Spotting emotional abuse is excruciatingly difficult. When someone is physically or sexually abusing you it is very easy to spot, not so with emotional abuse. You’ll question whether or not you’re exaggerating or overreacting.
What Does Emotional Abuse Feel Like?
You’ll feel as though something is “off” but you might not know what. Whenever I speak with someone who is being emotionally abused, they rarely say it outright.
They often say “I think I might be getting emotionally abused” or they refuse to use the term “abuse” altogether.
So how can you know if this is happening to you? I’ve put together a master list of 65 Signs Of Emotional Abuse In Your Relationship as well as some background on abuse in order to help.
Why Do People Get Stuck In Emotionally Abusive Relationships?
Before we get into all the signs, I really want to discuss why people get stuck in relationships like these. The first thing you have to understand is that emotional abuse never happens right away. If someone you went on three dates with started looking through your texts, or criticizing your outfit, your red flag detector would be going haywire.
Remember the frog that gets killed by the slowly boiling water? You know, the one that jumps out if the water is already boiling but if they are sitting in the water as it goes from cold to boiling, they just sit there until they die.
THAT is emotional abuse.
It starts slow, insignificant and then builds and builds until it starts taking a serious toll on your mental health.
When you’re going through these signs of emotional abuse, remember that you are not thinking of your partner when you first started dating or many years ago. You are not thinking of how the may behave in the future. You are thinking of how they behave right now.
Another reason people get stuck in these relationships is because of factors outside the relationship. Maybe the abusive partner is the father/mother of your children. Maybe you rely on them financially. These are completely valid reasons for wanting to stay with someone, or wanting to work it out.
When you’re going through this list, remember that your answers to this don’t determine if you’re going to break up with the person. They simply determine whether or not they are being abusive. If your relationship really is abusive but you haven’t come to terms with it yet, it’s best to know what you’re dealing with before you start thinking of solutions or excuses.
65 Signs of Emotional Abuse
They Control You
The following signs of emotional abuse fall under the controlling category. Emotionally abusive people like to control others because they need to feel powerful and are often narcissistic. They feel powerless over their own lives or their own vices. If they are depressed or have an addiction problem, they are a slave to those things.
In order to gain a sense of control over their own life, they’ll want to control you. They can do this in many ways but I’ve outlined the most common methods of control below.
1. They tell you who you can hang out with
They always seem to have an opinion on your friends. They might tell you that they like some friends better than others and that you should hang out with this group instead of that group.
They may also fully ban you from seeing or communicating with certain friends.
2. They check your texts and your emails
If they’re constantly looking through your texts or emails, this is unhealthy behavior because there is a lack of trust. Healthy relationships are built upon a foundation of trust. Without it, you’ve got nothing to build on top of. If he/she is constantly monitoring your communication with the outside world it is because he/she doesn’t trust you.
3. They are jealous of your relationships with others
This is another reflection of lack of trust. Jealousy can often seem “cute” or “caring”, like the person just loves you and doesn’t want you to be with anyone else. This might seem like a loving gesture, and they may even phrase it like that but it all comes down to trust. If they trust you not to cheat on them, they shouldn’t feel jealous.
4. They control the finances
This could mean that they control the actual money, meaning that they make you ask permission before you can buy anything. Or it could simply mean that they criticize your spending habits. They say things like “how could you buy those shoes, you know we need to pay the bills?” but then they’ll come home with a brand new TV.
Even if they are the financial provider, they still shouldn’t have 100% say in how the household money gets spent. You can sit down together and have a discussion and come to a fair compromise. If you are unable to even sit down and discuss the money situation, that is a major sign of emotional abuse.
5. They expect you to attend to their needs
Do they make you do all the chores around the house? Are you expected to make dinner and put the kids to bed without help? If they make excuses as to why they can’t help (aka. they are tired because they worked all day) that is emotional abuse.
A household should be made up of two equal parties which means the chores and the household duties should be fairly divided.
6. They interrupt you when you’re talking
If you are trying to talk about how you feel or your day at work, they should wait until you’re finished before they talk. If they are constantly trying to get their word in and not letting you speak, it means they are trying to control the conversation.
7. The speak louder and more aggressively
This is another way for them to try an control the conversation. Couples make life-changing decisions during conversations. If the abuser is able to dominate conversations and get their say all the time, they have effectively dominated life. The abused partner never wins any arguments or gets their thoughts heard.
8. You always need to ask permission but they never do
They might make you ask permission before you invite friends over but then you get home from work and their friends are in the living room watching TV. You also need to ask before you go out but they never do. If you see them doing things that you know you wouldn’t be able to do without them approving, this is very emotionally abusive.
9. They don’t listen
A loving partner who cares about you, wants to make you happy. They smile when you smile and they cry when you cry. If your partner really loves you, they will listen to you. They will listen to your needs, wants, dreams, stories and fears. If they doesn’t listen to you, it’s a big sign that they are only in this for themselves.
10. They are overprotective
Abusive partners often disguise their behavior by saying they are doing these things in your best interest. So if they say you can’t hang out with so and so because “that person is a bad influence” or “that person is no good” it might seem like they’re trying to protect you, but they’re not. They really only have their own interests at heart.
But what if you really are hanging out with a person who is “no good”?
If they are expressing genuine concern, they’ll often say it a nice way and they are just giving their opinion. So they’ll say “hey I don’t really like that new girl you’re hanging out with, she seems like a bad influence”. Then if you decide to keep hanging out with the person, your partner might not like it but they don’t try to put a stop to it.
This is because you’re your own person and can hang out with whoever you want.
An abusive partner will try to actually stop you from seeing this person. They’ll “ban” you from seeing them or they’ll sulk and act grumpy in order to peer pressure you into listening to them.
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They Manipulate You
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that is very typical of emotionally abusive partners. Many of the points listed below are forms of gaslighting but I wanted to explain exactly what it is before moving forward.
Gaslighting is when an abuser manipulates or twists the truth in order to make you feel stupid, dumb and like you’re reality is different than what they say it is. So if you’re feeling upset, they say you’re overreacting. If you say that they were yelling at you, they say they were simply raising their voice.
This form of abuse is so dangerous because it makes the abuser seem totally innocent and puts all the blame on the victim.
12. They make you feel confused
They lie about past events or make you feel like you’ve got the wrong information. They say they never said “that” and instead said “this”. Or they claim they would “never do such a thing”. They make you question your reality.
15. Walking on eggshells
You feel nervous or anxious around them. You’re afraid that if you bring something up or say the wrong thing, they will get angry or aggressive. You should never be afraid of speaking to your partner. Communication is what keeps healthy couples together.
16. They withhold affection or sex to punish you
Affection and sex should occur regularly in a healthy relationship. These things are not to be given as a reward and they are not to be withheld for punishment. You should never have to beg for affection, it should be willingly offered.
17. They say you’re lying or exaggerating
If you bring up concerns or how you’re feeling, they constantly put your ideas down. They say that you are lying or exaggerating about certain events and they go on to explain the situation how they saw it.
18. They tell you you’re the abusive one
If they say you’re being mean or you’re acting in an abusive way, they are just projecting themselves onto you. Abusers want to feel like the victim because they don’t take ownership for their actions.
19. Guilt Tripping
They make you feel bad so that they can get their way. This is a classic sign of emotional abuse. If you want to go out with your friends but they insist you stay at home, they should be okay with it if you decide to leave. Guilt-tripping is a form of manipulation because they want to make you act in a certain way without flat out telling you what to do.
20. They try to make you jealous
Imagine they wanted you to go to a work party with them but you stayed home because you were sick. Then they go on to text you and show you pictures of how much fun they’re having so that you feel jealous/guilty for not going with them. They may also flirt or eye other people while in your presence just to get a reaction from you.
21. Blames you for things that go wrong with the house
If the house is messy, it’s your fault because you didn’t clean it. If they don’t have any clean shirts for work, it’s your fault for not doing the laundry.
22. Blames you for their life going wrong
If they didn’t get that promotion it’s because you weren’t being supportive enough. If they have chronic anxiety it’s because you make them feel that way. If they can’t pay the bills its because you decided to be a stay at home mom. Nothing is ever a result of their actions, only yours.
23. They make excuses for their behavior
The way that abusers are able to get away with so much is they never own up to being abusive. They always have “your best interest at heart” or a “reason” to explain why they are acting a certain way. Not only does get them off the hook, it convinces you that they’re not so bad.
24. They call you sensitive if you get upset
Another one that shows that an abuser never wants to admit fault. If they see you start crying or getting upset, it’s your fault for being too sensitive or too dramatic.
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They Disrespect You As A Person
25. “Jokes” that are really mean
They tease or insult you in a way that are just “jokes”. Even if you mention that you don’t think it’s funny, they don’t respect your and they say you are being too serious.
26. Constant teasing
A joke here or there is one thing, and may not even be abusive, but constant teasing is another thing. If they’re always criticizing or teasing you in a way that you don’t find funny, it’s a sign of emotional abuse. Remember, teasing can just be in good fun so it’s only abusive if you have told them to stop and they don’t.
27. Belittle your accomplishments
If you get a raise or a promotion at work, they should be proud of you. The reason anyone would ever belittle someone’s accomplishments is because they are extremely insecure and selfish.
28. Direct insults
Name-calling or swearing that is geared toward you is not acceptable behavior.
29. Tells you you’re worthless
If they are constantly trying to attack your self-esteem, that is a huge sign of emotional abuse. Your partner should be encouraging you and supporting you, not tearing you down. If they are always telling you that you are worthless then you’ll start to believe it. This will lead to anxiety and depression.
30. They Cross your boundaries
All relationships have certain boundaries that should be respected. A big sign of emotional abuse here is sexually. They should always listen to your needs and never pressure you into doing things you don’t want to do.
31. They are mean or disrespectful to people you love
Your friends and family are an extension of you and your partner should respect that. Even if they don’t like one of your friends, or your mom, they should still show those people respect and be civil when in their company. If they are okay with being very mean and disrespectful to people you love, they are being selfish and this is abuse.
33. Critical of your appearance or choices
“You should really think about losing some weight.” “Is that what you’re going to wear?” “You shouldn’t be eating so much ice cream.” A loving partner accepts who you are and they accept your decisions. They do not need to tell you how to act, behave, what to eat, or what to wear. Those are all choices you get to make for yourself because it’s your life.
34. They accuse you of things that aren’t true
Abusers will often project their own flaws onto you. So they may accuse you of eyeing another person, being lazy or even cheating. None of these things will have any truth to them but they blame you for them because these are the flaws they see in themselves.
35. “Thank You” is not in their vocabulary
They don’t appreciate you or the things you do. If you took the dog out in the pouring rain, they don’t offer to help dry off the dog. When you finish making dinner, they simply eat it and go back to watch TV.
36. Negative attitude towards things you like
A healthy partner will accept your hobbies and interests because they are part of you. If they are constantly undermining or demeaning the things you do, that is very destructive. This is also another way of them trying to control you. Who cares if you like watching the Kardashians? A normal person doesn’t mind and will laugh it off, an abusive partner wants you to stop watching because they don’t like the show.
37. Treat you like a child
If they insist on making decisions for you or treat you like you don’t know better, they are stripping away your independence. As an adult, you are allowed to make any decision you want when it comes to your own life.
38. They say that other people are liars
They try to discredit other people. They may call your friends liars or say that they are beings selfish. The abuser is simply trying to make you think that you can’t trust what other people say.
They Try To Trap You In
39. Threatens to harm himself if you leave
Abusers will try very hard to make it so that you can’t leave. They want to trap you in. One way of doing this is by threatening to harm themselves if you leave. This is one of the classic signs of emotional abuse and if your partner starts doing this, it’s a major red flag.
40. I’m the best you’ll ever get
Another way they try to keep you is by scaring you. They want to make you feel afraid that you’ll never find anyone better than them but the opposite is true. Abusers are selfish, narcissistic and can strip away at your mental health and stamina. This is the opposite of a good relationship and if you leave, the chances of you finding someone better are very high.
41. I financially support you
They may use the fact that they support you in order to keep you locked in. If they are using their financial support as a way to manipulate you or make you feel trapped, this is abusive. Partners who are the breadwinners do this out of love. They don’t expect anything in return other than more love. They may even stop you from trying to get a job so that they can continue to hold this over your head. This is one of the major signs of emotional abuse.
42. They isolate you from your friends and family (cutting the lifeline)
If they start stripping away your friendships and family relationships, it could be because they want to cut your lifeline. They want you to feel like they are the only one in your life so you have nowhere to turn. If you feel like you might be in an emotionally abusive relationship, be sure to keep your friends and family close in case you need somewhere to go for help.
43. Threaten to take away the kids
One of the major sings of emotional abuse is when they use what is close to your heart against you. This often occurs with using children as a threatening tool to get you to do what they want. Remember that a loving father/mother would never use their children as a ploy to get something out of you. It’s not a healthy way to reach a compromise or solution.
44. They have “nice” outbursts
Very rarely are emotional abusers mean all the time. In fact, they can be quite nice and charming. This is because they know that being mean all the time is surely going to make you break up with them. So to combat that, they will perform outlandish acts of romance or they will give big apologies, promising never to do those things again. If someone apologizes once, that’s fine but if they need to keep saying sorry for doing the same thing over and over again, that is a major signs of emotional abuse.
45. I love you but…
I love you should never be followed with a “but..” You either love someone unconditionally or you don’t. If they say things like “I love you but you really need to stop being so dramatic” or anything along those lines, that’s not true love.
Their Behavior Is Irrational
46. Partner is hot and cold
One of the most common signs of emotional abuse is frequent mood swings. One minute they’re happy and the next they are yelling. Another form of a mood swing is how they act with affection. One minute they could be kissing you and all lovey dovey and the next minute they want nothing to do with you. These mood swings are not healthy and they are very destructive to a relationship.
Your partner ignores you, gives you the silent treatment and refuses to discuss what’s wrong. They keep you guessing and begging for their attention.
47. Leaving the house without saying where they went
A healthy relationship is based on good communication. If they disappear without telling you where they went or stop answering your texts, this is one of the biggest signs of emotional abuse.
48. Storms out of arguments
Storming out of the argument means that they get to be the one to decide when the conversation ends. This is a way of controlling the situation and making you feel bad. It is not a productive way to solve a problem.
49. They’re not willing to discuss things, it’s always their way
Just like storming out, not willing to discuss things is very abusive. A good relationship must have healthy and regular conversations so that both people are able to express their feelings. If they never want to discuss things with you, that means you aren’t getting your say and everything is their way.
50. They have removed the idea of “fairness”
You have to ask for permission to go out, but they go out whenever they want. They have all your Facebook and email passwords but you don’t have theirs. They are allowed to go through your texts but you’re not allowed to touch their phone. Any little rules that are set as part of the relationship should go both ways.
51. Throws things, punches the wall
Throwing things or punching the wall are power moves. They are trying to show you who’s boss and this is incredibly abusive.
52. They ignore you or stop talking to you for days
This could be while in a fight or even if you’re not fighting. Emotionally abusive partners will often check out of the relationship completely and just ignore you for days even if you’re not in an argument about anything.
What It Feels Like To Be Emotionally Abused
53. You blame yourself
The last points on this list are things that you might feel within yourself if you’re being emotionally abused. The first is that you blame yourself. You say that you could have done “this” better or you shouldn’t have gone out without asking etc.
Even if you have done something to trigger the abuser, the way the abuser chooses to act is not your fault. If you cheat on your partner, they have every right to be mad and upset. They don’t have the right to insult you, belittle you, punch holes in the walls etc.
54. You complain about their actions
You’re always talking to your friends or family about the negative sides of your relationship. When couples are in a happy and supportive relationship, there isn’t much to talk about.
55. You defend them
If your friends or family start questioning your partner’s behavior, you might find yourself defending them. You say things like “he was just tired” or “he’s usually really nice” or “he’s just been a little off lately”.
56. You’re embarrassed to tell your loved ones how they treat you
Some people are very open about how they’re feeling so they’ll be comfortable sharing the details of their relationship with their friends and family, but this is not the case for everyone. If you find that you are scared or nervous of telling your loved ones how your partner treats, you this likely means that you know you’re being emotionally abused.
57. You don’t want others to make them angry
Your partner has you walking on eggshells and you feel like your friends and family should also tread carefully around your partner.
58. You think they’re a good person despite all the bad stuff
If you find yourself looking past all the bad behavior and still thinking they are a good person, this could be because you’re emotionally abused. Remember that abusers have a lot of ways to keep you trapped in. It’s also important to remember that them being a good person deep down doesn’t mean they’re a good partner. It’s rare to find someone that is 100% evil. Most people are good at heart but it doesn’t mean they treat others in a healthy way.
59. You feel scared to speak your mind
You should never be afraid to bring something up with your partner. Anything that is on your mind should be fair game and you shouldn’t be afraid to talk to them.
60. If you said the same thing back, you’d be in trouble
If you think they would get angry if you talked to them the way they talk to you, this is a very bad sign. Partners should be equal and whatever language is being used to one partner should be acceptable for the other.
61. You blame their actions on a disorder or illness
Just because someone is bi-polar, has depression, anxiety, anger management problem etc. doesn’t give them a free pass to be abusive. If they have an anger problem, that doesn’t mean they need to spew out insults or destructive language. Also, if they are experiencing some kind of disorder or illness that causes them to be abusive, they absolutely must be in therapy or taking medication in order to help this problem.
62. You feel the need to spend time alone
If you feel like being alone is a breath of fresh air, it could be because your partner causes you a lot of stress and anxiety. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if this is the case so if you feel like you might emotionally abused, plan a vacation or a trip away and see if your anxiety levels lessen a bit.
63. You don’t trust yourself
You think that you’re being too dramatic or that you’re acting crazy. If you don’t trust yourself and your own decisions, it could be because your partner has brainwashed you into thinking you can’t be independent.
64. You Cry a lot
You cry about your relationship a lot. Happy and healthy partners don’t make each other cry. In fact, a loving partner will gladly be the shoulder you cry on when something is bother you, they are not the cause of that pain.
65. You think it will get better
You know that your relationship is not good right now but you’re always holding onto hope that it will get better. The only way for an abusive relationship to get better is to seek outside help.
Abusers have a lot of baggage and their emotional stability cannot be solved on their own. They must be in therapy or counselling and ideally both partners are in counselling together. If your partner refuses to get outside help, it’s going to be impossible for him/her to change on their own.
Signs of Emotional Abuse
If you feel you need more guidance and insight on this topic, you might be interested in my ebook available on Amazon:
I know that it’s not easy to admit that your relationship is abusive, let alone try to get out of it. This is why step one isn’t to make any crazy decisions, it’s simply to take care of yourself. Focus on yourself, do things that make you happy. If you are being emotionally abused, this can be very difficult to do but the more you do it, the more you will gain back a sense of confidence and appreciation for yourself. Your ability to stay strong is what is going to help you move onto a happier and healthier relationship.
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