9 Signs You Are In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Updated on July 10, 2016
Emotional abuse can be as damaging as physical violence
Emotional abuse can be as damaging as physical violence | Source

What is Emotional Abuse?

Sticks and stones

May break my bones,

But words will never hurt me.


We've all heard the saying at some point, but nothing could be further from the truth. The scars left by words run the deepest of all, long after physical injuries have healed.

Emotional abuse is horribly common and frequently discounted, even by the victims themselves. There are no bruises, no visits from the police, no hospital trips --- just the slow and terrible erosion of self-esteem and self-worth at the hands of the abuser.

If your partner regularly puts you down, threatens you, humiliates you, or belittles you, you are in an abusive relationship.

Emotional abuse is also a frequent precursor to physical violence. If he or she is willing to hurt you with words, they may well graduate to hurting you with fists.

Everybody deserves a safe and loving relationship where they feel cherished. If your partner is abusing you in any way, GET OUT. It won't get any better, and they will never change. It's not your fault and you didn't cause it -- all you can do is escape it.

Here are some of the signs you might be in an emotionally abusive relationship.

1). You're Afraid

A healthy relationship should not contain fear.

If you're afraid to talk about problems with your partner for fear they will blow up at you, there's something wrong.

You might be afraid to ask for things because you don't know how they will react, or even begin to be physically afraid of them due to their angry outbursts.

Abusers use fear to manipulate their partners into the behavior they want. If you're afraid to confront them, you'll be much easier to control. And angry outbursts leave the recipient feeling like they have done something wrong -- after all, if they haven't, why was the abuser so mad?

If you fear your spouse or partner, it's time to take a very serious look at your relationship.

2). They belittle you and criticize you

"You can't ever do anything right." "God, you're so stupid." "You're crazy."

If someone walked up to you in the street and said these things to you, you would be greatly offended, and then shrug it off.

It's different when it's a loved one saying it. Someone you care about is already inside your emotional armor, and their words can slip right into your heart without you ever really examining them.

Usually it will start at a vulnerable moment -- you've just done something you thought was pretty stupid, for example, and your partner echoes your own negative self-talk, which makes you accept it much more easily.

A supportive partner in a healthy relationship will not constantly find fault with you or belittle you.

If you hear these negative things often enough, you begin to believe them and internalize them, and the cycle just gets worse. The lower your self esteem goes, the more the abuser can pile on to you, and when you accept it, it lowers your self-worth even further.

Remember that the problem is NOT with you, it is in the abuser's own sick mind.

Have you been in an emotionally abusive relationship?

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3). They isolate you

At first, it can be exciting and flattering that your partner can't stand to be without you, and wants you to spend all your free time in their company. It feels like love, but it's not - it's control.

You begin to see far less of your family and friends. They would be likely to confront the abusive partner about your treatment, but by the time the abuse starts the isolation is usually in full swing.

He or she hates it when you go out to see friends, and tries to find fault lines in your relationship, exaggerating them. If you got angry with your mother one day, the abusive partner might take the opportunity to fan the flames and make the disagreement seem as massive as possible, hoping you will cling to him/her instead.

Eventually you might start feeling you have to get permission from your partner to out and socialize, or maybe you know they'll be so upset if you do that you don't even try, knowing the emotional storm that would happen if you did.

4). Jealous and Controlling Behavior

Your partner demands to know who you were talking to on the phone, where you went and who you were with. Sometimes they will engage in stalking behavior [following you surreptitiously to "check up" on you and see if you're where you should be, or going through your phone, emails, and mail].

Everything is grounds for suspicion, even if you've never given them a cause for it. Your partner does not trust you, and is unafraid of letting you know.

Trust is one of the cornerstones in any healthy relationship, and if your partner does not extend you such a basic thing, then there's a problem.

5). Everything is always your fault

...or if not your fault, there's another scapegoat. Emotionally abusive people try to lay the blame for everything that's wrong at the feet of anyone but themselves.

If they don't get promoted at work, it's the bad boss and stupid co-workers conspiring against them. If they have a drinking problem it's because someone else is driving them to it. If they get a ticket, it's definitely the cop's fault.

Any of this sound familiar?

Abusive people never want to own up to their own faults and mistakes. If you're with someone who tries to blame you for everything, take heed -- it really ISN'T you.

6). You regularly have to make excuses for their behavior

You frequently find yourself explaining your partner's poor behavior to your friends and family. Maybe you feel like you have to justify it. "Oh, he's been stressed at work," or "She was just having a bad day."

You might begin to feel embarrassed to have your partner visit your friends or family out of fear how he or she will behave -- which in turn leads to the isolation mentioned.

7). Ignores your opinions or accomplishments

If your partner persistently ignores or belittles your opinions and accomplishments, that's another warning sign to heed. A supportive partner will be excited and happy for good fortune in your life.

Maybe you came home excited to share the news of a promotion at work, to be met with indifference or outright hostility. Or perhaps he or she regularly insults your opinions and wishes.

These aren't normal relationship behaviors -- take heed!

8). Two-Faced

Does your partner act delightful and charming and loving in public, only to turn into a totally different person as soon as you get home and close the door?

This is a classic abusive behavior, designed to keep you off-balance and unsure of what to expect.

Do you find yourself still loving their public persona, but wishing they would be like that all of the time? The unfortunate fact is that abusive people are often superficially very pleasant and charming -- they are master manipulators, and one part of manipulation is the ability to identify exactly what you want to hear.

Unfortunately, that stage doesn't last long.

9). Threats

The most serious warning sign is a partner who threatens you in any way. Threats are a final means of control when other methods have failed.

Often they will try to keep you from leaving the relationship by threatening to harm or kill you, themselves, or the family pet if you leave.

Statements such as "If you ever cheat on me, I'll kill you," are also common. You might dismiss this, since you know you're not the type to cheat on anyone - but jealousy is another hallmark of abuse, and you might be accused of things you did not do.

If someone is threatening you, don't dismiss it. You have to assume they may attempt what they say, and take appropriate precautions.

Don't let it scare you into staying, however. If your partner is willing to try to hurt or kill you for leaving, they'll be willing to do the same if you stay.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Gina 

        6 months ago

        Brothers use gas lighting to abuse me. They want to control n have power over me n daughter for financial gain of parents inheridence n belongings so as it is none to me. Try to get power of attorney over my money n so daughter n grandson can't take any of it unless they say so. It makes me sick to know all this n I won't give them the control of me n my assets. Now they are going to try the I can't handle my finances so they must. Court is next. They already told me. Not to tell my daughter of my money assets. Keep telling me to sell my house that I bought myself. They then lie when I confront them n not do"as they say" or else they won't help me. Put me down, yell n refuse to listen to what I have to say. Tell family I m mental so I won't be respected. I don't respect them. They turn truth around. Sister in laws treat me like I m not my moms daughter n act like they are. They pass d this down to children n others. I refuse to take their abuse of any kind. I m a disabled senior n I fought the disability to become as independent as able. N I m proud of my accomplishments. I went to therapy to free myself. Only one brother cared n helped me n now he acts like the rest.

      • profile image

        Lost 

        17 months ago

        What if you acknowledge that you do tend to have tendencies of being an abuser but also being abused yourself but your the one that also being told your stressful and toxic etc and you even try understand and you do even apologies and explain how it got their you even try leaving them for their best interest but they refuse and still stuck around .

      • profile image

        Lost 

        17 months ago

        What if you acknowledge that you do tend to have tendencies of being an abuser but also being abused yourself but your the one that also being told your stressful and toxic etc and you even try understand and you do even apologies and explain how it got their you even try leaving them for their best interest but they refuse and still stuck around .

      • profile image

        Peggy Robertson 

        18 months ago

        These relationships are traps. Not entered into by choice. By the time the target of abuse begins to realize that the abuser is actively working to build himself up, and disorient her (in every one of her life areas, it's too late.

        Think of it like a bear trap that he was herding you toward. The kind words and affirminations soothe and cause YOU to open up to intimacy; to begin to let your guard down, then his persona begins to toggle between the affirmer and the animal Hunter - so swiftly that it's numbing. NO chances for enough time alone (so you can THINK and process what's happening) because it is risky for the hunter - wanting to lure you into his trap - NOT think clearly, for you would wake up!

        Then SUDDENLY the bear trap snaps you in it's grip! You've been caught - in his trap - that you had no idea he had planned just for you. Now you will be his.

        So that is my analogy. Because I don't like the victim metaphors. And I REALLY get incensed whenever​ ANYone begins to postulate that I had ANY choice in getting into this mess! I was clueless. I didn't even know people like this EXISTED in the world. So how could anyone suggest I chose this?

        Well, I'm schooled now...

      • profile image

        Henry 

        19 months ago

        I've been in a relationship for 2 years! Lovely lady! But we have some issues! She doesn't recipicate when I express my feelings for her,I'm yet to hear the words"I love you" ? We connect on 90% levels,90% common ground,but the adoration is missing somehow? Christmas and Valentine I received no gifts,yet she went out of her way to get her friends gifts? I'm a very passionate person! She was unemployed,and for a job with pathetic hours 7am-12pm,1 day off a week! And travels away! VERY STRESSFULL JOB! Im hating it,but have come to accepted it! When she went to another city I got up at 4am to take her to the airport,during the 4months absense we communicated via smS,and phone calls,I have aher lots of support!i even went so far as to go to fly to the other city to cost and support her,actually did it as a surprise! Went I left to return home eventhough she was a block away,never bothered to say goodbye? We continued chatting while at was away! Then 1 for upset one day and said"it looks like I'm waisting my time expressing feelings and no recipication" well I was told via email that she doesn't feel comforable expressing her feelings to me,this caused a 10days silent treatment from both parties,hell galore! I enventually called her and requested a meeting,which she agreed too,only 4 days later! I'm shocked that after 2 years She can't express her feelings,yet we're intimate? She recipicate only when I say things like"I miss you",or can't wait to see you etc? she's staying at a mutual friend that has alot of influence! Her drinking has increased not that it bothers me,her smoking has increased tremendously,I don't smoke,a d personally don't like it at all,she gave up her exercise program,she drink exess coffee,very little sleep,don't eat healthy anymore,and adopted the swearing vocalobary regular in front of me when we have conversations,I find this total disrespectfull! she had lovely personal goals in place a year ago,these have all fallen away due to this job! Or am i missing somethjng here ! I believe she has sacrifised alot for this job! When we go out I always try and make waisters feel comfortable and have a little conversation sweet and short,just t make them smile! She hates that I'm spending out time together doing that,but during our time she take a a half an hour call! I soul like to get a little recipication or apprciation! I do but gifts out randomly,she came up with that I expect equal Share in the relationship ? I don't at all! I small gift,or recipication goesa long way,you don't have to spend money! She comes to my house weekends and I cook her meals the whole weekend cause I love doing it!She doesn't have her own place currently and staying with the influential friend! Well that's what I believe anyway! I have and is prepared to compromise as we make a good couple,and enjoy alot of common interest,and have lots of fun!But something is wrong? Do i continue this relationship at all! Is this one sided ?I see a future with this lady-but things need to change?what am I doing wrong? Surely a relationship is a bout compromise,recipicate,deal with aggreviances ? Your assistance and comments would be appreciated!

      • grand old lady profile image

        Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

        22 months ago from Philippines

        This is a very informative article, excellently written:)

      • profile image

        nicole miller 

        23 months ago

        I would like to add that there is another form of emotionally abusive relationships. The passive aggressive silent treatment type of relationship. When a person uses ignoring to inflict fear, guilt, or to punish and to also control the other person by teaching them to not speak of their needs or issues by icing them out so they learn not to approach that person again or they get the silent treatment. I feel it's even more harmful because I've experienced both types of abuse and silent abuse was something mainly only I could see. No one saw angry outbursts from my husband or bruises so outsiders only saw him being Mr. Nice Guy and so helpful and friendly and couldn't understand my anger towards what him and what was going on. So I felt like I was crazy or going crazy, which my husband fully supported that idea, that I was the main problem. So even after I've been the one going to personal counseling, meditating, reading self help books, while he does none of the above, drinks nearly daily. ...I'm still the main problem. So I've believed it and tried to fix myself even more. Silent abuse is very insidious and difficult to nail down and identify and it's easy for someone to deny it and act and or believe as they're taking the high road. In my experience it's been more damaging because the wounds inside my head have been deeply ingrained that I'm not good enough and I'm always to blame. These things are harder to get out of my head then verbal or physical abuse which I could more readily see as abusive.

      • profile image

        Jelly 

        3 years ago

        My husband gets upset about something I did or say and goes silent for days. He wants me to figure out what did I do wrong. What can I do to break this silence?

      • FirstStepsFitness profile image

        FirstStepsFitness 

        4 years ago

        Great Hub :) I would like to add also many people are raised in an emotionally abusive family structure . Some unknowingly choose the very same type of partner unless the cycle of abuse is broken with treatment .

      • Linda BookLady profile image

        Linda Jo Martin 

        4 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

        Hi there... I was in a verbally/emotionally abusive relationship for seven years until last year when he threatened to kill me... so I identified with almost everything you wrote above. I have an emotional abuse lens (soon to be a hub) and have written myself a note to make sure your link is on my lens/hub when I edit it after the move.

      • cesily profile image

        Cecilia Karanja 

        4 years ago from Nairobi

        I just watched' Happily Never After' just yesterday and it is so terrifying to hear spouses who exhibited these symptoms kill their lovers just days or even hours after the wedding.

      • Arachnea profile image

        Tanya Jones 

        4 years ago from Texas USA

        I recently reconnected with an old high school friend and was greatly disappointed to find that she was in an emotionally controlling relationship. It was the little things that tipped me off, like her writing down my number and it always disappearing no matter where she put it. The SO made plans every time she set an appointment to call me and when we were able to chat on the phone, though he was right there, he wouldn't mind the kids for the time she was on the phone and allow her a moment to herself with a friend. I was greatly dismayed. I'll share this hub.

      • KL Klein profile imageAUTHOR

        Krissa Klein 

        4 years ago from California

        Relationshipc, I'm sorry to hear about your friend. Unfortunately these kinds of relationships are easy to fall into, and so much harder to get out of again.

        I hope she manages to realize what is going on, and move on to something better.

      • Relationshipc profile image

        Kari 

        4 years ago from Alberta, Canada

        I think its telling that everyone in the poll has been in an emotionally abusive relationship. So many people are in this kind of relationship.

        I have another example. My friend is being emotionally abused by her husband not paying attention to her emotions. For instance, he works out of town for two weeks and when he comes home, he kisses the dogs before he even thinks about saying anything to her. This is hard on her emotionally, and it makes her feel like he cares more about the dogs than her (which I have to think he does!)

        I do know that he belittles her, but I don't know about the rest of the signs. They live across the country so I don't get to see how they interact, and she never wants me to visit when he's there. I just happened to see him come home from the airport on the same day I was leaving last time, and I actually saw him shower the dogs with love and then hold out his hand for the keys from her.

      • KL Klein profile imageAUTHOR

        Krissa Klein 

        4 years ago from California

        Thank you for commenting, Billybuc - I completely agree. When I was younger, I stumbled into a relationship much like the one above, and I had no idea it wasn't normal for the longest time. I hope I can help someone else figure it out quicker than I did!

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        4 years ago from Olympia, WA

        I love articles like this one; not because abuse is a favorite subject of mine, but because I think it is so important for writers to step up and be the voice of change. Raising awareness about these issues is vital if we are ever going to see abuse diminish in this society. Well done.

      • KL Klein profile imageAUTHOR

        Krissa Klein 

        4 years ago from California

        Thanks for reading, Jaellgems. If this hub helps even one person recognize the signs, I'll be very very glad.

      • Janellegems profile image

        Janellegems 

        4 years ago from United States

        Thanks for writing a Hub on this. Very necessary topic for women who are experiencing this in their dating relationships, and need to see the signs and get out of it. Your Hub helps in a tremendous way. Voted up!!!

      • KL Klein profile imageAUTHOR

        Krissa Klein 

        4 years ago from California

        Thank you, FlourishAnyway. It's an issue I care a lot about.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        4 years ago from USA

        A very important topic and a good hub. I like your recommendation to get out early while the gettin. is good.

      • KL Klein profile imageAUTHOR

        Krissa Klein 

        4 years ago from California

        galleryofgrace, thanks for reading and commenting! Glad you liked the article. I wish more people could avoid such relationships - unfortunately so easy to fall into.

      • galleryofgrace profile image

        galleryofgrace 

        4 years ago from Virginia

        I've never seen so much truth except in articles I've written myself. Thanks for sharing.

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