Emotional abuse is insidious. It isn’t always obvious at first – it can start with simple comments made by a partner or friend. “Why do you always do that wrong?” or “Engage your brain, why don’t you?” are a couple of the myriad examples of emotional abuse. Unlike physical or sexual abuse that is easily identifiable, emotional abuse is not. The victim of emotional abuse may not even recognize it as abuse. They may develop unhealthy coping skills to reduce the stress.

Emotional abusers use it to control another person, often in an attempt to feel better about themselves. Because they may have been the victim of this type of abuse as children, they haven’t learned good coping skills and use abusive language and behaviors as a way to control others.

Emotional Abuse Definition

What is emotional abuse? One definition of emotional abuse is: “any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, infantilization, or any other treatment which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth” (www.healthplace.com).

Wikipedia gives this description: Psychological abuse (also referred to as psychological violence, emotional abuse or mental abuse) is a form of abuse, characterized by a person subjecting, or exposing another person to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Such abuse is often associated with situations of power imbalance, such as abusive relationships, bullying, gaslighting, and abuse in the workplace.

As you can see, there is a whole spectrum of issues that are associated with emotional abuse. If you’ve felt abandoned or ignored by your partner, if you are made to feel crazy, if he/she makes fun of you in public or makes remarks about you that diminish you somehow – these are all signs of emotional abuse.

Signs of Emotional Abuse

Below are 15 signs of emotional abuse. This is just a partial list of the ways that your partner, friend, or family member can make you feel unloved or unworthy:

  • The abuser uses put downs and demeaning remarks to humiliate you in public; pointing out embarrassing moments and telling others that you are always doing things like that is one sign.
  • They use sarcasm to hurt you or make you feel bad about yourself. When you express hurt, they call it “teasing” or claim you are too sensitive.
  • They correct your behavior.
  • They try to control finances and won’t allow you to spend money except as they see fit.
  • They blame you for their problems or unhappiness. “If you were only… (fill in the blank), I would feel better,” etc.
  • They are unable to show empathy or compassion for you.
  • They will use the silent treatment, or disengage, making you feel abandoned, and then criticize your feelings.
  • They share private information about you with other people.
  • They are unable to apologize – often making excuses for their behavior and blaming others.
  • They repeatedly cross boundaries with no regard for your feelings.
  • They often see themselves as victims and blame you for their problems. They are unable to take responsibility for their behaviors.
  • They can withhold sex to manipulate.
  • They make subtle threats to scare you.
  • They are unable to laugh at themselves and cannot tolerate any appearance of lack of respect.
  • They are emotionally distant.

Often, people will stay in relationships with abusers hoping that they will change.  Change is difficult for abusers because these are learned behavioral habits and patterns of entitlement. They enjoy the power they get from the abuse, and, unless they want to change and actively seek help, the likelihood of any real change is minute.

Emotional abuse takes a huge toll on its victims – it can cause stress leading to anxiety, depression, and trauma. If allowed to continue, the victim can experience all kinds of physical illness as well.

It can’t be allowed to continue. That may mean ending the relationship with the abuser. No matter what, a licensed mental health counselor can help you to recognize the signs of abuse and to help you with decision making.

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