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7 Signs Of Emotional Abuse In A Relationship, Marriage Or Friendship


You probably have a clear idea of what constitutes physical abuse. However, perhaps you feel a little less certain of the signs of emotional abuse in a relationship. Further, even if you do think you’re suffering from emotional abuse, you might downplay its significance. In truth, psychologically abusive behavior can cause just as many bruises and scars; it’s just that they can’t be seen by the outside world.

Whether you’re dealing with this issue yourself or are worrying about a loved one, it’s important to know when someone is in emotional danger. This guide will help you identify the signs of emotional abuse in marriage and relationships of any kind. If you notice any of these symptoms in your own life, think seriously about what you need to do. In some cases, couple therapy can help, but both partners need to be work hard. In other cases, you may find that leaving an abusive relationship or friendship is the only way to take care of yourself.

What Is Emotional Abuse?

Firstly, it’s vital to get a sense of what the term “emotional abuse” actually means. While there is no one way that emotional abuse presents in a relationship, it is always a type of insidious, long-term brainwashing that starts to influence your sense of identity, self-worth, and confidence.

Eventually, you will find that you no longer trust your own judgment, including your judgment that you are being abused. This is why psychological manipulation and emotional abuse are so dangerous, and so hard to escape from.

The main ingredients of emotional abuse are verbal disrespect (which may be subtle or overt), threats or intimidation, control, criticism, and isolation. We’ll look at all the major signs of emotional abuse in more depth below. However, if this picture sounds uncomfortably familiar, it’s time to start thinking about how to address this issue. Maybe even think about how to leave an abusive relationship or friendship for good.

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7 Signs Of Emotional Abuse

As noted above, symptoms and signs of emotional abuse can look different in different relationships. The following seven signs of emotional abuse are particularly common, and we’ll explore various permutations of each. Part of learning how to get out of an emotionally abusive relationship requires articulating (to yourself and others) what you are experiencing. Consequently, this list could help you do that.

Nevertheless, note that you don’t need to spot all seven signs of emotional abuse in order for abuse to be present. Some people might have only one sign in their relationship, and yet be in deep distress. Seeing any indications of emotional abuse in a marriage or partnership is a serious warning sign. If you are in doubt about whether you are struggling with an abusive relationship, seek the confidential advice of a therapist and collaboratively draw up an action plan for how to deal with your situation.

(If you ever feel in danger, be sure to contact the relevant authorities or seek professional help).

1. They Threaten You In Subtle Ways

When you think of threats, you might first imagine the threat of violence. In some cases, you not even think about how to leave an emotionally abusive marriage just because you don’t currently feel like you’re in physical danger.

However, it’s common for emotional abusers to threaten to hurt themselves rather than you. They may say they “can’t live” with the relationship the way it is, in order to pressure you into acting in certain ways.

In addition, remember that threats don’t even need to involve violence at all. For example, your partner might say that if you don’t do a particular thing, they will leave you. You then may believe that it’ll be your fault if they do.

Other threats may include forcing you to get “help with your mental health”. However, note that an abuser doesn’t really want you to do so; they are merely trying to scare you into submission.

2. You’re Always Walking On Eggshells

In an emotionally abusive relationship, you’ll never know exactly when your partner is going to lose their temper, become controlling or negative. This leads you to constantly feel like you’re walking on eggshells, even on “good” days. You’ll likely have learned in the past that it isn’t safe to relax or feel good because any moment could be the moment your partner becomes abusive. You may develop related anxiety symptoms like panic attacks and insomnia.

Another important aspect of a psychologically destructive relationship is that your partner’s triggers might change over time and may make little sense from the outside. So, things that used to be okay, or even favorable, may suddenly be viewed as utterly unacceptable.

For example, last month your partner might have said you’re no fun to be around because you aren’t social. In comparison, this month they might say you’re so social that you don’t ever seem to devote time to the relationship.

3. Disparaging Humor

Disparaging humor is a classic trick in the emotional abuser’s inventory. It allows the person to put you down and make you feel small but also leads you to doubt your own judgment.

For example, your partner might make fun of the way you look, imply you are unintelligent in front of your peers, or joke that you’re useless. If you have the gumption to question this disrespect, your partner will turn around and say they are “only kidding” or that you “can’t take a joke” (when, in truth, there’s nothing funny about being cruel to someone you’re supposed to love).

If you’ve had an experience like this, know that it is not your fault. You have every right to feel hurt, embarrassed or offended. Yes, a good relationship involves the ability to laugh at yourself. However, in abusive relationships, that laughter only goes one way. Most likely, your partner doesn’t think of any of their own flaws are funny.

4. You're On A Daily Emotional Roller Coaster

One of the reasons why many people struggle to know how to leave an abusive relationship safely is that the relationship may not constantly be abusive. In fact, it’s common for abusive partners to swing between two extremes. Sometimes they will be a nightmare to live with, belittling you, controlling you and making you feel awful. At other times, they will be apologetic, loving, and sometimes generous to a fault (especially with gifts). This can leave you feeling utterly confused about what to think.

In some cases, this emotional rollercoaster is deliberately orchestrated. If you have a smart, highly manipulative partner, loving behavior can be part of a relentless strategy designed to make you doubt yourself.

In other cases, the affectionate and caring behavior will be genuine. It can indicate that your partner feels guilty deep down, even if they are not articulating it. Either way, you deserve a relationship that is relaxing, safe and supportive, not a rollercoaster.

5. You Are Isolated

Over time, emotional abusers work to isolate their victims from loved ones, such as friends, family members and colleagues. This can be prompted in part by jealousy and possessiveness. However, another motivation is that if you are isolated then you have no around to help you see the truth.

Remember: friends and family can also be emotionally abusive as well.

If you have a tightly knit and caring social circle, someone will soon speak up and tell you that your relationship is unhealthy. Even if loved ones don’t see the negative behavior directly, they can listen to you report it and then tell you why it isn’t acceptable. This is why an emotional abuser must ensure you are essentially alone and unsupported.

Isolation makes leaving extremely difficult. This is especially the case if you’re worried about how to leave an abusive relationship with no money because you can feel like you have nowhere to turn for support.

Once again, this is where therapy, and, in some cases, refuges, become so important.

6. You’re Treated Like a Child

As part of their controlling agenda, an emotionally abusive partner will often try to make sure you feel inferior. There are lots of ways that they can treat you like a child. In particular, it’s common for them to tell you that they’re the one who can be trusted to deal with the finances. You may have a limited amount of money to spend by yourself (or no money at all). Your partner may block you from accessing money.

Further, you might be blamed for spending too much money when you are merely making normal purchases; this kind of claim can be used to justify reducing your autonomy.

Other ways of treating you like a child include making you ask for permission to do anything outside of the home (e.g. social events, concerts, new classes, or even applying for jobs). In all cases, the diminished freedom you experience will lower your self-esteem.

7. You Feel Trapped

At the end of the day, the extent to which you feel trapped in your relationship is one of the most reliable guides to whether you’re with an emotional abuser. Even if you’re looking into leaving an abusive relationship with a child, you may feel panicked and helpless most of the time. This is because the systematically cruel and undermining treatment you have received from your partner has eroded your confidence. You may worry that you just can’t survive on your own. Or, maybe you feel that people will ostracize you for ending the relationship. This can lead you to stagnate, never acting.

It is important to realize that expert professionals, and the people who love you, will come to believe you, even if takes them a while to get their head around the reality of what has happened to you. You can and will find the strength to recover after leaving an abusive relationship.

(If you ever feel in danger, be sure to contact the relevant authorities or seek professional help).

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Table Of Contents

Katherine Hurst
By Katherine Hurst
Katherine Hurst, is a Law of Attraction expert, best-selling author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on psychology, life design, structured thinking and emotional wellbeing.

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