“Unlike physical or sexual abuse, there is a subtlety to emotional abuse. It’s a lot more confusing to victims as it typically is couched in behaviors that can initially be perceived as ‘caring.’” – Lisa Ferentz, social worker, and educator
The conversation of physical abuse is one that often comes up when we are talking about toxic or negative relationships, and in most cases, the line between a healthy relationship and one that is considered to be physically abusive is relatively easy to distinguish. Sure, the victim may not see it at first while they are in the middle of the experience, but most will say that once they opened their eyes to the truth of what is happening, physical abuse can be defined and identified relatively easily. If your partner is being physical with you, please seek help!
However, not all abusers will use physical means in order to get what they want. Instead, these skilled manipulators will use emotions, control and their ability to twist reality in order to get into the head of their victims. In most cases, the relationship will start off great with the abuser ‘grooming’ their victim by acting overly caring, attentive and kind. However, once they feel as though they have drawn their victim into their web of lies, they will start to use their warped tactics to control their thoughts, feelings, and emotions, using their victim to get what they want in life.
No one deserves to live their life with that type of abuse. Below you will find a list of common behaviors and techniques used by abusers in an emotionally abusive relationship. Many of these have the ability to come across as kind, caring or well-meaning, but behind their actions are toxic intentions. You don’t have to settle for this type of negativity in your life. The first step in freeing yourself from emotional abuse is identifying that it is happening. If these points sound familiar, reach out to a family member, friend, loved one or a mental health professional to start taking steps towards prioritizing your own health and well-being.
11 Warning Signs That You Are in an Abusive Relationship:
#1 – Picking Fights
There is no such thing as a perfect relationship, fights are going to happen from time to time. In fact, if you are in a relationship where you never disagree I would step back and assess how true you are actually being with one another. However, if you notice that your partner is constantly picking fights with you then this is definitely a sign that something is wrong. Often these arguments don’t even occur over something where they care about the outcome, they simply want to use the heightened emotions, frustration and confusion of the fight to maintain control and manipulate those around them. If you feel like you are walking on eggshells constantly, afraid to upset your partner this is definitely a sign of an emotionally abusive relationship.
#2 – Forgetting
We will all forget something from time to time in life, but do you notice that he conveniently ‘forgets’ everything that doesn’t fit into his plans and desires? They are selfish and self-centered and couldn’t be bothered doing anything that isn’t working towards what they want in life. For this reason, they will use the excuse that they ‘forgot’ the things you want to do, things that deem to be important or requests that you make. In that way, they can spin the situation so that it isn’t their fault while still getting out of doing what they don’t want to do. Ultimately, they get what they want and they convince you that they weren’t ill-intentioned in the process.
#3 – Jealousy
While most of us will experience some form of jealousy over the course of our lives, in an emotionally abusive relationship this is taken to an extreme. Your partner may start to show jealousy towards anyone and everyone that you spend time with including friends, coworkers and even your family. This is used to redirect your attention back to them, effectively cutting you off from the outside world. If they can cut you off, then no one is going to be able to point out the truth of what is happening. This is a form of protecting their control over you.
#4 – Hot and Cold
Take note of the attention that your partner is giving you. Do you feel secure in your relationship, confident that you know how your partner feels about you? If you find that they will go through waves, showing you affection and care one moment, and then brushing you off or even tearing you down the next then you need to take a step back and reassess the situation. Often those who perpetuate emotional abuse will lash out at their victims, and then try to use an overabundance of kindness and attention to smooth it over before their next attack. This kind of hot and cold behavior doesn’t occur in a healthy relationship.
#5 – Humiliation
There is no arguing the fact that it cuts deep when someone goes out of their way to humiliate you, especially if it is someone that you trusted and allowed yourself to be vulnerable with. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly common in emotionally abusive relationships, both in private behind closed doors and out in public. Often it is followed with a comment like ‘just joking,’ trying to make light of the situation, but the potential impact of humiliation on one’s self-esteem and self-worth certainly isn’t a joke! If it’s the first time, let your partner know that they upset you as the honestly may not have realized how it came across. However, if this isn’t the first time, or you notice that your partner is blatantly ignoring the fact that you have said it makes you uncomfortable, then they are likely doing this on purpose.
#6 – Withholding Love
How does your partner react when they are upset or frustrated? If you notice that the first response is to give you the cold shoulder, completely withholding their love unless you can make them feel better and agree with what they want, then understand that this is a very toxic form of manipulation. They are using their love as a tool to get what they want and force you to follow them in all that they do blindly for fear that you will be ‘cut off’ from all love and affection if you don’t agree. Real love is unconditional, even loving one another when you are angry or upset. This type of manipulation should not be permitted in your life.
#7 – Gaslighting
A common technique used by abusers, gaslighting refers to when an abuser goes out of their way to make others doubt themselves, their reality and everything that they believe. This is a technique that they use in order to gain control, as if they can make you question yourself in anything then you are less likely to stand up for yourself. This may include telling lies to change reality, denying that they said or did something at all, using confusion to distract you, telling others that you are crazy or trying to convince you that everyone else is lying. The best defense against gaslighting is to keep your eyes open and be aware when you start seeing the signs so that you can identify what is happening.
#8 – Judgment
He may spin his comments as being ‘constructive criticism’ in an attempt to help you grow and evolve, but the truth is that an emotional abuser will use judgment and criticism in order to tear you down. They want you to feel as though you are somehow ‘less than’ them, triggering feelings of low self worth and guilt, and leading you to question everything that you do. This works both to create confusion, allowing them to continue to manipulate and control you, as well as squashing any attempt to build up your confidence in order to avoid you trying to break free from their control.
#9 – Black and White Thinking
Those who are emotionally abusive, or manipulative, are unable to see the wide spectrum of thoughts, opinions and beliefs in the world. They don’t respect those who don’t agree with them 100%, even if those differing opinions are, to an outside, completely valid. Instead, they take the approach that you either believe them and support them 110% or you are against them in this life. This is used to keep their victims in line with their thinking at all times, afraid to upset them by voicing even the smallest opposition or questioning their reasoning behind anything. Healthy relationships are built on compromise, but an emotional abuser won’t even entertain the idea of compromise.
#10 – Constantly Checking In
They may frame this action as being a positive thing, just checking in to make sure that you are safe throughout the day, but there comes a point where checking in crosses a line from genuine concern into control. They don’t simply ask who you are going out with, they require all the details at all times, texting and calling to follow up to make sure that you are doing what you had originally stated, and plans haven’t changed. If the plans have changed, and they weren’t consulted first, they will often become frustrated and even angry, upset that you didn’t check to make sure that it was ok. A quick ‘I’m heading out to the mall with friends’ is one thing, but if they are constantly demanding full details, take note.
#11 – Blaming
Emotional abusers are not interested in taking responsibility in any situation, even if it’s their fault. Why? By accepting responsibility, they admit that they are wrong, and that would mean lowering their control and appearing vulnerable. It also means admitting that the reality they have created may not be entirely true. They want to get their way at all times, even if that means spinning the truth or twisting reality to make it happen. Rather than admitting that they may have done something wrong, they will pass the blame to their victims, accusing them in every situation. Often, they avoid being specific, using generic phrases like ‘What’s wrong with you?’ or ‘It’s your fault.’ They may also use phrases like ‘You didn’t remind me,’ to make even the most obvious moments that they made a mistake your fault. They believe that, if they make you feel as though you are to blame, you will then act to make it up for them allowing them to get what they want, whatever that may be.