While defining physical abuse is fairly straightforward, fewer people are sure what constitutes an emotionally abusive relationship. As such, you might find yourself feeling deeply unhappy and unsettled. You might, however, delay leaving or getting help because you never quite know whether your partner is wronging you on some level.
Look out for the ten warning signs below that you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship. Consider the advice at the end of the article if you want help fighting such a toxic dynamic.
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Emotionally abusive people typically refuse to take ownership of their mistakes, negative feelings or difficult behaviors. They, instead, choosing to blame their partners.
For example, you might find yourself being told that you “make” them shout at you; that you “drive them” to excessive drinking; that you “hold them back” from living their dreams.
There are hundreds of creative ways for your partner to make you feel inferior. Maybe they will outright state that you’re lucky to have found someone so attractive, smart or successful. Alternatively, they might keep reminding you that you’re slow, clumsy, socially awkward or not good at the things you love.
It’s also emotionally abusive for them to make fun of your dreams or call your goals superficial. In time, you can start to believe these things are really true of you.
No matter how your partner treats you like a child, it can erode your confidence and take away your power.
Common emotionally abusive actions include controlling every aspect of the finances, telling you what you can get (and when you can get it), and scolding you for spending “too much” when you’re really spending a normal amount.
Some abusers also make their partners ask for permission to do anything social. However, you are an adult and should be treated as an equal.
Abusive people will frequently say horrible things and follow them up with claims that they were “only joking”. This tactic allows them to put you down, belittle you, and make you feel dreadful while cloaking their abuse in humor and causing you to doubt your own judgment.
If on reflection, you can tell that most people would find such jokes hurtful, this will provide you with evidence that your partner really is being cruel.
No matter how professionally and appropriately you conduct yourself, an abusive partner may accuse you of being unfaithful, flirting with other people, acting “easy” or making yourself look foolish. This type of behavior comes from deep-rooted insecurities and a need to control but it can be incredibly humiliating if you’re on the receiving end.
Emotional abusers are often described as having a “switch” that immediately turns them from loving and happy to cruel or depressed. You might feel like the negative personality emerges any time you try to challenge the status quo or want to become independent. Eventually, your partner’s mood can dictate which issues are okay to discuss.
If you dare to challenge an emotional abuser's attempts to control you, your partner might begin dishing out punishments. Many of these will take the form of more psychological games.
For example, the person may act very wounded and cold, withdrawing from you emotionally until you give in to what they want from you. This can be very manipulating and cause you to feel like the person in the wrong.
In a more extreme case, they might threaten to leave you. This can be very scary and upsetting, and so giving in to your partner’s demands can feel like a small price to pay in order to keep the relationship together.
Emotionally abusive relationships can feel like confidence-draining nightmares in which nothing you do is ever quite good enough, even if you’re doing your very best to meet the other person’s stringent demands.
An emotionally abusive person will always find a way to make you feel inadequate, whether they’re targeting your personality, your looks, your goals or the way you keep things in the house. The goal is to make you feel like you’re lucky anyone puts up with you.
Finally, whether consciously or otherwise, emotional abusers are prone to isolating their partners. Have you gradually stopped speaking to old friends, or noticed you’re barely in touch with family?
If the answer is yes, think about how and why this happened. Your partner likely wants to stop you from checking whether other people condone their behavior or agree with their attitudes. There may be a secondary objective to make you more dependent on your abuser so that you are less likely to leave.
If you’ve noticed worrying signs that you might be in an emotionally abusive relationship, it’s important to seek professional help, whether alone, or in couples therapy with your partner. Don’t forget that there are helplines you can call too if you need immediate support or advice.
Emotional abuse can progress to physical abuse and even if it doesn’t, this type of behavior can cause an incredible amount of long-term psychological damage. While you wait for appropriate help, don’t let this person make you doubt your sanity. For example, go out of your way to check your perspective against those friends, family, or even strangers. It’s vital to keep hold of your identity and remember you’re not the one with the problem.
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