I've spoken out before on the topic of domestic violence as someone who has witnessed and felt its impact. Physical violence certainly has its physical and emotional impacts, but another form of abuse that is too often overlooked is purely emotional abuse.
This is a phrase that may seem hard to pinpoint an exact definition for, but it can refer to any sort of maltreatment towards someone through actions and words which impact their psychological health.
This typically occurs between significant others, family members, or close "friends." While every relationship has its own tensions and issues, relationships which suffer from emotional abuse are those which show ongoing negative tendencies stemming from one side which can bring devastating mental repercussions.
Here are 10 clear signs that you may be experiencing emotional abuse in your relationship.
1. You are frequently insulted, often in a casual manner.
Close relationships usually involve the regular teasing and joking that we all experience. But there is a thin line between jokes and insults. These insults may be played off as casual jokes, but don't let the disguise fool you. If you can't go a few days or even just one day without the other person making nasty remarks, especially about something you care about or your personality, then that is leaning towards emotional abuse.
2. They call you "too sensitive" when you respond negatively to their insults.
If you have voiced your opinion about not appreciating the mean remarks someone throws at you, you have likely been hit with the label as "too sensitive." This is just a way for the abuser to deflect the blame from themselves onto you, which can make you feel even worse about yourself. They are to blame - not you. "When someone tells you that you hurt them, you don't get to decide that you didn't."
3. They focus on your negative aspects, breaking you down rather than building you up.
It is well-known that the more you think negatively about yourself – whether it’s your physical features, your emotions, your intelligence or any other characteristics of yourself – the more likely you are to lose motivation and live a life dominated by feelings of sadness and worthlessness. If the other person (or people, by the way) are bringing all of the things they see as negative about you to your attention and tearing you down for them, that is emotional abuse.
4. Saying your personal choices or opinions disappoint or make them look bad.
Textbook emotional abuse is happening when someone blames you for making your own choices. It is one of the most deprecating feelings in the world when a loved one tells you that they are disappointed in you for trying to make yourself happy. You cannot please them in everything that you do, and they should support you in your efforts to live the happiest life you can.
Even worse can be if they say that your personal choices reflect poorly on them because of your relationship. You are not them, and this can help show that they view you as an extension of themselves rather than as an individual.
5. They threaten you in order to control you.
This doesn’t always mean threaten with physical violence, and in fact, that is regularly not the case. Subtle threats to share your personal information with others, to not love you if you do something, to control your finances or to not help or support you in the future are all examples of emotionally abusive thoughts.
6. They belittle you and your passions.
We all seek to find meaning in the things that we love to do, whether it’s an occupation or a hobby. An emotionally abusive person will make you feel lesser for doing or enjoying certain things, and that is unacceptable.
7. They may enlist support in putting you down.
One person trashing you is already bad enough. That person calling their friends and giving them misinformation about you so that they can gang up on you unnecessarily is even worse. They may falsely cover it as trying to show you that others agree with them about your problems, but those people don’t even know your side of the story, and may not even know you in the first place. One familiar example is family members getting together to pile on one person, and that is an especially hard situation because you can’t escape your family easily. Piling on never helps the person underneath, and if you’re that person, understand that multiple negative voices don’t make them any more okay.
8. They talk down to you to others.
When in the company of other acquaintances, it is extremely degrading and embarrassing to have someone who is supposed to have your back talk poorly about you to other people. Emotionally abusive people will repeatedly tease you in front of others or say harsh things about you behind your back.
9. They distance themselves from you as a punishment or when you reach out for help.
Another important sign of emotional abuse may be hard to recognize because it is a much more passive tendency. If they distance themselves from you as a way of punishing you for doing something or feeling someway, or when you specifically reach out to them for love and support, they are being emotionally abusive. Withholding themselves from you shows that they believe they think you ultimately need them to get by, but you are a strong individual! Always remember you can take care of yourself, and when you feel that you need someone else, there will be other people willing to listen and care.
10. They will deny all of their abusive tendencies and any of your attempts to convince them otherwise.
Denial can be a strong and frustrating desire in those who are abusive, and it can be near impossible to change their minds. They may know in their hearts they are hurting you, but that doesn’t mean they will do anything to change it.
The best advice I can give to you if you feel that you are suffering from emotional abuse in any kind of relationship is to reach out to others who care about you and explain your feelings.
This will, first of all, make you feel less alone in the struggle against abuse, and secondly, help you realize for yourself that there are issues in the relationship. Recognize the problem, and then take action.
Try your best to talk to the person in question about how they make you feel. If you are unsuccessful, which is a likely outcome, unfortunately, then it may be a good idea to give yourself space from that person if you are able. Do NOT try to fight back with abuse on your part. It’s hard, but you know how they make you feel. It will only make the situation worse and could escalate it to dangerous levels of toxicity.
I sincerely hope this list will help you recognize some staples of emotional abuse and be a wakeup call to take your mental health as a priority. Do what you can to make yourself happy so that you can do the same for others.