Do you know the signs and red flags of emotional abuse in a relationship?
At first, everything seems normal in the relationship. You go on dates. It’s fun. The butterflies are nature’s way of saying you’re attracted to each other. You share the same interests and seem to have a genuine connection. You both start making plans for the future. Emotional abuse isn’t even on your radar.
You ignore small red flags and little white lies here and there. No one can be completely honest 100 percent of the time, right? He sends you a photo of himself without his shirt on letting you know that ‘this’ could be yours for the rest of your life. He casually touches the knee of another woman sitting next you. The shiny veneer starts to tarnish a little under your scrutiny. And you are the one who’s revealing what’s underneath the cover. You think maybe you’re being too hard or over-analyzing something that’s not there.
What is emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse involves exercising control over another person by using emotions to make them feel bad. Often times it involves shaming or blaming and it’s the most common in romantic relationships but can also be seen in family settings or amongst coworkers or friends. Learn more below.
Long-term emotional abuse affects someone’s self-worth and self-esteem and can make them believe that it’s their own fault which makes it even harder to break the cycle.
Signs of emotional abuse
The signs of emotional abuse can be so damn subtle you don’t even realize it’s happening until it’s too late. But in the pit of your stomach, you know something is wrong. If the abuse goes on long enough, you feel your soul slipping away. And you wonder what happened to the loving, carefree person you used to be. You’re depressed, insecure, and isolated.
Emotional abuse involves manipulation, intimidation, shaming, bullying, criticism, and verbal offense. It’s abuse used to control another person. The aim of emotional abuse is to chip away at the person’s feeling of self-worth and independence. While the methods of emotional and physical abuse can be different, the cycle of physical abuse is very similar to that of emotional abuse.
The obvious scenario for emotional (psychological) abuse occurs in an intimate relationship where one person is the abuser and the partner is the victim. But it also occurs between parents and children, relatives, in friendships and among colleagues. Studies have also suggested that men and women abuse each other at similar rates.
If you’re unsure of the signs or are worried you are being abused, here’s a sample of damaging behaviors:
- Your deepest secrets are used against you
- You are isolated from others
- They tell you you’re crazy
- They text you constantly as if they’re checking up on you
- They don’t accept any responsibility for their actions
- You struggle to know what’s real and what isn’t
- You feel bad for having friends, even of the same sex
- They are unpredictable to keep you on your toes
- They cross your boundaries and ignore your requests
- They don’t respect you
- They talk about you behind your back to get sympathy from others
- They have entitlement issues
- They feel sorry for themselves
- They are emotionally distant
The controlling and manipulative behaviors trickle in over time. In some cases, the abuser doesn’t know he is doing it and the victim doesn’t fully grasp what’s happening. But eventually, it becomes clear both people are in an extremely unhealthy situation. Other times, the woman doesn’t want to leave because she’s afraid no one else will love ‘damaged goods,’ or she doesn’t want to be alone, or she doesn’t have any money or the couple have children.
Abusive patterns are really tough to change. The emotional scars won’t go away on their own, so it’s important to seek help.
Here are 5 strategies for getting your life back from emotional abuse:
1. Reach out
Talk to friends and family. They may be tired of hearing your same story because they’ve probably already tried to warn you and offer help many times before. But they are still your support system. Lean on them. Isolating yourself only makes it worse.
2. Make a plan
If you plan to leave your abuser, begin looking for a place to live. Save whatever money you can, and call a divorce lawyer. You’ll feel more empowered. But don’t put your safety at risk. Share your plan with your friends or family. If you need to stay with one of them temporarily, it’s probably a wise move.
3. Work on your self-confidence
Part of your support system should be a counselor. Tell them what you are going through and ask for tools on building back up your self-esteem. A lot of time has been spent trying to cut you down and it’s going to take time to build yourself back up. Worry about you now.
4. Set boundaries
Let your abuser know you will no longer accept or tolerate name-calling, arguing, anger, and other rude behaviors. If he starts to engage, leave the room or leave the house. You can’t change him, but you can change your reaction to him.
5. Know your rights
Every state has a coalition against domestic violence. These coalitions can be valuable resources for victims of domestic violence seeking services and referrals. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).
We all deserve to live with dignity and respect. Don’t minimize emotional abuse. The effects are just as severe as those found in physical abuse. Love yourself enough to get help.
(Last Updated: September 16, 2022)