you out of it. The result of such behavior is that you become fearful of upsetting your partner because you don't want to get shut out, and you modify your behavior to suit their needs.
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  6. 6
    Infidelity
    .
    Infidelity becomes part of a pattern of emotional abuse when your partner uses it, or the threat of it, as punishment or as a way to manipulate and control you.
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  7. 7
    Provocative behavior with the opposite sex
    .
    Used in conjunction with the threat of infidelity, acting provocatively with others in front of you is your partner's way of devaluing you as a person and partner. Not only is it disrespectful, but it is also a way to show you how easily you could be replaced in their life.
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  8. 8
    Constant withering sarcasm
    .
    Sarcasm can be witty and amusing; however, when your partner constantly threads every conversation with you with sarcastic barbs aimed to hurt, belittle, and mock you, it's not at all funny or witty: it's just abusive.
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  9. 9
    Your partner is always moody
    .
    Your partner's moods seem to shift on a dime and your partner is quick to blame you for the change, even though you can't figure out what you have done to cause it. The result is that you never know when you might next incite your partner's ire, which leads you to feel like you're walking on shifting sand, unable to gain your footing.
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  10. 10
    Irrational jealousy
    .
    Everyone feels jealous from time to time. Emotionally abusive partners use their jealousy to control you. Their jealousy is unreasoning, comes out of nowhere, and they use it to make demands of you. For example, they may force you to stop seeing a friend of the opposite sex or to stop going to a particular location on the grounds of their jealousy.
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  11. 11
    Your partner constantly guilt trips you into doing what they want
    .
    While everyone has pulled a guilt trip at one time or another, the abusive partner pulls on your heartstrings as a matter of course. They are forever making you feel bad in order to get something from you rather than being forthright and asking you for it like an adult.
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  12. 12
    Everything is your fault
    .
    Your partner blames you for everything that has ever gone wrong in their life. They take no responsibility for their own mistakes, because, after all, they're perfect, and you are not.
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  13. 13
    Your partner has isolated you from friends and family
    .
    Whether by forbidding your to see them or making it impossible for you to stay in contact, such as moving you somewhere far away where you know no one but your partner, they have cut you off from your support network. The goal is for you to become utterly dependent on them for all of your needs and therefore at their mercy.
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  14. 14
    Your partner regularly threatens suicide if you leave them
    .
    Of course you don't want to be the cause of someone you care about killing themselves, so you stay more out of obligation than free choice.
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  15. 15
    They have no empathy or compassion
    .
    Since emotionally abusive partners frequently have psychopathic or narcissistic personality disorders, they have little care for your feelings or needs. They only care about how you can fulfill their needs and their desire for ultimate control.
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  16. 16
    They become cold and distant toward you as a way to punish or frighten you
    .
    Your partner regularly pulls away from you emotionally in order to punish you for displeasing them. They may even disappear for a few days, causing you to worry that they have abandoned you, before coming back expecting you to be penitent and willing to submit to them.
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  17. 17
    Your partner shares your secrets with others when they know that's not what you want
    .
    Since they don't think much or care about your preferences, they tell others things you have shared with them in confidence as a way of belittling you .
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  18. 18
    They constantly denigrate you
    .
    They tell you that you're stupid, that your goals in life mean nothing, or that you're too stupid and ineffectual to ever make anything of yourself.
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  19. 19
    They remind you of your failures and flaws
    .
    They magnify all of your missteps and imperfections and frequently point them out to you as a way of making you feel bad about yourself and reliant on them to get things done.
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  20. 20
    Your partner dismisses your concerns and feelings
    .
    They act as if what you want doesn't matter at all to them and that you're stupid and selfish for even thinking that it might.
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  21. 21
    They give you disapproving looks that make you fear being alone with them
    .
    It's a look you know well. It fills you with dread because you know what is coming when they get you alone, and you're not looking forward to it.
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  22. 22
    Your partner makes you the butt of mean jokes
    .
    They're not meant to be funny, they're meant as way to denigrate you and disrespect you. They're cruel, like the taunts of schoolyard bullies, and are all the more damaging for coming from someone who claims to love you.
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  23. 23
    They call you demeaning names and make insulting remarks about you under their breath
    .
    It's like a constant refrain of negativity aimed at you.
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  24. 24
    Your partner embarrasses you in front of others
    .
    Your will say or do things in front of others that make you cringe with shame as a way of devaluing you as a person.
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  25. 25
    Your partner thinks you incapable and knows what's best for you
    .
    They are constantly telling you that you can't take care of yourself and that you should do what they say because they have your best interests at heart.
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  26. 26
    They makes you feel like you aren't good enough for them
    .
    In fact, according to them, you should be grateful to them for being with you, because no one else would want you.
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  27. 27
    They blow up your phone with texts and calls when you're not with them
    .
    You can't enjoy your time away from them because they will keep tabs on you by being in constant contact.
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  28. 28
    Treats you as an extension of themselves
    .
    To them, you are not an independent person. Your purpose is to meet their needs, including the need to dominate.
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  29. 29
    You feel like you're on an emotional roller coaster with them
    .
    One minute everything is fine, the next they are shouting at you, and sometimes you don't even know why.
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  30. 30
    Even the slightest disagreement escalates quickly into a knock-down drag-out argument
    .
    You can't breathe without offending them and it becoming World War III in your house.
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  31. 31
    You are nervous around them
    .
    You feel like you're walking on eggshells because you never know what will set them off, and you dread the consequences if that happens.
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  32. 32
    You do everything you can to make them happy
    .
    You do everything, even beg them to be happy, but still, they find something to be angry about. You find yourself biting your tongue, even when you are upset just to keep peace.
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  33. 33
    You feel trapped
    .
    Because they threaten suicide, have conditioned you not to trust your instincts, or be able to fend for yourself, you feel like you can't get out.
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  34. 34
    The power in your relationship is extremely uneven
    .
    Your partner holds all the cards and uses them to dominate and control you. It's important to realize that dominance and control are not just a means to end for them, it's an end in an of itself.
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  35. 35
    They tells you you're too sensitive when you complain
    .
    As a way of dismissing your concerns and feelings as unreasonable, they minimize them by telling you that you're too sensitive.
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  36. 36
    Your partner disregards your thoughts and opinions as a matter of course
    .
    They never fail to let you know that they don't care what you think, either. It's part of the insidiousness of emotional abuse.
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  37. 37
    You have to get permission from them to go somewhere or make small purchases
    .
    Even if you want to buy a pack of gum from the grocery store, you need to ask them before you do it. You have to ask permission to go to the grocery store, too.
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  38. 38
    They treat you like a child
    .
    You are childlike to them, needing to be told what to do all the time.
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  39. 39
    They are always right
    .
    Even when they're wrong, they're right. If you ever tell them that they're wrong, they will make your life miserable.
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What to Do if You or a Friend or Family Member is Being Emotionally Abused

The first step to getting out of an emotionally abusive relationship is to recognize it for what it is. This is easier said than done when so much of the emotional abuse is directed at breaking down your defenses and your self-esteem to the point where you feel hopeless. And if the abused is a friend or family member, you have to realize that they are looking at their situation through a cloud of misinformation and subterfuge and won't see things clearly.

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The best thing that you can do for a friend of family member who is being emotionally abused is to let them know that you are there for them whenever they need you. Let them know that you will provide a safe place for them when they are ready to get out of the relationship. Likewise, if you are the abused, reach out of family and friends and talk to them. They will be happy to assist you in getting away from your abuser and back on your feet.

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Finally, please seek therapy once you have gotten away from your abuser. Therapy will help you build yourself back up, perhaps not to the way you were before the abuse happened, but to better, stronger place.

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Resources for Dealing With Emotional Abuse

The following are websites you can go to get help if you have been emotionally abused.

If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.

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Article Info

Categories : Relationships

Recent edits by: Kathy McGraw

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