Emotional abuse can be a sneaky killer of the spirit – and worse.
Why? Because, if you are like most people, you might be missing the red flags that you are in a relationship with an abuser.
Chances are that you don’t want to see these red flags because you so desperately want to believe that your abuser actually loves you, or cares about you – or wants the best for you.
And slowly, steadily and irreversibly, emotional abuse – especially from someone who is supposed to love you – will erode your joy, your sense of well-being and even your mental health, driving you into paralyzing self-doubt, shame and possibly suicide.
And the hard truth is that the fact that you are reading this indicates that part of you already knows that you are in an abusive relationship…
That despite the best face you are trying to put on things – and even despite the fact that your partner does do some good things for you – that you are profoundly unhappy. Even scared.
And that you know – deep inside – that you need to make a change in your life.
That change could be altering you or your partner’s behavior, getting professional help or an intervention – or leaving your abuser once and for all.
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Nobody deserves to be abused, physically or emotionally. And because it’s often so difficult to break away from an abusive relationship for all these reasons above, it’s essential that you take a cold, clear look at your situation.
Only then can you make a clear, informed decision, and live the life of self-worth and love that you deserve to live.
So take a moment and ask yourself if you recognize any of these behaviors in your partner or yourself.
The Biggest Signs Of Emotional Abuse In A Relationship
Abusers Consistently and Repeatedly Make Mean Jokes, and Criticize and Judge You Negatively
Abusers humiliate their partners. They insult and put you down both in private and in front of others as a method of eroding your self-esteem, which they hope will make you more dependent on them.
Then, if you or someone else protests, they will laugh it off and either claim that they are “just joking” and that you have no sense of humor or are just “too sensitive” (1).
In other words, they will hurt your feelings and make your hurt your fault.
Abused Partners Feel Shame or Guilt Most of the Time
Do you feel as if you’re doing something wrong and you deserve rebuke from your partner? Worse still, do you feel as if you don’t even know what you’ve done wrong?
Brene Brown, the great researcher and author, notes that there is a difference between guilt and shame.
You feel guilt when you’ve done something bad. You feel shame when you feel that you “are” bad.
An abusive partner will find multiple opportunities to point out what you are doing wrong – as a way to gain a sense of power over you (2).
Can you name 3 or 4 things your partner has rebuked you for over the last week? That would be a red flag.
Worse still is how an emotional abuser will create a sense of “shame” in you – that vague sense that you are not worthy, neither of respect nor love – nor them.
A screaming red flag is when they tell you that you are so “bad” that nobody else would take or love you. This is how an abuser creates the illusion that you are doomed to be trapped with them forever, because that’s the best you’ll ever get.
Abusers Refuse To Talk About Your Hurt
A healthy relationship is one in which you and your partner feel free to express what hurts, what scares you, what worries you – as well as your hopes and dreams.
An emotional abuser doesn’t want to hear about your pain, except to reinforce that you deserve whatever pain you feel. That you’ve brought it on yourself, or that it’s your deserved destiny to feel bad about yourself.
If your partner indicates they have no time to talk about what worries, scares or inspires you, notice if it’s part of a pattern.
If they want you to wallow in your pain, or feel as if you are chasing after them all the time in order to connect, they are manipulating your emotions to keep you subjugated or “beat down”.
If you constantly feel guilty in your relationship, but you don’t really know why, it might be because your partner is encouraging you to feel that way.
Does your partner always claim that everything’s your fault? Are they incapable of taking responsibility for their words and actions toward you and others? Do you feel bad when you spend time with your friends and family?
If you answered, “yes” to any one of these questions, then your partner is probably habitually guilt-tripping you. Don’t fall for it (3).
This is just one of the many ways emotionally abusive people will try to exert their dominance over you, and it’s not healthy at all.
Additionally, if they use the “silent treatment” to punish you after a fight, or for saying or doing something they don’t approve of, or for no apparent reason at all, then they’re being emotionally abusive.
Emotional Abusers Keep You on a Short Leash
One of the most confusing things about abusive partners is that while they shut you down in person and “don’t want to hear it”, they keep a close eye on you when you are apart.
Too often, emotionally abused partners mistake this behavior for “care”. But it’s not; it’s control.
Pay attention to that gap between how much they want to communicate when you are around and their texting, calling and checking up on you when you – or they – are away.
Similarly, beware of angry or emotional signs of “jealousy” when you talk to a person of the opposite sex or someone shows up on your Facebook page.
This is not jealousy driven by care, but jealousy driven by control. An emotional abuser will make you feel guilty or evil or shameful for simple, innocent interactions with others.
Along the same lines, they will try to control your spending as well as your social ties. This is how an abuser reduces an adult to the level of a child, cutting off their autonomy, begging for money for the simplest things.
If they do, then ask yourself this crucial question: does my partner treat me like a whole, autonomous human being – or rather only an extension of themselves?
If you feel as if they are putting you in this second category, it’s up to you to decide if that’s really how you want to continue to live your life.
They Threaten You In Subtle Ways
Most people can identify a physical abuser. It’s simple – they hit you.
But emotional abuse is far more subtle. Yes, it’s more obvious when an abuser insults you or threatens you. But because emotional abuse is a sub-category of control, they will often resort to other methods of threat.
Some will threaten to leave you – and blame that choice on you. Some will threaten to hurt or even kill themselves – and blame that choice on you.
These are classic behaviors of abusers because they exhibit different expressions of one of their core traits: taking no responsibility for their own choices while wholly putting the blame of their own pain or misfortune on the abused.
Abusers Keep You “Outside The Circle”
An emotional abuser will exclude you not only from their heart, from their good will and from their approval, they will also exclude you from their activities.
If you feel that your partner is making plans without you, if they are taking part in activities without you and if they are keeping secrets from you, disappearing and reappearing at will while refusing to explain their movements, you are likely in a relationship with someone who is abusing you in multiple ways.
Abusers Make You Doubt Yourself
Everybody feels self-doubt, sometimes, which makes this behavior so destructive and so effective.
Sometimes an emotional abuser will deliberately lie to you to confuse you and make you doubt your perceptions.
They will make you doubt their own observations, memory and sanity.
Sometimes they will argue and wear you down until you don’t trust what you know is true.
Sometimes they will straight out deny what you saw.
Sometimes they will attack your clarity, your ability to tell right from wrong, your intelligence and your good sense. They will remind you of mistaken perceptions you’ve had in the past or insist on how superior their own intelligence is.
Whatever the tactic, the goal is the same: to destabilize your sense of solidity, competence and self-worth…
… which serves their ultimate goal: control.
Abusers Will Throw You Crumbs
Emotional abuse is about control. And part of control is to keep you “off-center”. So most abusers offer crumbs of love or approval or compliments or buy you gifts in order to keep you in their circle of influence or under their thumb.
It is important not to mistake these crumbs that mimic affection for actual affection, which is evidenced by consistent behavior, not occasional blips or gifts.
Note: most emotional abusers will strategically create these momentary islands of feeling good to keep you hooked. They will surprise you with a meal or a piece of jewelry or a sudden compliment or getaway. They will overdo their apologies when they feel as if their mask will fall away and reveal the cruel abuser beneath.
This keeps the victim clutching onto the hope that “things will change” and the love they so dearly hope for will finally arrive and stay, once and for all.
Emotional Abusers Giveth Then Taketh Away
Someone who loves you will tell you “I love you”.
Someone who is trying to control you will make that offering of love conditional.
They will say, in one form or another, “I love you, but…”
This is not a mere innocent qualifier. It’s a cloaked criticism and, worse, a threat. It suggests that the abuser’s love might be yanked away at any moment.
It’s as if they are standing there with the rug on which you’re standing on in their hands – threatening to pull it out any moment. This is how controllers keep their victims off balance.
Abusers Make You Feel As If You’re Walking on Eggshells
When you are in a relationship with someone who cares about you, you wake up feeling supported, you feel supported during the day and you go to bed and night feeling the safe “nest” of being with someone who has your back.
By contrast, if you are in a relationship with an emotional abuser, you will awaken, live and go to bed in a state of anxiety. You will feel a consistent, irritating discomfort that you will unknowingly offend, insult, upset or provoke your partner into anger, disappointment or rage.
There is a very powerful saying that the first time you get abused you are a victim. But the second time, you are an accomplice.
Pay close attention to these 37 Red Flags above. As soon as you can call your partner on these hidden “control” tactics and ask them to consider changing their behavior, do so.
If they belittle you for feeling hurt, isolated or manipulated, let them know that this hurts you even more.
If they express concern, there is hope for your relationship. Let them know that there are behaviors that have to change for you to stay in the relationship.
If they are open to that, there is hope that change is possible.
If they are not open to change, not open to professional help to assist you in creating new habits, then chances are they never will. Not until you are prepared to leave.
And leaving, when it comes to dealing with an emotional abuser, may be your best choice and the beginning of your freedom, your joy and your true life as a whole, self-expressed adult.
Nothing less than your emotional health and happiness is at stake.
Want to find out if you should break up with him? Click here to take our quick (and shockingly accurate) “Should You Break Up With Him” Quiz right now and find out if you should break up with him..
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These Are The Warning Signs Of Emotional Abuse In A Relationship
- Abusers make mean jokes, and criticize and judge you negatively
- Abusers humiliate their partners
- Abused partners feel shame or guilt most of the time
- An abusive partner will find multiple opportunities to point out what you are doing wrong
- An emotional abuser will create a sense of “shame” in you
- Abusers will tell you that you are so “bad” that nobody else would take or love you
- Abusers refuse to talk about your hurt
- An emotional abuser doesn’t want to hear about your pain, except to reinforce that you deserve whatever pain you feel
- If your partner indicates they have no time to talk about what worries, scares or inspires you, notice if it’s part of a pattern
- Abusers want you to wallow in your pain
- Abusers use the “silent treatment” to punish you after a fight, or for saying or doing something they don’t approve of, or for no apparent reason at all
- Emotional abusers keep you on a short leash
- Abusers keep you “outside the circle”
- Abusers make you doubt yourself
- Abusers will throw you crumbs
- Emotional abusers giveth then taketh away
- Abusers make you feel as if you’re walking on eggshells