What is Emotional Abuse? Signs, Types & Examples
Physical abuse and psychological abuse both leave serious scars on one’s life. However, some struggle with identifying that they have been abused.
It can be challenging to admit that you have been harmed, especially if it is by someone you trusted.
Since the consequences of abuse are so severe, it is crucially important to pay attention to the signs of abuse and report potential abuse if you are a bystander.
If you were the individual being abused, there are some strategies that help you recover from this occurrence.
In this article, we will provide an overview of the types of emotional abuse and its signs.
What is Emotional Abuse? Definition & Meaning
Emotional abuse has many forms. All of these forms include an individual, the abuser, trying to control the abused by manipulating their emotions.
Abusive people may try to make their victims frightened, embarrassed, sad, or blamed.
In an abusive relationship, the pattern of physical and verbal abuse is ongoing. One party may only stay in the relationship to control the other party for personal gains.
If this happens for long enough, the abused individual’s self-confidence will dwindle. They are at risk for anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health conditions.
Emotional abuse knows no boundaries: it can even occur within families and between trusted individuals. An abuser may try to get your sympathy and love, only to ruin the relationship with the abuse.
While the emotional side of abuse can be difficult to spot, it can be just as painful as physical abuse.
Many abusers try to hide their manipulative behavior, so the relationship appears healthy to outsiders.
They may use subtle tricks to hurt their abuser, slowly decaying their self-worth and ability to recognize reality.
It can also be extremely difficult to leave an abusive relationship. While the victim often feels out of control and weak, they still cannot leave.
The abuser creates too much fear and doubt in the victim’s mind. Therefore, unfortunately, their threatening behavior keeps repeating.
Emotional Abuse Signs and Symptoms
Detecting the subtle signs of emotional abuse is key to long-term positive outcomes. The earlier an abusive relationship is ended, the better.
Every abuser has their own set of acts they perform to harm the victim. Below, we have listed the most common tactics and how you can recognize them, along with common symptoms of abuse.
List of 10 Signs of Emotional Abuse
- Constant conflict, screaming, and yelling, instead of calm and open communication
- Insulting you and mocking, done in a malicious manner or continuing to do so even after asking to stop
- Threats and intimidation
- Public/private forms of embarrassment
- Blaming the victim for relationship problems. Denying they do anything wrong
- Isolating you from your loved ones and keeping you trapped with them
- Ghosting, ignoring, or excluding you
- You feel trapped and invaded, but still cannot leave the relationship.
- You feel your feelings are dismissed and you are not paid attention to
- Constantly feeling like you are being put down and insulted
15 Examples of Emotional Abuse
Victims get serious long-term consequences for staying in abusive relationships. You just stay aware of the most common signs to understand if you are being taken advantage of.
However, you may be wondering: what does emotional abuse look like in real life?
This highly depends on the type of relationship: married relationships, professional relationships, other types of caregiver relationships, and so on.
Below is a list of a few examples of emotional abuse.
List of 15 examples of emotional abuse
- Your spouse invades your privacy and does not give you independence
- Being accused of being overly emotional, sensitive, angry, etc
- Manipulating you so you lose your sense of identity
- You feel like you are being constantly criticized, but can never criticize the other party. If you do, they blame you
- Treating you like you are not worthy of their time
- Degrading the value of your opinion and making jokes at your expense
- Ensuring that you always spend time with them, but cannot spend time with others
- Downgrading the validity of your worries and concerns
- Arguing for no reason other than to get you upset
- Forcing you to doubt your perception of reality by claiming you overreact or blow things out of proportion
- Telling you things that do not make sense and are contradictory, simply to confuse you
- Quick and sudden emotional outbursts
- Even for slight conflicts, punishing you by giving you the silent treatment and not openly communicating
- Instead of admitting they did something wrong, blaming you for any problems.
- Constantly acting like they are superior to you (like they are doing a favor for you by staying with you)
Reasons Why Emotional Abuse is Dangerous
Emotional abuse leads to lasting mental scars for victims.
They lose their entire sense of identity, being to doubt their perception, have trouble spending time with people, have trouble trusting others, and so much more.
Healing from abuse takes time, but it is worth it: your mental health is significantly improved if you invest in yourself.
Is violence a part of emotionally abusive relationships?
Violent relationships may also be emotionally abusive. However, not all emotionally abusive relationships are also violent.
There are numerous violent bullying behaviors that an emotional abuser can exhibit. If you try to leave the relationship, the individual may respond in a violent manner.
Additionally, if you try to break any of the rules imposed by the abuser, they may have an outburst.
In such a relationship, outbursts can include a range of behaviors: anything from screaming to physically hurting someone.
What role do emotionally abusive parents have in their children’s future?
Parental abuse has a deep and lasting impact on children. Parents are the first individuals a child will trust. To be emotionally abused by them leads to a long and difficult road to recovery.
The constant criticism and downplaying of a child’s emotions leads to low self-esteem. They will become uncomfortable with trusting themselves or taking risks.
Additionally, they will also struggle with identifying their strengths and generally believing in themselves.
If a parent prevents a child from expressing their emotions, they may have stifled emotional growth.
Childhood abuse sets an individual on the road to depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. It will be difficult for them to establish friendly and romantic relationships.
How do you end an abusive relationship?
Thankfully, most abuse victims eventually end these damaging relationships. It takes immense courage to stand up to an abuser or escape.
A few general themes are prevalent among abusive relationship escapees.
Firstly, the individual must become aware of the situation. They need to recognize their partner is abusive and they are being hurt by staying with them.
Then, you must create a group of support. This can be your friends, family, colleagues, therapist, and others. Anyone who can help guide and support you will be valuable.
If you have children, ensure they do not see the abuse firsthand. With the help of a support team, you can eventually end an unhealthy reltionship.
How can you overcome the damage done in an abusive relationship?
One way to overcome the damage is by talking to someone. Keeping your feelings and thoughts to yourself will only make the impact of the abuse worse.
If you have a trusted friend or spouse, you could try talking to them. The best way to go about recovery, though, is by going to therapy.
A therapist will help you rebuild your self-confidence, overcome your anxiety and stress, as well as find new, fulfilling relationships.
If you start a new partnership, prioritize your mental health and ensure you are not taken advantage of.
If you are ever triggered, remove yourself from the trigger as soon as possible.
Do emotional abuse victims acknowledge they are being abused?
At first, many abused people do not recognize the fact that they are being abused. The abuser may start the relationship in a loving manner.
Soon, though, they start to make fun of or blame the victim. Since the victim previously saw the abuser’s “good side,” they will likely overlook the first few warning signs of abuse.
Before the victim knows it, the abuser begins to perform these abusive acts more and more often.
Plus, abusive people will increase the intensity of their insults, become more aggressive, start having outbursts, and so much more.
At this point, more victims will start to acknowledge they are being abused. Some will still cling to the idea that this is temporary, though.
What are the commonly used strategies of abusers?
Emotionally abusive individuals use numerous tactics to get harm and manipulate their victims.
They may blame the victim for the problems in the relationship, act superior to the victim, downgrade the victim’s worries, embarrass the victim, invade the victim’s privacy, and much more.
All of the previously listed tactics keep the victim under the abuser’s control and decrease the individual’s self-esteem.
If the individual’s self-esteem is low, they are less likely to rebel against the abuser.
The abusers may also start to have outbursts. This may confuse the victim and creates an “eggshell environment” where the victim does not feel comfortable criticizing the abuser.
How to Deal With Emotional Abuse
Dealing with emotional abuse is not an easy task. In fact, you likely will not be able to do this alone.
Try to establish a support network and consider getting a therapist. Having someone to talk to can be a great way to start overcoming the emotional trauma inflicted on you.
Below, we have listed additional strategies to help you cope.
Prioritize Your Well-being
You need to stop worrying about others before worrying about yourself. Recognize that your mental health is likely damaged, and self-care is one way to start repairing it.
It is not your job to ensure your abuser will do well without you. If you want to make the most of life, you must leave him or her.
Then, find something you are passionate about. Try to relax and enjoy a hobby. Perform an activity that lets you truly be yourself.
Plus, healthy eating, exercise, and adequate rest all help the healing process.
Set Clear Boundaries
If you are not clear with your boundaries, your abuser will undoubtedly trample on them. Ensure you are firm and confident when communicating these boundaries.
Try telling them to respect your privacy, and stop insulting you, being rude, or having outbursts.
Also, you must create a consequence for what would occur if they do not respect your boundaries.
For instance, you could tell them that they must ask to see your phone. And if they ask, then you will have the right to look through their phone as well.
Recognize You are Not to Blame
Your abuser may have blamed you for problems in your relationship. Realize that this was just an attempt to control and manipulate you.
To overcome emotional abuse, you must be willing to forgive yourself and stop blaming yourself.
You had, and still do not have, any control over the abusive individual. Stop blaming yourself for making mistakes, such as getting involved in the relationship.
Instead, learn from these errors.
Stop Trying to Change an Abusive Individual
You may have a strong ethical desire to help someone who is abusive. Unfortunately, your efforts are almost always going to be futile.
Some individuals can only become more empathetic through therapy. It is not your job to hurt your well-being for the sake of someone who clearly does not care about you.
Remember, the abusive individual is actively making a choice to abuse you. He or she is not someone whose interests should be prioritized.
Distance Yourself from the Abuser
If you can physically distance yourself from the abuser, this would be a great way to end contact. However, if you cannot do that yet, you can still stop engaging with him/her.
Every time they start arguing with you, blame you, insult you, and so on, they always want a response. They want to see you hurt and weak (so they can use you).
If you avoid giving them this satisfaction, they may become less interested in harassing you. Try walking away whenever the situation gets escalated.
This way, you will avoid shouting matches.
Craft an Action Plan
As much as you may want to stay in the relationship for the sake of hope, it is likely not worth it. Your abuser will very likely not change their behavior.
At some point, it will be time to leave the relationship, whether it is a sibling, spouse, or parental relationship. If you do not, your mental health will become seriously strained.
The steps you must take to end a relationship are different in every scenario. Having a plan can help you regardless of your circumstances, though.
Talk to a counselor, therapist, friend, or loved one about the steps you should take. They will give you valuable advice.
In case the situation escalates after you leave, create a support network and a safety plan.
Emotional Abuse Statistics
Emotional abuse affects individuals across the globe. The elderly, young, new couples, parents, and friends can all be a part of emotional abuse.
Everyone’s emotional abuse experience is valid and should be heard. Some groups of individuals are especially prone to emotional abuse.
Both gender and age play a role in the prevalence of emotional abuse. For example, young men are significantly more likely to experience emotional abuse when compared to their older counterparts.
Additionally, the risk of emotional abuse declines directly with age in men. Older women are less likely to report abuse than older men, too.
40% of middle-aged women and 32% of middle-aged men report experiencing expressive aggression. Expressive aggression is a type of abuse in response to aggravation.
About 40% of both men and women report experiencing coercive control. This is where a partner attempts to control and manipulate the individual’s behavior.
Nearly the same number of men and women have psychological aggression by at least one partner. This number hovers around 48.4% for women and 48.8% for men, on average.
List of statistics
Additional facts about emotional abuse include:
- 17.9% of women experienced a partner who prevented them from interacting with family or friends
- 95% of men who physically harm their partners also force them to endure physiological abuse
- Wealth stereotypes play a role in emotional abuse: women who make more than their partner (or at least 65% of the family’s income) are more likely to experience emotional abuse
- Abusers are most likely to critique their victim’s intelligence, financial stability, and physical appearance
- Childhood abuse is most likely to come from parents: 50% of the time, the mother is the abuser while the father is the abuser 40% of the time
Bonus: 7 Inspirational Quotes to Motivate Against Emotional Abusers
When you are emotionally abused, you will often feel alone and isolated. It may help to know that you are not alone.
Many individuals across the globe go through emotional abuse. You may relate to some of their stories. Their ability to leave these straining relationships may inspire you to do the same.
Below, we have compiled a shortlist of quotes on emotional abuse to help you realize its dangers:
- “Poisonous relationships can alter our perception. You can spend many years thinking you’re worthless… but you’re not worthless; you’re unappreciated. — Steve Maraboli
- “The abused partner tries so hard to prove his or her love and loyalty in the hopes that the abuser will finally wake up and connect in a healthy, loving, and mature way. Sadly, unless the abuser is highly motivated to change, this doesn’t happen without intervention.” — Barrie Davenport
- “Some scars don’t hurt. Some scars are numb. Some scars rid you of the capacity to feel anything ever again.” ― Joyce Rachelle
- “There is a fine balance between honoring the past and losing yourself in it. For example, you can acknowledge and learn from the mistakes you made, and then move on and refocus on the now. It is called forgiving yourself.” — Eckhart Tolle
- “When a toxic person can no longer control you, they will try to control how others see you. The misinformation will seem unfair but rise above it, trusting that others will eventually see the truth, just as you did.” — Jill Blakeway
- “Screaming at children over their grades, especially to the point of the child’s tears, is child abuse, pure and simple. It’s not funny and it’s not good parenting. It is a crushing, scarring, disastrous experience for the child. It isn’t the least bit funny.” — Ben Stein
- “With emotional abuse, the insults, insinuations, crtiticism, and accusations slowly eat away at the victim’s self-esteem until he or she is incapable of judging a situation realistically.” — Beverly Engel
Frequently Asked Questions About Emotional Abuse
What is the cycle of emotional abuse?
Typically, the cycle starts with neutral or friendly relationships to get the victim’s trust.
Then, the abuser will start to criticize the victim, blame them, get involved in their personal matters, manipulate them, and control them.
Over time, the criticism and blame become more and more consistent and intense.
Soon, the abuser may demand more control and could even start being violent to the victim.
What is the difference between mental and emotional abuse?
Mental/psychological abuse is a more specific category of abuse.
If abuse impacts your ability to judge reality, your self-esteem, or anything else that is mental but not directly related to your emotions, it is mental abuse.
However, emotional abuse is related directly to how you feel. It does not technically include any abuse that hampers your ability to judge reality.
How do you outsmart a gaslighter?
The best way to outsmart a gaslighter is to stop engaging with them. Do not give them any attention.
No matter how much evidence you present them with, though, a gaslighter will not respond rationally to you.
Instead, you should save yourself some time and sanity. Do not worry about convincing them of anything and ensure you walk away.