32 Signs of an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Emotional Abusive

Emotional abuse is the act of dominating or manipulating someone through verbal assault, constant criticism, or even neglect.

The two main types of emotional abuse are psychological and verbal. Psychological abuse may include violent or threatening behavior, while verbal abuse is more about how a person talks to you.

Emotional abuse can be challenging to recognize because it often happens gradually and does not leave any physical scars. 

An emotionally abusive relationship may not look like what many think of as a typical abusive relationship. As opposed to only physical violence or threats of violence, emotional abuse often occurs in combination with verbal and/or physical abuse, with the more subtle signs of partner abuse being missed.

Below we will outline 32 signs of an emotionally abusive relationship, followed by resources for help and support.

32 Signs of an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

The following are signs to look out for if you think you are part of an emotionally abusive relationship:

1. Eliciting fear or panic in you

The primary way an emotionally abusive partner elicits fear in their relationships is by threatening to do something hurtful. For example, if they want you to change something about yourself, they may threaten to leave you or never speak to you again. They may also make threats that don’t directly relate to the relationship, for instance, saying that someone else will harm them.

2. Making unfair demands on their victims

Emotional abusers will make unreasonable demands on their partners. To the emotionally abusive partner, everything always has to be about them; they cannot be satisfied unless they get everything they want, without any challenge or resistance.

3. Making their victims feel inadequate

Abusers make their victims feel like they are never good enough for them. They will emphasize your weaknesses to the point where you begin to believe there is no way to win them over. And when you do get close to a resolution, your abuser will simply find something else wrong with you and drive the cycle all over again.

4. Accusing their victims of cheating or flirting

This is one type of emotional abuse tactic abusers fall back on as a last resort because it commonly works for them in the end. When they accuse you of cheating or flirting, the only reaction you can have is a confused one, and it doesn’t matter if what they are accusing you of is true or not. The purpose is to make you feel vulnerable and weak.

5. Using intimidation tactics

Abusers will often manipulate their victims into feeling helpless and afraid. They’ll seek to reduce your self-esteem and make it impossible for you to see your way out of the relationship. This person is trying to convince you that there’s no hope for change while also making you feel staying in the relationship is your only option

6. Inflicting pain

Emotional abusers often inflict emotional pain on their victims, and it doesn’t have to be physical or sexual. For example, they may try to shame the victim and make them feel inadequate by telling them they are being stupid, or immoral, or even that they are just plain crazy.

7. Exposing their partners’ secrets without permission

This is a common way for abusers to make their victims feel further isolated from friends and family members who may be sympathetic to the victim’s plight. When they tell their partners things that they didn’t want anyone else to know, they may use it as an excuse for more intimidation tactics in hopes of keeping the victim trapped in the relationship.

8. Using the silent treatment

Emotional abusers will often use the silent treatment to make their victims feel stupid, inadequate, and crazy. They know that their partners will feel awful in this environment but will most likely stay quiet out of guilt for whatever they did. The abuser’s goal is to make you feel uncomfortable enough to be willing to change and accept their behavior to fit in.

9. Demanding constant attention

This emotional abuse symptom can have positive results if the abuser recognizes that they need space just as much as their partners do. Still, most often, it just becomes a way to isolate their partners from friends and family members more easily.

10. Demanding that their partners perform sex acts

The abuser may require that the partner perform sex acts when they don’t feel like it, or they might expect sex to happen on certain days of the week and not others. This is often done to avoid intimacy and make the victim feel guilt for doing something wrong. When you tell your abuser that you don’t want to do this, their response will be, “but I need you to.”

11. Ignoring your feelings or opinions

Emotional abusers won’t care whether you agree with them or not; they’ll simply continue to ignore you as long as possible until you finally give in because there’s nowhere else to go mentally.

12. Shaming others around them

It can be a problem when your abuser harbors negative feelings about their own family members or other friends and then speaks highly of them behind their backs to make the victim feel like they are crazy. They may also play angry or drunk games around their friends in an attempt to embarrass the victim.

13. Manipulating to make you feel guilty

The emotional abuser will start by making indirect accusations as if they are concerned about your well-being but then will aggressively accuse you of something else you have no knowledge about. They may even manipulate you into thinking you are the one who has done something horrible, or worse yet, that you are the one who is crazy for making up such a story.

14. Attempting to isolate their partners from supportive relationships

Emotional abusers often do their best to alienate their victims from friends and family members. They will do this by using intimidation tactics, and they will make it look like these people have done something wrong to change your opinion of them without ever having to justify themselves.

15. Using passive-aggressive behavior towards their victims

Emotional abusers commonly use passive-aggressive behavior to confuse their victims and make them feel crazy at the same time. This can include making unreasonable demands they know will anger you and acting like nothing went wrong when the fighting begins.

16. Playing the victim

This is a common way for abusers to avoid accountability when they make mistakes or do something terrible. They may tell you that it was all your fault for doing something to upset them, and in some cases, they will even pretend that they are a victim of something. This tactic makes it difficult for their victims to respond to anything because it’s vulnerable to attack as self-indulgent pity party behavior. Yet, it’s difficult to say anything else without seeming like you are trying to protect yourself from being gaslighted again.

17, Ignoring the red flags

Emotional abusers habitually ignore warning signs, and they usually find themselves in more than once in relationships with others. You must remain observant and keep yourself safe from the abuse.

18. Taking over their partners’ personal, physical, and psychological space

This is something that happens to all people in abusive relationships. Your abuser will often attempt to take over your space just as much as possible to “own” you, but this only makes it more difficult for you to find a way out of the relationship.

19. Controlling your finances

Emotional abusers will often use their partners’ finances to control them and make them feel dependent on the relationship. At the same time, they may tell their partners that they are selfish or stupid for saving money or spending it in ways other than how their partner sees fit.

20. Lying and making excuses

To avoid accountability for problems in the relationship, emotional abusers will often lie and make excuses about things they have done wrong, whether small or big. The reasons will vary, but they will always be untrue, and they will never take responsibility for anything that goes wrong.

21. Disrespecting their partners

Emotional abusers are notorious for showing a lack of respect towards their victims. This can come in the form of rude behavior, such as telling you that you aren’t good enough at the most important thing to you, or it may come in the form of mockery. What it boils down to is that your abuser doesn’t care how you feel about yourself or whether or not you grow as a person because they only care about themselves.

22. Consistently being late for everything

This is one of how emotional abusers make their partners feel like they aren’t good enough. They will expect you to be on time and ready for everything, but when it comes to them, it’s usually an excuse for being late because “traffic was bad.”

23. Being unwilling to compromise

Emotional abusers are rarely willing to compromise, which can mean that they will make decisions that don’t involve the victim. Still, it also includes doing things to push you away emotionally. They think that when you feel bad about yourself, you will be more willing to let them have their way.

24. Constantly harassing their partners with texts or phone calls to be heard

Abusers often know that they have gone too far, yet they keep at it because they want something from the relationship, whether money or sex. The abuser tries to use guilt trips and manipulation to get what they want without having any concern for how the victim is feeling on the inside.

25. Managing their partner’s time and how they spend it

Emotional abusers often find that they have to manage their partners’ time if they want to maintain control, but in some cases, they do this by making their partners feel guilty when it comes to using their own time. The abuser might also insist on knowing where you are at all times and keeping tabs on you in an excessive way.

26. Lying about being diagnosed with a mental health disorder

It’s common for emotional abusers to lie about having a mental illness such as bipolar disorder or anxiety to make the victim feel like they need to take care of them. This is a form of gaslighting, making it difficult for victims to come out of the relationship.

27. Trying to make themselves the victim

When emotional abusers don’t have a victim figure in their lives, they will often look for ways to make themselves look like the victim. They may tell you that someone is stalking them or trying to get them in trouble, even when they are utterly wrong about whatever situation they want you to believe is true.

28. Using deception and withholding information

Abusers will often withhold information about things that happen in their lives to control their partners. This omission of data is a form of lying, and it can be used to get away with things that might cause the relationship to end.

29. Lying or threatening to lie about you

Emotional abusers are habitual liars, and that means they will often find themselves in situations where they have to lie about their partner or tell you that you did something wrong, even when it wasn’t true. They may threaten to lie about you if they don’t get their way in the relationship.

30. Expecting their partners to change their behavior, personality, and interests

Emotional abusers try to change who you are as a person, especially if it affects them negatively in some way. They will often try to get you to stop doing things that are important to you, blaming you for changing who they thought you would become.

31. Manipulation

Emotional abusers have an obsession with controlling the victim’s behavior and making them do things in a way that benefits the abuser instead of the other way around. This can be seen in everything from coming on too strong and then walking away when your partner isn’t responding, to being more controlling than necessary, even when it comes to insignificant things like eating habits.

32. Being disrespectful of their partner

Emotional abusers will often disrespectfully talk to their partners and make them feel small. They will take videos or pictures of them without their knowledge, invade their privacy on social media, or use foul language around them. This can make victims feel like they aren’t good enough for the abuser and that their decisions have been wrong all along.

What To Do If You Are In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Awareness is the best weapon against emotional abuse.  

If you are in a relationship that is causing you emotional abuse, get away. You don’t need to stay if it’s not what you want. The best thing you can do is to cut ties with the abuser and focus on yourself.

You might not be ready to let the abuser go, and while this is normal, it doesn’t make it any less abusive. 

If you are feeling trapped in the relationship, seek help or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800)799-7233 or 1(800)787-3224 (TTY).

Interested in learning more about therapy for emotionally abusive relationships? 

Contact Washington Psychological Wellness for a complimentary 15-minute initial consultation to see how therapy can help you. 

Remember, emotional abuse is hard, but you don’t have to suffer alone. Seek help now. 

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