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Emotional Abuse: What It Is & 39 Signs This Relationship is Breaking You

Emotional abuse is often missed by the person going through the trauma. For that reason, it’s important to know the signs of emotional abuse and spot it. 

emotional abuse signs relationship

When we fall in love, it’s very easy to overlook red flags. We push them aside because we don’t want to believe that the person we’ve met isn’t the right one for us. But, with ignoring red flags comes the possibility of emotional abuse and major trauma.

What do you do when you’re manipulated just a little bit every day? And, what do you do if you just don’t realize you’re being tricked and duped into abuse with sweet words of love?

The signs of emotional abuse aren’t easy to see when you’re the one being abused. But it’s important to be aware of them so you can be more open to the possibility that this person simply isn’t the right one for you. [Read: 16 abusive relationship signs and traits of a devious lover]

What is emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse is any kind of psychological abuse that traumatizes a person’s mind or their state of being, forcing them to feel weak, traumatized and helpless.

You may feel moments of emotional abuse now and then in your own relationships with the people around you, be it with your parents, siblings, friends or even your romantic partner.

The easiest way to realize if you’re being abused by someone is if you feel weak and stressed around them. [Read: The types of toxic people who’ll make you feel weak and used]

Emotional abuse is easy to overlook

Reality and our interpretation of reality are completely different and subjective.

You will only believe you’re being emotionally abused if you convince yourself of that truth. And until you see the truth for yourself, no one else can help you realize it.

It’s like the metaphorical boiling frog syndrome. It’s been said that if you drop a frog in boiling water, it would jump out immediately. But if you place a frog in a pot of tepid water and start to boil the water very slowly, the frog would continue to stay in the pot of water until it boils to death.

Now this may be a metaphor for a cautionary tale about change and our inability to see the signs. But this story plays a big part in understanding your own relationships. [Read: 15 types of really toxic relationships you could be experiencing right now!]

What makes people stay in an emotionally abusive relationship?

We know you’re wondering – if you know you’re with an emotionally abusive partner, why not just leave? But it’s not that easy. This is why the person you fall in love with leaves a significant impact on your life.

If you choose the wrong partner, they can control you, even to the point of breaking you and making you feel like you can’t live without that person.

If anything, the lines between physical and emotional abuse can easily be crossed. People stay in emotionally abusive relationships not because they want to, but because they think they don’t have a choice. 

When your partner knows your weaknesses and vulnerabilities, they can use that to manipulate and control you. So it’s highly crucial for your sanity to know the signs of an emotionally abusive relationship. Otherwise, it can damage your well-being and especially your sense of self-worth, even after the relationship is over. [Read: 23 big questions and steps to leave someone you love]

The most common signs of emotional abuse to be aware of

Emotional abuse always starts small, but of course, it has to start somewhere. The easiest test to realize if you’re emotionally abused is by asking yourself if your partner’s behavior hurt you mentally. If it did, you need to talk about it with them.

After all, emotional abuse isn’t always inflicted to suppress you. Sometimes, emotional abuse could also stem from neglect and ignorance.

Use these subtle signs of emotional abuse to find out if you’ve been pushed to the wall by your spouse, your boyfriend, or your girlfriend. And if you do see these signs, perhaps it’s now time to start pushing back. [Read: How to improve communication in a relationship]

1. You’re scared

Your partner’s behavior scares you. You’re afraid to ask for things or tell them something because you just don’t know how they will react. This is one of the biggest signs of emotional abuse that’s gone way too far.

2. Incessant lectures

Your partner constantly tells you how you’re so flawed and how you still need to improve in so many ways.

But instead of trying to help you, they point your flaws out and behave like you’re a lost cause who can’t be helped because you’re too weak or dumb. [Read: The power of words and how it can make or break your relationship]

3. Painful comparisons

Your partner constantly compares you, often with your more prettier or successful friends, and tells you how much better they are. Your partner may even be subtle and point out to celebrities and tell you how they’re so much more attractive than you.

4. Constant confusion

Your partner yells at you often. But when you try to argue back or prove that you’re right, they may even get down on their knees or humiliate themselves just to apologize to you and win your affection back.

5. You’re always to blame

Your partner blames you for everyone, even when it’s not your fault. They blame you for your friend’s behavior, for the way the kids are, your friend’s divorce, or just about anything else.

Sometimes, your partner may even hear about something on the television and yell at you because they’re pissed off! [Read: 23 signs of a mean person, why they’re bitter and how to deal with them]

6. Possessive jealousy

Your partner always has something negative to say about your friends, especially if they’re of the opposite sex. Your partner hates it when you get phone calls from your friends and sometimes even asks you to hang up the phone.

They just don’t like it when you have an active social life. [Read: 21 subtle and shocking signs of a controlling boyfriend]

7. Your self-esteem is crippled

Your partner constantly tells you how bad or worthless you are, and gets angry with you because you’re always relying on them. But even when you try to do something yourself, they tell you you’re not capable of making decisions and make you feel dumb all the time.

8. They have a two-faced personality

Your partner’s behavior and attitude confuse you. At times, they may be extremely loving and caring. And at other times, they’re really mean and hurtful. You just can’t predict how they’ll react to anything you do.

9. They have a sadist side

Your partner feels better about themselves when they point out your flaws or criticize you. They may be more jovial or happy on days when you’re overworking or stressed because of your own mistakes.

10. They humiliate you

Your partner humiliates you or makes nasty remarks, especially around your friends or people who admire you. [Read: What causes narcissism? The facts and theories to read a narcissist]

11. They make huge demands

They set unreasonable expectations and make big demands from you, secretly hoping you’ll fail so they can say ‘I told you so!’

12. They use sex as a manipulation tool

Your partner emotionally manipulates you into sexual activities you don’t like. They may even emotionally arm-twist you by saying things like “Other girls/guys do it! Why can’t you?”

13. You can’t talk about the relationship

Your partner shares their problems with everyone who listens. But if you confess any of your problems, especially about the relationship, to your friends or family, your partner will get very upset with you. [Read: 24 critical signs of an unhealthy relationship]

14. They try to turn everyone against you

This is a sneaky trick that emotionally abusive partners use to gain an advantage and leave you feeling helpless. Your partner may constantly bitch about how difficult or dumb you are to everyone, including your friends, your family, and even your kids.

Your partner may even give biased examples just to convince everyone else and turn them against you so no one will take your side against theirs.

15. They use the silent treatment as a punishment

If you stand up for something or try to take control of the situation, your partner may walk away in a huff and give you the silent treatment.

An emotionally abusive partner works on guilt, and they hate giving power away in a relationship. Your partner may just ignore you until you apologize for opposing their decision. [Read: How to perfect the silent treatment in a relationship]

16. They may/may not be physically abusive too

Sometimes, your partner may resort to physical abuse like a slap, a painful pinch or even a threatening gesture just to scare you into submission when you oppose them for anything.

However, it’s important to remember that physical abuse isn’t always present in emotional abuse cases. While it can be one of the possible signs of emotional abuse, it may or may not be present.

17. You’re not allowed to think for yourself

Emotionally abusive lovers take pleasure in taking full control of the relationship. They manipulate you one step at a time until you lose all confidence in your judgment.

You convince yourself that you are not capable of making any decisions yourself, without your partner’s guidance. [Read: 25 memorable life lessons to perfect your life]

18. They drive you into isolation and dependence

Initially, your partner may tell you they don’t like your friends or a particular family member. Soon, they may tell you to avoid that particular person. And before you realize it, your partner may carefully isolate you from everyone who was once close to you.

And one fine day, you’ll see that the only person you can go to for help or depend on is your partner.

19. They constantly remind you of your mistakes

Your partner constantly reminds you of all the times you’ve screwed up each time there’s an argument or a discussion.

They constantly bring up your failures or the mistakes you’ve made in your life to reinforce the idea that you depend on your partner and can’t survive by yourself. [Read: A guide to fighting fair in a relationship]

20. Your achievements don’t matter

Your partner glorifies even the smallest of their achievements and proudly brags about it. But on the other hand, no matter what you achieve or do, your partner always mocks your achievements and makes you feel silly for celebrating them.

21. They’re masters of denial

Even when you point out specific behaviors, your partner doesn’t accept their emotionally abusive ways as a flaw.

Instead, they try to convince you that they’re doing all this only to help you become a better person and stand on your own feet. [Read: How to fall out of love when you see no future with your partner]

22. You don’t feel supported by your partner

The best kind of support is when you feel your partner genuinely wants you to succeed and thrive in all aspects of your life. If you don’t feel as though your partner would be there for you and support you if you wanted to quit your job and try to live your dream, then you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship.

You should be emotionally supported in all your ventures *unless they’re illegal or immoral* by your partner. If they’re not giving you that support, then it may be one of the signs of emotional abuse. [Read: People who put you down – How to face them and grow from within]

23. You’re not allowed to go out without your partner

More than likely, this is due to trust and jealousy issues. Both of which mean you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship. If you can’t go out with friends without having your significant other tag along, it’s emotional abuse.

Either they don’t trust you or don’t like the idea they can’t control you because you’re not within their reach when you go out without them.

And when you open this issue up, they’ll dismiss your feelings entirely, or worse, pretend they’re jealous and insecure because you’re “too good for them.” [Read: How to deal with jealousy in a relationship and learn to overcome it as a couple

24. They get mad if you’re not always in constant communication with them

If you can’t be on your own for a few hours without your partner going nuts and angry that you haven’t texted them back, that’s one of the signs of emotional abuse.

You need to get out. They’re controlling and possessive of you, and this is the opposite of healthy. It’s not cute; it’s just plain toxic. [Read: 23 subtle signs of a controlling boyfriend most girls just don’t notice]

25. Extreme jealousy

A little jealousy here and there is completely normal. You care about your partner and never want them to be drawn to someone else. However, if this is to the point where you’re being restricted to certain clothes, it’s abusive. Some people may even resort to calling you names when they get jealous.

Or blaming you for being “too flirty” or dressed too “provocatively.” 

If this sounds like your significant other, you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship. And even more so if your partner curses you or calls you names. [Read: 17 signs of a jealous and possessive boyfriend who’ll make your life miserable]

26. There is a world of double standards

In an emotionally abusive relationship, double standards are EVERYWHERE. They’re allowed to go out alone, but you’re not. They wait hours before texting you back, but they get mad when you do the same. 

Basically, they’re allowed to do whatever, but they get angry or show their temper if you do the same thing.

If you have ridiculous double standards in your relationship, it’s an emotionally abusive situation. You need to get out. You should each treat each other fairly and equally. [Read: 20 healthy expectations in a relationship that define a good love life]

27. Daily arguments

Arguing as a couple is completely normal and healthy. But if you’re arguing about little things every single day, it’s a sign your relationship is in trouble. You should never be in tears every single day.

You aren’t dating an onion! 

But seriously though, nobody should be making you cry that frequently. If they are, get out of that relationship immediately. [Read: Relationship arguments – 27 Dos and Don’ts to remember]

28. You’re embarrassed to tell friends/family about your fights with them

This big sign often ignored means you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship. If you can’t even vent about your fights to your friends for fear that they’ll tell you how wrong your relationship is, it IS wrong. You should never have to hide your problems in your relationship from others

Also, you probably already know what your friends are going to say, and that should make it obvious enough. [Read: 18 emotions you should never feel in an unhealthy relationship]

29. You feel like you’re walking on eggshells around them

If you’re someone who feels the need to watch what you say, what you watch, or where you go simply because your partner might be angry with you in an instant, you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship. 

It’s time to leave. This isn’t a relationship you’re in, you’re being held in a mental prison. You’re clearly scared of saying or doing the wrong thing around them, and you’re not yourself if you’re feeling this way. [Read: The clearest signs you’re walking on eggshells in your love life]

30. You’re the only one putting in the effort

If you’re the only person showing affection, doing things for your partner, or even the only one doing anything to even show that it is a relationship, you’re in an abusive relationship.

You should feel as though your significant other is putting in JUST as much of an effort as you are, and they’re showing you love and affection just as much. [Read: How to pull back in a relationship when you’re giving too much]

31. They threaten to leave you if you don’t do something they want

This is a huge sign you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship. They manipulate you to stay with them, which is ridiculous.

If you don’t do something they ask and they threaten to break up with you for it, then it’s an abusive relationship NO MATTER what the situation is. [Read: 15 signs of manipulation in a relationship you should never ignore]

32. They gaslight you

Gaslighting is one of the serious signs emotional abusive that often goes ignored. They are so many indicators of gaslighting but despite this, it often goes unnoticed as a manipulative and controlling tactic.

They twist everything around to make you question your own sanity and therefore become extremely dependent on them. It’s emotional abuse at its worst. [Read: How to spot gaslighting in a relationship & shut it down for good]

33. They force you to revolve your world around them

Do you ever wonder why suddenly you’re losing friends left and right? It’s not because you’re a terrible friend, but they force you to make them your entire world. 

They push your relationship to become a codependent relationship and when you become needy and clingy because they encouraged you to cut off your friends, they’ll call you dramatic and even crazy. Again, this is abuse. [Read: How to stop being codependent and have a healthy relationship]

34. They invalidate your feelings

This is one of the most overlooked signs of emotional abuse, but it definitely counts. When your partner doesn’t validate your feelings or what you’re saying in any way and persists in telling you how you should feel, that’s emotional abuse.

Many people don’t know this and categorize this as typical behavior in a relationship, but that’s not normal. If they tell you you’re stupid for feeling jealous, or call you an idiot because you’re not able to understand how they’re calculating the house mortgage or expenses, it’s emotional abuse.

It’s a way to make you feel like your feelings and opinions don’t matter. [Read: 14 ways on how to be a better listener in a relationship]

35. They make you believe you deserve this treatment

The worst part about emotional abuse is when they make you believe you deserve to be treated badly. When you try to take a stand, they play the victim and convince you about all the ways YOU are dragging them down from a better life. It ends up with you feeling sorry for them and making you believe that this is what you deserve.

This works especially well if you naturally have a kind and pure heart. Because of how good your partner is at manipulating you, you’ll believe that they never meant to hurt you, and are only trying to help you. [Read: Why does love hurt when it goes bad? The truth you need to hear]

36. They show a total lack of empathy and compassion

A lack of compassion for you, your friends and family, and your problems is a definite sign that your partner is a total a**hole who needs some therapy. This lack of empathy shows that they do not respect your life and the things going on within it. [Read: Reasons empathy is important in relationships]

37. They regularly cheat

Abusers are selfish in nature, and what is more selfish than infidelity? Affairs or threats of affairs are done with a disregard for your feelings and desires.

Affairs also show a level of power from your abuser and may even be done specifically to hurt you. While not all cheaters are abusers, cheating is by definition a form of emotional abuse to a faithful partner.

In case no one has said this to you recently, you deserve way more than a two-timer. [Read: What is cheating in a relationship? The truth most people ignore]

38. They insist on controlling the finances

Control is a form of abuse and one way they can physically control you is by being the only one with access to your finances. This ensures you literally can’t survive without them.

Bills, groceries, car payments – all of them are done by your abuser.

39. Threats of self-harm or suicide

One tactic of emotional abusers is to threaten suicide or self-harm if you leave. This is a major scare tactic and an outright form of manipulation.

If you feel like their threats have merit behind them, then inform their close family or friends, but don’t stay in this relationship. [Read: Why we need to breakdown the stigma of mental illness]

Overcome emotional abuse by finding your strength and walking away

If you’re not sure what you’re going through is abuse, just look at yourself from another person’s perspective. Or ask yourself how you would feel if your sibling or your child was living your life.

Would you be happy for them? Would you genuinely believe that they’re in the happiest relationship of their life or would you want them to walk out or get the strength to confront the issue?

If you see these signs in your own love life, you need to remember that the strength to overcome the abuse lies within you. All you need to do is believe in yourself, and take a firm stand. It’s time to walk away. [Read: The right way to take a break in the relationship and improve both your lives]

It may seem like the hardest thing to do right now, but you’ll feel your strength and confidence seeping right back into you the very instant you put your foot down for the first time.

If you can’t deal with it yourself, get help from a family member or an organization for abused victims. But don’t just put up with it. After all, patience or unconditional love won’t change an emotionally abusive lover. Only firmly walking out of the door will!

[Read: 16 perfect ways to handle abusive behavior in a relationship]

These signs of emotional abuse will help you decipher if you’re being abused and taken for granted in your love life. And if you do see these signs, realize you deserve so much more and put the steps in place to walk away.

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Vinod Srinivas Serai
Vin Serai
Vin Serai is the founder of LovePanky.com, and has delved deep into the working of love and relationships for almost two decades. Having dipped his feet in almo...