Signs You Are Being Emotionally AbusedWhen people think of domestic abuse, they often picture battered women who have been physically assaulted. But not all abusive relationships involve violence.

Just because you’re not battered and bruised doesn’t mean you’re not being abused. Many men and women suffer from emotional abuse, which is no less destructive. Unfortunately, emotional abuse is often minimized or overlooked—even by the person being abused.

The Student Teacher

Linda has a student teacher that is in her classroom this semester and she appears to be a real head case. Only 23 years old, she was married for just a short time (two weeks) before having an affair.

She and her ex-husband recently got an annulment and prior to that Linda had told me many stories of her verbally abusing and belittling her loving, doting ex-husband.   Once she did so just because he didn’t put mustard on her ham sandwich. That would be the same ham sandwich he took time for out of his busy day to prepare and then deliver to Linda’s school because she forgot to make it herself.

After listening to the almost daily stories of the crap this girl does – or doesn’t do – Linda and I usually put on our amateur psychiatrist hats and try to figure out why she does what she does. Our theory is that she continually tries to tear others down (especially her ex-husband) to compensate for her own inadequacies, insecurities and self-loathing. On the other hand… maybe she’s just a bitch.

Regardless, what she’s doing is a form of emotional abuse.

What is Emotional Abuse?

A good portion of the rest of this article is taken from information posted on Steve Hein’s website. I couldn’t find a bio on him other than a statement that said he was emotionally abused while he was growing up. His site amounts to an online journal of sorts along with some of his research findings and a ton of useful information to help people develop their emotional intelligence and emotional skills.

He writes that emotional abuse is any kind of abuse that is emotional rather than physical in nature. It can include anything from verbal abuse and constant criticism to more subtle tactics, such as repeated disapproval or even the refusal to ever be pleased.

Emotional abuse is like brain washing in that it systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in their own perceptions, and self-concept.

Whether it is done by constant berating and belittling, by intimidation, or under the guise of “guidance,” “teaching”, or “advice,” the results are similar.

Eventually, the recipient of the abuse loses all sense of self and remnants of personal value. Emotional abuse cuts to the very core of a person, creating scars that may be far deeper and more lasting that physical ones.

With emotional abuse, the insults, insinuations, criticism and accusations slowly eat away at the victim’s self-esteem until he/she is incapable of judging the situation realistically. The person becomes so beaten down emotionally that he/she blames himself/herself for the abuse. The person’s self-esteem is so low that he/she clings to the abuser.

Emotional abuse victims can become so convinced that they are worthless that they believe that no one else could want them. They stay in abusive situations because they believe they have nowhere else to go. Their ultimate fear is being all alone.

Couple having an argument12 Signs Your Partner Is an Emotional Abuser

Here are some common signs of Emotional Abuse (though not exhaustive), according to Dr. Kristin Davin, Psy.D.

  1. Putting you down — in private, but often in public. This is their attempt to shame you. Projecting their feelings of low self-worth on to you.
  2. Embarrassing you in public.
  3. Blaming you for their abusive and unhealthy behaviors. Using the “if, then” trick. If you don’t do “this” then I won’t do “that.”
  4. Threatening to harm you or your family often.
  5. Calling you derogatory names many times.
  6. Making you feel bad or guilty when you don’t consent to sexual activity. Laying guilt on you that you “should” be doing this, and if you really loved me, you would be having sex with me. Or “I will have to find it elsewhere.”
  7. Gaslighting. A form of psychological abuse where false information is presented to their victim to make them doubt their decisions, perceptions and judgments in their attempt to make you seem “crazy.”
  8. Making you feel like you are always doing something wrong.
  9. Isolating you from your family and friends. Playing victim when you want to spend time with family and friends. Stating “we” never spend time together. “If you loved me, you would want to spend time with me.”
  10. If you do go out, making multiple demands on you through numerous texts and phone calls.
  11. Stalking you.
  12. Threatening suicide when you attempt to break up with them — “I can’t live without you; I will kill myself if you break up with me.”

 

Basic Needs in Relationships

If you have been involved in emotionally abusive relationships, you may not have a clear idea of (or have forgotten) what a healthy relationship is like. Hein suggests the following as basic needs in a relationship for you and your partner:

  • The need for good will from the other.
  • The need for emotional support.
  • The need to be heard by the other and to be responded to with respect and acceptance
  • The need to have your own view, even if others have a different view.
  • The need to have your feelings and experiences acknowledged as real.
  • The need to receive a sincere apology for any jokes or actions you find offensive.
  • The need for clear, honest and informative answers to questions about what affects you.
  • The need to for freedom from accusation, interrogation and blame.
  • The need to live free from criticism and judgment.
  • The need to have your work and your interests respected.
  • The need for encouragement.
  • The need for freedom from emotional and physical threat.
  • The need for freedom from angry outburst and rage.
  • The need for freedom from labels which devalue you.
  • The need to be respectfully asked rather than ordered.
  • The need to have your final decisions accepted.
  • The need for privacy at times.

 

emotional abuseTypes of Emotional Abuse

Abusive Expectations

  • The other person places unreasonable demands on you and wants you to put everything else aside to tend to their needs.
  • It could be a demand for constant attention, or a requirement that you spend all your free time with the person.
  • But no matter how much you give, it’s never enough.
  • You are subjected to constant criticism, and you are constantly berated because you don’t fulfill all this person’s needs.

Aggressing

  • Aggressive forms of abuse include name-calling, accusing, blaming, threatening, and ordering. Aggressing behaviors are generally direct and obvious. The one-up position the abuser assumes by attempting to judge or invalidate the recipient undermines the equality and autonomy that are essential to healthy adult relationships. This parent-child pattern of communication (which is common to all forms of verbal abuse) is most obvious when the abuser takes an aggressive stance.
  • Aggressive abuse can also take a more indirect form and may even be disguised as “helping.” Criticizing, advising, offering solutions, analyzing, proving, and questioning another person may be a sincere attempt to help. In some instances however, these behaviors may be an attempt to belittle, control, or demean rather than help. The underlying judgmental “I know best” tone the abuser takes in these situations is inappropriate and creates unequal footing in peer relationships. This and other types of emotional abuse can lead to what is known as learned helplessness.

Constant Chaos

  • The other person may deliberately start arguments and be in constant conflict with others.
  • The person may be “addicted to drama” since it creates excitement.

Denying

  • Denying a person’s emotional needs, especially when they feel that need the most, and done with the intent of hurting, punishing or humiliating.
  • The other person may deny that certain events occurred or that certain things were said. When confronting the abuser about an incident of name calling, the abuser may insist, “I never said that,” “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” etc. You know differently.
  • The other person may deny your perceptions, memory and very sanity.
  • Withholding is another form of denying. Withholding includes refusing to listen, refusing to communicate, and emotionally withdrawing as punishment. This is sometimes called the “silent treatment.”
  • When the abuser disallows and overrules any viewpoints, perceptions or feelings which differ from their own.
  • Denying can be particularly damaging. In addition to lowering self-esteem and creating conflict, the invalidation of reality, feelings, and experiences can eventually lead you to question and mistrust your own perceptions and emotional experience.
  • Denying and other forms of emotional abuse can cause you to lose confidence in your most valuable survival tool: your own mind.

Dominating

  • Someone wants to control your every action. They have to have their own way, and will resort to threats to get it.
  • When you allow someone else to dominate you, you can lose respect for yourself.

Emotional Blackmail

  • The other person plays on your fear, guilt, compassion, values, or other “hot buttons” to get what they want.
  • This could include threats to end the relationship, totally reject or abandon you, giving you the “cold shoulder,” or using other fear tactics to control you.

Invalidation

  • The abuser seeks to distort or undermine the recipient’s perceptions of their world. Invalidating occurs when the abuser refuses or fails to acknowledge reality. For example, if the recipient tells the person they felt hurt by something the abuser did or said, the abuser might say “You are too sensitive. That shouldn’t hurt you.”

Minimizing

  • Minimizing is a less extreme form of denial. When minimizing, the abuser may not deny that a particular event occurred, but they question the recipient’s emotional experience or reaction to an event. Statements such as “You’re too sensitive,” “You’re exaggerating,” or “You’re blowing this out of proportion” all suggest that the recipient’s emotions and perceptions are faulty and not be trusted.
  • Trivializing, which occurs when the abuser suggests that what you have done or communicated is inconsequential or unimportant, is a more subtle form of minimizing.

Unpredictable Responses

  • Drastic mood changes or sudden emotional outbursts. Whenever someone in your life reacts very differently at different times to the same behavior from you, tells you one thing one day and the opposite the next, or likes something you do one day and hates it the next, you are being abused with unpredictable responses.
  • This behavior is damaging because it puts you always on edge. You’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop, and you can never know what’s expected of you. You must remain hyper vigilant, waiting for the other person’s next outburst or change of mood.
  • An alcoholic or drug abuser is likely to act this way. Living with someone like this is tremendously demanding and anxiety provoking, causing the abused person to feel constantly frightened, unsettled and off balance.

Verbal Assaults

  • Berating, belittling, criticizing, name calling, screaming, threatening
  • Excessive blaming, and using sarcasm and humiliation.
  • Blowing your flaws out of proportion and making fun of you in front of others. Over time, this type of abuse erodes your sense of self confidence and self-worth.

Unhappy Depressed WomanUnderstanding Abusive Relationships

No one intends to be in an abusive relationship, but individuals who were verbally abused by a parent or other significant person often find themselves in similar situations as an adult. If a parent tended to define your experiences and emotions, and judge your behaviors, you may not have learned how to set your own standards, develop your own viewpoints and validate your own feeling and perceptions. Consequently, the controlling and defining stance taken by an emotional abuser may feel familiar or even conformable to you, although it is destructive.

Recipients of abuse often struggle with feelings of powerlessness, hurt, fear, and anger. Ironically, abusers tend to struggle with these same feelings. Abuser are also likely to have been raised in emotionally abusive environments and they learn to be abusive as a way to cope with their own feelings of powerlessness, hurt , fear, and anger. Consequently, abusers may be attracted to people who see themselves as helpless or who have not learned to value their own feelings, perceptions, or viewpoints. This allows the abuser to feel more secure and in control, and avoid dealing with their own feelings, and self-perceptions.

Emotional abuse victims can become so convinced that they are worthless that they believe that no one else could want them. They stay in abusive situations because they believe they have nowhere else to go. Their ultimate fear is being all alone.

Understanding the pattern of your relationships, especially those with family members and other significant people, is a first step toward change. A lack of clarity about who you are in a relationship to significant others may manifest itself in different ways. For example, you may act as an “abuser” in some instances and as a “recipient” in others.

You may find that you tend to be abused in your romantic relationships, allowing your partners to define and control you. In friendships, however, you may play the role of abuser by withholding, manipulating, trying to “help” others, etc. Knowing yourself and understanding your past can prevent abuse from being recreated in your life.

Take Control Back

Author and psychotherapist, Julie Orlov recommends the following five steps to getting out from under a person’s emotionally abusive control:

  1. Get your power back.

The quickest way to do this is to be willing to walk away from the relationship if need be. This enables you to move forward with the next steps from a place of power, not a place of fear.

  1. Set limits on his criticism and emotional outbursts.

Let your partner know that you are open to hearing his concerns about your actions and how they impact him, but will no longer engage in conversations that attack who you are as a person.

  1. Consider your partner’s concerns.

What are you willing to do for him? What is completely off the table? Make sure you align these requests with your personal well-being and integrity. Don’t agree to do things simply in order to keep the peace or save the relationship, especially if deep down you know it isn’t right for you.

  1. Be clear and honest with yourself first, then your partner.

Consider your values, goals and needs. Make sure your decisions are in alignment with your highest self, needs and all. Let him know what you can and can’t do for him. Whatever you do, do not be intimidated. Have a powerful “no” and make it clear that he will need to accept the “no.” If he can’t, then it may be best for the two of you to part ways.

  1. Find people and experiences that celebrate who you are.

Find ways to reconnect with the powerful person you truly are, i.e. someone that would never tolerate being treated in such a manner. Engage and connect with other people that support and love you for exactly who you are.

At the end of the day, only you can decide if his behavior is something you are willing to live with or not. Relationships should be something that supports your growth, not something that diminishes it. Love celebrates who you are; it does not put you down. You deserve to have a powerful and loving relationship. So start with yourself. Love yourself enough to take the first step in reclaiming you.

Additional Resources

Hein recommends the following books:

  1. The Emotionally Abused Woman: Overcoming Destructive Patterns and Reclaiming Yourself by Beverly Engel
  2. The Emotionally Abusive Relationship: How to Stop Being Abused and How to Stop Abusing by Beverly Engel
  3. The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond by Patricia Evans.
  4. Stalking the Soul: Emotional Abuse and the Erosion of Identity by Marie-France Hirigoyen
  5. Emotional Fitness: Facing Yourself, Facing the World by Cynthia Morton

As always, please share your experiences, ask questions or add your comments below.

 

    5 replies to "Signs You Are Being Emotionally Abused"

    • Rachel

      Great article.
      I can relate 100%.
      I don’t miss that life.

    • ChristBrown

      Good information. But what if the Betraying Spouse can’t bear witness to their hurt spouse’s betrayal trauma, and they put up walls and won’t help the hurt partner heal, creating a passive aggressive form of emotional trauma initiated from their end, which in turn makes the hurt partner emotionally abusive towards them, out of resentment? Seems like gas lighting to me. If the betraying spouse triggers emotionally abusive responses from the hurt partner which re-inforces their beliefs that the marriage is not working for them, is it fulfilling their self-fufilled prophecy of messed-up-ness? If the betraying spouse could be more helpful to the hurt partner, then that wouldn’t happen. Just saying.

    • ChristBrown

      Also, please drop the gender stereotypes.

    • ChristBrown

      This is problematic in an affair situation. The Betraying spouse will think they are being abused when they are just lost. I think they “feel” like they are being abused, when it is really just the hurt partner’s needs being expressed.

      Like “Emotional Blackmail”
      * The other person plays on your fear, guilt, compassion, values, or other “hot buttons” to get what they want.
      *This could include threats to end the relationship, totally reject or abandon you, giving you the “cold shoulder,” or using other fear tactics to control you.

      We’ll that’s how it goes when you betray your spouse.

      (if you could drop the gender stereotypes too, that would be great!)

    • Misunderstood

      I am a betraying spouse. Nothing physical, but multiple incidents of porn use in its many forms, and dishonesty to hide it over 20 years. This article describes my wife’s scorn very accurately. So much so that there is rarely a conversation that is not confrontational or emotionally abusive in some way. Losing hope for recovery.

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