What Is Emotional Abuse
“I don’t want you going out with them. I trust you; I just don’t trust them.”
“You know you can’t get anyone better than me. You are lucky to be with me.”
“Are you sure you want to eat that? I’m just attracted to someone who takes care of themselves.”
“You’re so dumb. I knew this would be over your head.”
Do any of these sentences sound familiar? If so, you might be in an emotionally abusive relationship.
Many people hear the word “abuse” and think of physical violence. Physical abuse is one type of abuse, but it is certainly not the only one.
According to The Hotline’s 2020 Data, 95% of contacts stated they were experiencing emotional abuse. Emotional abuse may not be what most people think about when they picture abuse, but that does not make it any less real or less serious. Because of its subtleties, emotional abuse can be quite difficult to detect when it is being experienced. Emotional abuse is also a foundation for other forms of abuse. Often, it is used erode a person’s self-esteem and self-worth and create a psychological dependency on the abusive partner. Let’s look at what emotional abuse is and how to know if emotional abuse is present in your relationship.
Emotional abuse includes non-physical behaviors that are meant to control, isolate, or frighten you. This may present in romantic relationships as threats, insults, constant monitoring, excessive jealousy, manipulation, humiliation, intimidation, dismissiveness, among others. Sometimes emotional abuse is more obvious, like a partner yelling at you or calling you names. Other times it can be more subtle, like your partner acting jealous of your friends or not wanting you to hang out with someone of another gender. While these emotionally abusive behaviors do not leave physical marks, they do hurt, disempower, and traumatize the partner who is experiencing the abuse.
Over time, emotional abuse can wear down a person’s self-worth, confidence, and their mental and emotional strength.
It’s difficult to feel sure of yourself when a partner is demeaning, dismissing, and second-guessing you constantly. Additionally, when you care about someone and have invested time in the relationship with them, you want to believe the best of them, and you may convince yourself that you were overreacting in how you interpreted their hurtful actions or words. An emotionally abusive partner may try to gaslight you by telling you outright that you are overreacting, being dramatic, being too emotional, or that you can’t take a joke.
For these reasons and more, it can be tough to detect emotional abuse and see it as a dangerous concern. Even then, survivors of emotional abuse are often hesitant to seek help or tell friends and family about their relationship concerns because they fear they will not be believed or taken seriously. Nonetheless, emotional abuse is serious, and it is not uncommon for emotional abuse to escalate to physical violence. In some relationships this escalation to physical abuse is slow, and in others it can happen rapidly.
So how do you know if you are in an emotionally abusive relationship?
- Here are some red flags:
- Your partner name calls you or demeans you.
- Your partner tries to control you, your time, and your actions.
- Your partner tells you what to do and what to wear.
- Your partner often makes you feel silly or dumb.
- Your partner questions your reality and says that things that you know happened didn’t happen. This is called gaslighting.
- Your partner is critical of your appearance.
- Your partner is jealous of time spent with your friends or family.
- Your partner punishes you by withholding attention or affection.
- Your partner doesn’t want you hanging out with someone of another gender.
- Your partner makes threats to hurt you or others to get what they want.
- Your partner wants you to ask for permission before doing something or spending time with other people.
- Your partner monitors where you go and stalks your whereabouts.
- Your partner doesn’t want you to work.
- Your partner embarrasses you in public.
- Your partner does not trust you and acts possessive.
- Your partner threatens breaking up or divorce to manipulate an argument.
- Your partner wants access to your phone, your passwords, or your social media.
- Your partner threatens suicide during arguments.
- Your partner is constantly accusing you of cheating.
- Your partner blames you for their unhealthy/abusive behaviors.
- Your partner makes you feel guilty or immature for not wanting to have sex.
- Your partner overloads you with compliments and gifts, and then uses that to manipulate you later (love bombing).
If any of these red flags feel familiar to you, know that you do not deserve to be treated that way and that you are not alone. It can be hard to decide what your next step should be, after learning that your relationship is not healthy. You might consider reaching out to a trusted friend or family member to talk about what you have been going through. You can also reach out to our Hotline advocates to talk about next steps and options available to you.
We are here 24/7 via phone, online chat, and text to provide you with education, support, and safety planning. The Hotline is completely free and confidential.