You’re Not Crazy, But Emotional Abuse Can Make You Think You Are
By Marie Miguel
Updated August 30, 2019
Reviewer Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
When you're in an emotionally abusive relationship, you are probably questioning your reality. You may start to have doubts about what you said or did because your partner or loved one tries to manipulate you. They may deny hurting you, and tell you that you're "losing your mind" or "making it up." Because of this, you may start to believe that your feelings are invalid - that's a terrible feeling, and it's not true. These are all signs of mental manipulation and potential spousal abuse.
You matter, even if your partner or whoever is abusing you is telling you that you don't. Emotional abuse in intimate relationships is a pervasive and cruel form of psychological abuse, but you can get through this!
You Can Cope with Emotional Abuse
Once you question whether you're in an emotionally abusive relationship, you have taken the first step, which is to recognize the issue. You're honest with yourself, and that's how you can start to get help. It's also important to understand what emotional abuse looks like between men and women along with other key intimate relationships.
Emotional abuse is a pervasive pattern of cruel behavior based on domestic abuse that is not easily detectable - much like child abuse. Signs of mental abuse are present when the abuser hurts the victim by demeaning them using manipulative tactics such as name-calling, threats, gaslighting, victim blaming, and other controlling behaviors.
Emotional abuse can be present in all kinds of intimate relationships and doesn't just occur between men and women in the cases of spousal abuse. Elder abuse is another category where mental abuse can often be found. The impacts of emotional abuse can go easily go unnoticed without fostering awareness.
Following are examples of emotional abuse and spousal abuse in intimate relationships defined. Common types of emotional abuse include:
- Gaslighting: Gaslighting is named after the Ingrid Bergman film Gaslight, where the main character is made to feel crazy so that the abuser is allowed to take total control. It's a common form of psychological abuse where the abuser makes their victim feel as if their reality is not valid. They might call them "crazy."
Gaslighting is a cruel form of treatment, and nobody deserves to have their feelings invalidated. Your emotions and perceptions are valid. Intimate partners should not gaslight, ever. Emotional violence victims are often unaware that this manipulation has even happened and don't recognize the signs of mental control.
- Name-calling: When the abuser calls the victim names, such as "loser," or "crazy." It's never acceptable to call a person mean names. If someone you love is name-calling, you don't have to tolerate being treated that way. This is domestic abuse.
- Constant communication: The abuser wants to know where the victim is at all times to maintain total control. They will always call or text them as a means of controlling them. They may even hide or take your car keys to keep you from leaving or escaping the situation. This is a glaring sign of mental abuse that is often overlooked in relationships between men and women.
- Undermining: When the abuser interrupts or tells the victim that they're wrong. They might try to talk over the person to make them feel small. Intimate partners need to push each other up, not let them down through unneeded criticism in intimate relationships.
- Rage: Gets extremely angry at the victim in a manner that scares them. Intimate partners need to discuss their problems calmly and never resort to violence or rage.
- Threatening: When the abuser threatens to harm you, your family, or your children. Threats can vary in severity. Take all threats to yours and your family's health and safety seriously.
- Convincing the victim that they're undesirable: One common form of emotional abuse is when the abuser tells the victim that no one will ever love them as they do. It's a type of manipulation that keeps the abused in the relationship. This should never occur in any kind of romantic relationships.
- Restricts the victim's social activities: The abuser prevents the victim from seeing their friends and family so they can control them. Intimate partners should do social activities together or allow each other to do them separately. This kind of abuse is often present in situations of elder abuse.
- Humiliation: When the abuser humiliates the abused in front of a crowd of people, or in private. Intimate partners should never humiliate one another, just joke around in good fun. A good sense of humor on both parties is not a form of domestic abuse. With that said, both need to laugh. When this doesn't happen and the abuser begins the process of victim blaming, it's time to take action.
- Financial abuse: The abuser restricts the victim from using money and maintains control over all of the family finances. This is another area of emotional abuse that often presents itself in elder abuse situations. Intimate partners and caretakers should never do this at all. Financial control is a covert form of emotional abuse and caretakers can also represent abuse figures.
These types of emotional abuse and other behaviors that can lead to battered woman syndrome are discussed in more detail later in the article.
It's Not Just You
Emotionally abuse in intimate relationships is an incredibly common form of psychological abuse that affects both women's and men's health. You're not alone. A shocking amount of emotional violence victims have been in your shoes, but they have also successfully broken the cycle of violence and abuse.
You didn't do anything wrong, and it's not your fault that this is happening to you. There are many people who have survived many kinds of abuse including escaping an abusive marriage due to emotional abuse, elder abuse, or child abuse. They've still come out on the other side.
Stop blaming yourself for how someone is mistreating you. Emotional abuse often involves covert passive aggressive behaviors that aren't easily perceived. It's not your fault. One of the ways you can begin to cope and heal from the abuse is by learning to recognize the effects of emotional and psychological abuse, and the next step is to seek professional help as this kind of abuse rarely occurs as a single event.
BetterHelp and similar resources can support people like you and other victims of crime that has happened within the emotionally abusive relationship. Reach out to supportive friends and family that can help you get on the right track to healing and back to normal family life.
Emotional abuse doesn't always come from intimate partners. Emotional abuse often occurs at the hands of by persons suffering from their own mental challenges like borderline personality disorder and other diagnosed conditions. Licensed professional counselors can help you to identify common and uncommon signs of abuse.
The effects of emotional abuse are often physically and emotionally draining. This is happening due to the confusing and contradictory nature of the cycle of abuse. In most cases, it simply doesn't add up. Seeking counseling is a critical step to recover from intimidation, manipulation, and the arbitrary and unpredictable behavior storms that accompany emotional abuse.
Counseling is an excellent place to get in touch with your emotions and start to rebuild your life after being the victim of psychological abuse, domestic abuse, or child abuse. You matter, and your counselor is ready to help you rediscover your self-worth while recovering from an abusive intimate relationship. Whether you choose online therapy, to reach out to the national domestic violence hotline, or work with a therapist in your local area, it is crucial to get help so you can heal.
We Can Help
At BetterHelp, we have trained online counselors and therapists who have worked extensively with emotional violence victims. Our medically reviewed counselors help victims of abusive relationships recover by recognizing child abuse, elder abuse, emotional abuse and more. Abuse can be present in any relationship, whether they be from intimate relationships with a partner, family member, or other connection.
BetterHelp counselors know how to help you navigate through your trauma, and start to cope with the pain of emotional abuse and to recover your loss of trust in your abuser - and in yourself.
The online counselors here want to listen to what you have to say, validate your feelings and experiences, and support your journey to healing from psychological abuse. You have been through a lot, but you can still get help, recognize your pain, and start treating it in counseling. Online counseling is an excellent place to work through your trauma, because you can engage with the counselor whenever and wherever you need.
"I was very hesitant to do counseling but Dr. Leclerc has been incredible at helping me deal with and move through a very hard time in life riddled with anxiety. I would recommend her to every single person I know. She's amazing at what she does. I believe she truly understands what I need from her as an individual and she doesn't follow a script of what a typical counselor might. She's wonderful and very professional."
"In the past I have gone to at least five different therapy centers and therapists. I feel very grateful to have been connected to Audra by BetterHelp because she is the first therapist that has actually made me feel progress toward getting through past traumatic experiences. She is clearly very skilled and knows exactly what she is doing. Not only is she talented in her field but she also has a strong sense of empathy that makes you feel that she actually cares. I am grateful to be able to seek guidance from her and will continue to do so because it has without a doubt helped me grow and heal. Immediately you start seeing results while working with Audra on your mental health goals. Thank you Audra! I look forward to continue working with you."
Is Emotional Abuse Actually Abusive?
Emotional abuse is painful and extremely real. When people think of abusive relationships, they are often associated only with physical violence or sexual harrassment and not intimate relationships. You can see the bruises or broken bones, but that isn't the only type of abuse there is. These bruises are internal for emotional violence victims.
There are other kinds of abusive behavior that can be directed against a partner, family member or even a colleague. Emotional abuse is a form of domestic violence, or intimate partner violence and it can have devastating effects on the mental health of the victim. Abuse in violent domestic households is something you should never tolerate, no matter who you are.
Early Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship
When you're in a new relationship, there are some red signs of an unhealthy relationship you should look out for. Abuse doesn't happen overnight; and doesn't only happen in relationships with men and women. There are some signs that you can look out for. Abuse, including emotional abuse, has some red flags and usually involves some form of emotional blackmail.
You can learn more about how to recognize the early signs of abuse from the national dating abuse and other medically reviewed resources available online.
Signs of unhealthy intimate relationships and potential dating abuse are as follows:
- Always complaining about their ex. If your partner is always talking about their ex negatively and dismissing them like they were crazy, this is a characteristic of emotional abuse on their end. Emotional abuse doesn't usually happen to someone who is always calling their ex crazy.
- Their ex keeps warning you. Don't write off their ex as jealous. There may be a grain of truth to what they say if you have seen other red flag behaviors. If they have a good reason, they may be the victim of emotional, physical, or domestic abuse.
- If your partner is always hitting objects or seems violent, this could lead to physical abuse. If their responses to violence is write them off, this could be a sign of a potential emotionally abusive behavior.
- Your partner demands sex out of you early even if you're uncomfortable. This potentially abusive behavior could lead to physical and sexual abuse. Don't ever have sex if you don't want to, especially to someone who is physically abusive. This covert sexual harassment is a potential sign of abuse.
- Your partner demands to check your cell phone or internet history - or they check them without your permission.
- Your partner calls you pet names, that you don't really like or feel belittled by. This is an example of a loss of trust in being safe that can compound over time.
- You just don't feel uncomfortable around them. This is the simplest of the signs of an unhealthy relationship.
If you experience any of these signs of an unhealthy relationship, you should cut all contact with this person immediately. Rarely does an abusive relationship get any better, especially in the cases of long-term spousal abuse.
Instead, the impact of emotional abuse may evolve into something that's much worse like battered woman syndrome, and you may need to talk with a professional and get the help you need if you want to leave it.
Pattern of Behavior
Often, domestic abuse comes in a form in a pattern of behavior based on emotional blackmail tactics. Emotional violence victims often don't recognize this pattern until it's too late. There may be a period where everything is nice, and then your spouse, intimate partner, or caretaker becomes increasingly abusive.
This pattern of behavior has its climax, usually in the form of strong physical or emotional abuse as the abuser escalates their behavior and begins to pick fights.
Intimidation is a critical concern in intimate relationships between men and women and in caregiver situations where elder abuse is present.
What comes after intimidation? Manipulation. Your partner may feel sorry and try to buy you gifts. (This is another huge indicator of emotional blackmail.)Then, there is a honeymoon period. After that, the cycle starts all over again. We'll go more into that later along with battered woman syndrome and abuse prevention strategies in intimate relationships.
When someone thinks of the term "domestic violence," they may imagine a spouse beating up significant other not including sexual harassment and emotional abuse. However, domestic violence can be a lot more than that. Domestic abuse is mentally abusive as well and involves any kind of intimate partner violence and emotional blackmail.
In addition, domestic violence is not just a spousal thing. It can happen between family members, roommates, or it can involve a guest in your home. Domestic abuse can occur many kinds of intimate relationships.
Every situation is equally as valid and should be treated as seriously as possible. If you aren't sure whether or not you or someone that you love is being abused, refer to BetterHelp counselors or the National Domestic Violence Hotline to learn more.
If you suspect or know of child abuse please contact your local child protective services agency immediately.
When it comes to violence, the role of it is control, and your partner may control you through many different ways and including emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Violence does not have to be physical; it can come in many other forms including covert sexual harassment or refusing to communicate and you should all take them seriously and never succumb to them, ever. Violence is only one way that perpetrators abuse people. Emotional blackmail and victim blaming are also common.
Here are some types of domestic violence that one may face. These forms of intimate partner violence are all serious and you should seek help if you're the victim. It is critical that victims learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of abuse. The following is a list of common forms of abuse - including emotional.
This is the most common form of domestic violence, and it's often preceded and accompanied emotional abuse.This is when someone physically strikes someone. Physical domestic abuse doesn't have to be a battered woman's black eye, a battered woman who "fell down some stairs," or a battered woman with bruises; it can be much more minor, too.
Grabbing your partner without their permission, slapping them, or touching them in a way that brings discomfort can be considered physical domestic violence and is another form of intimate partner violence.
Some people physically abuse their partner to control. Others may physically abuse because of an argument that got too heated. This precursor to physical abuse does not excuse the action. Psychological abuse in violent situations in also common. Violence victims should not excuse abusive behavior under any circumstances including psychological, physical, and sexual abuse.
Whatever the reason, domestic violence is never justified, and you should seek help immediately should it happen. There are many local divisions that help court-involved battered men and women across the country.
Domestic violence victims are commonly associated with women and the attackers with men, but men can be victims and women the assaulters, too. Intimate partner violence can occur from both sides. It's not cute for your wife to slap you; it's a form of abuse that needs to be stopped. The role of psychological, physical abuse is that of pure control. Many people feel like they need to control someone through violence, but that is rarely the solution.
Physical violence can have an impact on one's mental health. Survivors of domestic violence know the emotional impacts all too well.
Violent domestic relations are never a part of a relationship and there is never an excuse to hurt someone. While this is the most common form of intimate partner violence, there are many more types.
Another form of domestic violence is control. Controlling someone's actions, such as who they speak to, what clothes they can wear, or where they can go is a form of abuse and it can lead to the victim being traumatized as a result.
Another form of control may involve social media. Social media control is when a partner always reads the other's messages. Another example is the joint profile. Have you ever seen someone who has a joint Facebook account? Everyone jokes about them, saying "who cheated?" However, it could be a sign of control. Not all the time; a partner may just not want social media, and many older couples have joint profiles for convenience. However, if someone with an active social media presence is suddenly in a joint profile, that is honestly a reason to raise a few eyebrows.
It should be noted that control is not the same thing as suggesting something, or being worried about one's safety. If you suggest that your partner should wear a certain pair of clothes, they pick something else, and you're okay with that, it's not control. This is another example of intimate partner abuse. Control uses threats and intimidation tactics. The partner's autonomy doesn't seem to belong to them. Control is never a reason to have intimate partner violence.
Talk about your own ego with a therapist if you are an emotional violence victim, survivor of domestic violence, or have ever felt controlled by someone you love. Beware if you notice ongoing signs and symptoms that indicate potential abusive behavior.
This type of intimate partner abuse involves sexually assaulting, sexually harassing, or physically raping your spouse. Marriage is not consent; your partner can refuse sex, and if you try anything, that is sexual abuse. Rape is emotionally traumatizing and has become a subject of much discussion recently. Many survivors of domestic violence are not aware that this is a form of abuse until after the marriage has ended.
The takeaway is that your spouse isn't obligated to have sex with you. If there are sexual problems in the relationship and it's ruining your relationship, that is something worth discussing with a couple's counselor or a sex therapist. However, it's ultimately a person's decision as to whether or not they have sex with you. This kind of abuse should not be tolerated, and it's one of the worst forms of intimate partner violence related to sexual harassment for older and young people alike.
This is when you control a person's finances so it's harder for someone to leave. This form of domestic violence makes it harder for the spouse to leave because they don't have the funds to do so. Someone who is financially abusive usually has a well-paying job and keeps the spouse at home, preventing them from having a job this is one of the common financial abuse signs. If the spouse does have a job, the money is put in an account the abused spouse has no control over.
Financial abuse involves can any kind of deprivation or withholding of income. If someone wants a rich partner and willingly enters into a relationship, it's usually not financial abuse, but if over time, a person loses access to their funds, it can definitely be a form of financial abuse that can affect a person's ability to escape.
A person who has a large social circle may be able to escape, but even then, many victims of emotional abuse and emotional violence victim are scared or embarrassed to contact their friends and family for help. If you're a victim, it's important that you learn to recognize the signs of abuse. Don't let feelings of helplessness take control of you; it's important to get the help you need (however you can.)
Verbal Abuse or Verbal Aggression
Verbal aggression is when someone uses their words to hurt the person. Verbal abuse, name calling, it's the same. Someone who is verbally abusive may threaten the partner, but may not actually do anything to them. However, verbal abuse isn't something that no loving partner should do. Verbal abuse a form of intimate partner violence that involves manipulation and fear, and is not part of a healthy relationship. Instead, verbal abuse as a tool is an abusive relationship through and through. Verbal abuse is a type of intimate partner violence, even if it's all just threats, is something that no one should face, and you should speak with a professional if you're a victim of verbal abuse or sexual harassment.
Instead of verbal abuse, talking to your spouse in a healthy way is the solution. Verbal abuse should never be used as a power play, ever. Get that verbal aggression out of your vernacular. Threatening physical harm is not the answer in any form of domestic relations.
Another form of abuse is shaming. When something happens that makes you look bad, your partner may spread bad information about you in an attempt to perform a character assassination. With character assassination, you may not want to talk to anyone for fear of judgment.
This type of domestic violence involves keeping the partner away from you as punishment. Someone may stonewall you or give you the silent treatment and not speak to you as punishment for a perceived wrongdoing, or isolate themselves away from you as a power play. This form of domestic relations is a mind game intended to control and should not be tolerated.
Giving someone the silent treatment is a form of emotional deprivation that can have lasting effects.
Another form of abuse is withholding affection, a physical form of the silent treatment. This is when a person stops being nice, affectionate, withholding terms of endearment, and just being a decent partner to you as a way to control. A person who is withholding affection may do so as a way to "ground" their partner and punish them and is a classic mind-game played by abusers. While it's natural to be a little less affectionate during a fight, withholding affection is deliberate - and hurtful.
If your partner is withholding affection as a way to punish you, that's a form of abuse. Don't let withholding affection be a way your partner controls you; push back.
Emotional Abuse or Psychological Abuse
Finally, we have emotional abuse or psychological abuse, which can be the most damaging out of all the forms of domestic violence. It's the key sign of an abusive relationship. Emotional abuse can involve a little bit of all of the above, and it's something a partner may have a hard time recovering from. Psychological abuse can affect someone in many different ways. Some who is the victim of psychological abuse may have a damaged mental state they may have a hard time recovering from.
A victim of psychological abuse may isolate themselves in order to stay safe and protect themselves from additional harm. Finally, a victim of psychological abuse needs help as soon as possible. Here is why this form of domestic violence is so horrifying. Emotional abuse is violence, period. All forms of abuse, including emotional, is violence, but emotional abuse is hard to understand.
When it comes to the definition of emotional abuse, the first thing you need to understand is that emotional abuse is a crime, and you do have places to go to seek safety from an abuser. At their core, all forms of abuse are behaviors the abuser uses to control, coerce, and maintain the power they've acquired over their victim through fear and intimidation.
The victim of emotional abuse has been groomed by the abuser to accept the abuse as "normal." They learn to accept this treatment as "what they deserve." The abuser starts out many times as a charismatic and even kind person and gains the victim's trust. Once they have that, they can start manipulating and controlling them. Once the cycle of violence continues the abuser will begin to blatantly call names, and initiate other forms of abuse more frequently.
The definition of emotional abuse, however, can be hard to detect at first. You know if someone causes you direct physical harm. But tactics of emotional abuse can be so subtle that you may not even realize at first you are being manipulated and threatened, and this can lead to you questioning yourself.
You start thinking: Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I do not remember the situation accurately. You can start to feel crazy and feel that you can't trust yourself, your memories, or your judgments; but, you are not crazy. This is their way of keeping control over you. Learning about emotional abuse can help you get on the path to recovery.
Who Could Be A Victim of Emotional Abuse?
Emotional abuse is often talked about regarding intimate relationships, and it's true that relationships between romantic partners are one of the most common settings of this form of abuse. But they are not the only type of relationship where emotional abuse occurs.
Gender does discriminate when it comes to emotional abuse. Both men and women are victims and are targeted by their partners. Children can be victims of emotional abuse by a parent or other authority figure. Bosses can abuse their power over employees. Adult children can emotionally abuse their parents. You may even have an emotionally abusive friend, family member, or co-worker. Coercive and manipulative behaviors are not exclusive to any one type of relationship. One thing that most of these relationships have in common is that the victim is in regular contact with their abuser in some way.
Forms of Emotional Abuse
Several forms of emotional abuse can arise in relationships. Often, abusers use more than one of these tactics against their victims. All of them are ways for the abuser to control you.
Threats come in many forms. Often, the abuser will use threats to play mind games with you, manipulate you, or control what actions you take. They may threaten physical violence to scare you into listening to them and doing what they want. They may threaten to call the police and tell them that you are the one being abusive.
They may coerce you into staying in a relationship by convincing you that you will be ruining your child's life by leaving. They may make threats they don't intend to carry through with to get you to comply, such as threatening to leave you. They may make you feel guilty for their actions by threatening to hurt themselves. Regularly using threats to manipulate someone is not healthy in a relationship.
- Constant Criticism
Criticism is not always abusive when it's constructive. However, when the critical words turn into put-downs, that's not productive, it's abusive. When someone is constantly putting you down or questioning your decisions, there's a malicious motive behind their behavior.
This chronic shaming wears down the victim's self-esteem and confidence and makes them doubt themselves and their self-worth. Criticism can also be disguised as jokes. This makes the victim question whether they are truly being demeaned or not. When a joke is designed to point out your flaws (real or perceived) to make you feel bad, it is criticism, and not a constructive one.
Not all teasing is abuse, sometimes it can be playful, but there's a way to tell the difference. If the joke is about something that doesn't bother you or the other person, it is truly a joke. For example, if a friend or family member teases you about being short, but you feel good about your height and you know they're playful, this is a friendly joke.
Whether verbal abuse is being inflicted on you by your spouse, friend, family member or even your business partner. It's still abuse.
If they pretend about you being lazy and have seriously criticized you about this before, knowing that it evokes a reaction from you, then they are pushing your buttons. This is an example of mental abuse in action. Eventually, you may become more susceptible to other forms of emotional abuse because of being so worn down by criticism.
Gaslighting is probably the most "crazy-making" of the forms of emotional abuse. It is a denial of your experiences and your perception of reality. When someone tells you enough times that something you remember didn't happen or that they didn't say a thing you're sure they did, or that you said a thing you're sure you didn't, you begin to believe that your memory is unreliable. Then you begin to depend on that very person to tell you what happened, which is a dangerous place to be in. After experiencing gaslighting, you need to re-learn to trust yourself. The first step is recognizing that this is happening to you.
With gaslighting, information is twisted to favor the abuser. Often, but not always, it is done in a premeditated manner. We have all seen small children twist a story after the fact to get out of trouble, but gaslighting is not the same thing. It is not done to get the abuser out of trouble, but to gain further control over the victim. They may accuse you of being the instigator in a situation when they poked you to get a reaction.
The purpose of gaslighting is to make you start acting like you are out of control. Another sign that you are the victim of gaslighting is if every time you try to talk about your experiences, the other person makes the conversation about them, as though they are the victim of your behaviors, despite you being the one who brought up a grievance. A truly caring partner, friend, or family member will listen to you with compassion and want to help if you feel there is a problem in the relationship.
You should also keep in mind that feeling stressed, angry, or upset, will cause you to have trouble with your memory of the situation, and this is normal. It does not mean you are crazy if you cannot remember the exact words you or the other person said during an argument. Don't let someone use the results of stress against you.
- Disregarding Your Opinions
Also called opposing and blocking, the result of constantly having your opinions shot down or being told to shut up or that your thoughts don't matter is that you stop standing up for yourself. You stop vocalizing your opinions. Ultimately no connection can exist without open communication.
Again, this form of abuse can be quite subtle. It can be as simple as the abuser telling you that you are boring when you start talking about something you are enthusiastic about. But when that assertion is repeated to you over and over, you may begin to feel like your thoughts don't have any worth.
Another way that abusers disregard your opinions is by blatantly stepping on your boundaries. Excessive calls and texts to your cell phone (when you have asked them to stop) is another example a violation of your boundaries.
A relationship involves rejection when one person makes the other feel unwanted. This can be seen in emotionally abusive parent-child relationships. When the child is called names, demeaned, belittled, or left by themselves for long periods of time, it can cause extreme mental harm. This also occurs in intimate relationships in which the abuser continues to stay but repeatedly calls the victim names and makes character insults to show that they have no respect for them. In any relationship, the result is that the victim feels like no one else would want them either and that they don't deserver anything better.
The abuser makes sure that the victim is kept apart from friends or other family members; this is another not so easy to recognize form of emotional abuse. A child or partner may not be allowed to interact with friends. An elderly parent may be denied visits. Without other healthy relationships, the victim becomes more and more dependent upon the abuser to fulfill their needs. This is unhealthy and destructive to their lives.
Partners or parents may keep the victim from getting a job, meaning they don't form relationships with peers and they have no financial independence. Ultimately, losing the abuser would mean losing everything, even if the victim sees that the relationship is not good.
Victim blaming is a severe form of emotional abuse. Blaming the victim comes after other forms of abuse, whether physical, sexual, or emotional that lead victims to feel ashamed. The abuser will tell you that things that happened are your fault. They claim they would not have acted the way they did or said the things they said if you would have just behaved appropriately and listened to them. They will tell you that you always cause issues, or you always start arguments.
Unfortunately, abuse typically happens in private so you may have no one to validate your experiences or help you understand that you are not to blame for their actions. You are not responsible for what your abuser does. Making your own decisions is not a cause for abuse.
If you feel like something is not right about the way you are being treated, you should trust your iƒnstincts. Seek help by finding someone you can trust to talk to. If you decide to confront your abuser about their behaviors, only continue the conversation if each of you can remain calm and have an escape plan prepared before the discussion. You may want to hold the conversation in a public place.
The Emotional Abuse Cycle
Abusive relationships often work in cycles, especially if the victim has a choice about whether to stay. The first stage is the honeymoon period. Many emotional abusers come across as extremely charming to their potential victims, and to others around them. This can make it even more difficult for a victim to get help because everyone you know may think the abuser is such a nice person that they could never do or say such things.
During the honeymoon period, the abuser will charm you and make you feel like they do love and care about you. They may buy you nice things to earn your forgiveness for past hurts and profess their feelings for you. Because of this behavior pattern, victims became very attached to their abusers and invested in the relationship before they recognize the negative behavior patterns of coercion, manipulation, and violence.
The next stage is when the tension builds. During this period, the abuser becomes increasingly agitated. It is the stage, which many victims refer to as "walking on eggshells." You may not be sure what you say or do will set off the other person.
Finally, the next situation of abuse arises. The abuser is back to their old ways. The promises they made during the "good" part of the relationship are shown to be just another part of their manipulation against you. The problem with this cycle is that it can lead you to believe that your abuser is a good person; that they messed up; and that they deserve another chance. But without the abuser seeking counseling for their problems, giving them another chance simply means they will repeat the cycle over again.
So how do you stop the cycle of abuse? As mentioned, if you and your abuser both seek counseling for your separate issues, you may be able to end the abuse. Most often, the relationship is damaged irreparably before an abuser can seek help and end their destructive behaviors. For your mental health and safety, it is usually best to get out of the relationship, whether that means a break-up or looking for a new job and bettering yourself.
Reaching out to a licensed professional counselor, other medically reviewed therapist, or contacting the national domestic violence hotline can help. You can endanger yourself by standing up to an abuser in certain situations. That being said, if you feel confident that you are not at risk for physical violence, or that you may be able to improve the relationship, you can push back by calling the person out and vocalizing what they are doing that hurts you. If their response is defensive, then they are not receptive to this strategy and your best way to avoid further abuse is to reduce your interactions with this person. Try spending time with your trusted friends and loved ones instead.
Coercive Behavior Patterns
Emotional abusers often have distinct personality and behavior patterns. Once you've been exposed to these traits, you may be able to recognize them in future relationships before abuse begins. They are often self-centered individuals who lack empathy.
They may feel like they have no control over their own lives and have a strong desire for asserting control where they can, including in their relationships with others. You can watch for the following signs to determine whether a person is a risk for coercive behaviors. Knowing these patterns can help you avoid entering an abusive relationship in the future.
- The person seems insecure or uncomfortable around others.
- They are paranoid about people's motivations, constantly looking for insults or hidden agendas where there aren't any.
- Overreacts about simple situations or seems edgy or uptight.
- Has overbearing parents or has family members that have taken care of everything for them, past an appropriate age to do so.
- Expresses road rage and thinks other drivers are "morons."
- Brags or boasts.
- Overly needy, constantly requiring emotional support.
- Unreasonable resentment of past partners and blaming failed relationships on the other person, constantly bring up their continued anger or grievances over the former partner.
- Plays the sad puppy, looking for your pity, and bemoaning how poorly they have been treated in the past.
- Acts pushy in conversations, by not letting others having an opinion, always getting in the last word, and arguing over petty issues that don't seem worth arguing about.
- Pressures you to do things you don't want to.
- Makes decisions for you, without consulting you.
- Invades your privacy, always being nosey about where you are, what you're doing, or who you're with.
- Behaves possessively over you.
- Lies about small things that it would be easy, to tell the truth about.
- Disregards boundaries you have set.
- You've heard accounts of other angry, violent, or abusive episodes from other people who know them.
If you see multiple patterns on this list in a person, you are at risk of emotional abuse.
Who is Likely To be Abused?
Domestic violence and emotional abuse can happen in a young adult, older adults, and couples of all ages and genders. Young adults, particularly women between 18-24 are the most likely to be the victim of abuse, according to the NCADV.
Signs That Someone is Emotionally Abused or Has an Emotionally Abusive Partner
Here are some signs that someone you know is emotionally abused or in an emotionally abusive relationship. For more resources refer to the National domestic violence hotline website or contact them directly by phone at: 1-800-799-7233.
They Are Distant from their Loved Ones
You may notice that the person you love is becoming more distant as they are getting into their relationship. Someone who may be your best friend may seem distant and cold. You may be angry at this person and think they just don't care about their friends anymore since they found a relationship. However, this could be a sign they are in an emotionally abusive relationship and possibly suffering from complex post-traumatic stress disorder or other similar issue.
There is usually a difference between just not having the time to talk and being emotionally abused. If a person is ignoring your conversations altogether or has even blocked you, this could be the sign of an emotionally abusive relationship. This especially applies if the potential emotionally abused person is ignoring their family, who are they more likely to contact.
They Always Apologize to You
If you've noticed your friend becoming more apologetic, and they're apologizing for every little thing, this may be the sign of an emotionally abused person in an emotionally abusive relationship. Some people can end up becoming more apologetic over time, but someone who is suddenly apologetic and never was before may be in an emotionally abusive relationship. They may apply their walking on eggshells attitude they show to their spouse to you, and not realize it.
They Aren't Allowed
"Let me see if my boyfriend/girlfriend allows this." If your friend is always asking for permission with their partner for everything, they may be emotionally abused or in an emotionally abusive relationship.
There is a key difference between letting your partner know what you're doing and asking for permission. If them "letting their partner know" seems excessive and they're always sending text messages asking, it may be a sign of an emotionally abusive relationship.
They're Have a Sudden Anxiety Disorder or Seem Depressed
Anxiety, depression, or a change in mood could be an example of being emotionally abused. If your friend never seemed to have this before, and their anxiety seems to intensify whenever they mention their spouse, it could be a sign of an emotionally abused person.
They Tell You Outright
Sometimes, an emotionally abused person will tell you they're being emotionally abused. They may try to mask it a bit and say that their partner is going through a funk or "driving me crazy," but when the person talks about their partner's actions, it's a clear sign of them being emotionally abused, and you should try to reach out to the person.
Stopping the Abuse
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about emotional and verbal abuse is to the victim it does not make any rational sense. In fact, it is impossible to stop verbal abuse through reasoning or logic because an emotional abuser is not forming their actions with rationality or logic. You can fall into a pattern of looking for the reason for the other person's angry outbursts or trying to figure out what you did wrong, but the truth is, there is no logical explanation.
The lack of logic is another reason that emotional abuse can make you feel like you are crazy. The arguments will go on in circles because the abuser will not acknowledge your rational arguments. Your knowledge that a reasonable person does not communicate in this way does not change that they are not going to cooperate. So how do you stop this?
The first thing you need to do to protect your mental health is to stop trying to reason with the abuser. All this will result in is frustration and anger for you, and they won't respond to it. They are operating on emotion rather than reason. If you allow yourself to get angry, the situation will only escalate, and the abuser will have gained power over you because you too will have lost your ability to reason well. Simply stop the habit of trying to explain yourself and your actions.
The next step is to disengage from the abuse as much as possible. Begin to develop a safety plan. Make yourself boring to the abuser. Don't play into the abuse and if you need to walk away and leave the situation, do that. If you don't react to the manipulation, they will get less satisfaction from mistreating you.
If they spot the change and try to up the abuse, circle back to the first step and remember not to argue logic or lose your temper. They will try to goad you into an argument, perhaps calling you "icy," "stony," "emotionless," or a "robot." You know this is not true and that you are protecting yourself from their abuse.
While you are implementing these changes in your patterns, remember to take care of yourself. Start thinking about you. This can be difficult for those who have been trained to put the abuser first and always think about what would make them happy or keep them from exploding. Instead, seek out ways to improve your mental health and happiness.
You should also start learning to set personal boundaries. Stating your boundaries out loud shows the abuser that you are aware of what they are doing. It begins to break their hold over you, and it is an extremely important lesson to learn for your future friendships and relationships.
If the abusive behavior continues after setting boundaries and refusing to engage, it is time to plan your exit from the relationship. Start by finding ways to decrease your interactions with this person. Continue the steps discussed above to limit harmful situations while you prepare to leave. If you are financially dependent upon your abuser, plan for financial independence before you act.
When you are ready to leave, whether you are leaving a specific argument or leaving altogether, make sure someone you trust knows where you are and what you are planning. If possible, have someone with you or on the phone during the conversation. Again, trying to remove yourself from an emotionally abusive argument can escalate the situation to physical violence, as the abuser panics for a way to control your behavior and keep you from leaving.
Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline
If you are a victim of abuse, one thing you can do is call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7, and you can also chat online with a person on the National Domestic Violence Hotline as well.
If you've been physically struck, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline. If you've been emotionally abused, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
You may also contact your local authorities or the Department of Justice to report the abuse and get help.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is completely anonymous and you can get advice, be led to various resources you can use to leave your domestically violent relationship, and more. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is there for you, and if you're still unconvinced, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline today.
Try a Crisis Text Line
Often, someone who is a victim cannot be vocal on a phone, or may not want to get on the computer. A crisis text line can help. A crisis text line is when you can communicate with someone via text for a more discreet experience.
The most common crisis text line is simply known as the Crisis Text Line. Text HOME to 741741. This hotline is not only good for domestic violence, but may be good for another crisis as well. Whenever you need to speak to someone, talk to this hotline today.
Signs of Mental Trauma and Learning to Trust Yourself Again After Emotional Abuse
It can be difficult to learn to trust your judgment and thoughts after experiencing emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can cause many secondary conditions that may also need to be addressed as you recover from the situation. These secondary conditions can include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder,
- Chronic pain,
- Reduced sexual desire,
- Gastrointestinal problems,
- Increased blood pressure,
- And other stress-related health issues.
Find a Therapist
You can get help. Finding the help you need is about healing yourself. Emotional abuse is a painful wound, and like any other deep wound, you're more likely to heal when you seek medically reviewed professional treatment. An online therapist at BetterHelp will help you figure out whether you're in an abusive relationship.
If you discover that you are involved with an abusive partner, your therapist can help guide you toward leaving the relationship and getting healthy. It's extremely important to understand that having another mental illness does not preclude you from experiencing emotional abuse. It is not okay for someone to dismiss your claims of abuse as part of your other mental illness. You do not imagine things, and this abuse is real. Get the help that you need from a medically reviewed professional so you can start to live your best life.
Effects of emotional abuse can be long-lasting. Be prepared to go through periods of ups and downs during your healing process.
Some people may want to find a therapist who is in-person. A face-to-face conversation may be what you need. Look up the best place to find a therapist who specializes in domestic violence. Make sure you find a therapist who is discreet, and try to go to a place your spouse doesn't go. Sometimes, you may have to find a therapist who lives a bit further away. Find therapists who can help you.
However you find a therapist, be it online or in person, the therapist can help you escape from the emotionally abusive relationship. Find a therapist today and get out of your emotionally abusive, manipulative relationship. It's the last thing you need to experience. You deserve to be happy.
Whether you contact a therapist, local authority, the National Domestic Violence Hotline or the Department of Justice, contact someone who can help.
Domestic abuse is not something to be taken lightly, and it should never be a part of healthy relationships. Domestic abuse is commonly associated with physical abuse, but physical abuse is not just what someone who is being abused may go through. Your partner can emotionally abuse you too.
One of the biggest forms of domestic abuse is emotional abuse. This form of domestic abuse tends to happen over time. When you are early on in a relationship, setting boundaries is a must, but even then, an emotionally abusive relationship can still happen. Even with boundaries, your partner can emotionally abuse you. In any emotionally abusive relationship, it's important to see the signs.
Emotional abuse can happen at any stage. It's possible for dating abuse to happen, and it's possible for abuse to happen later in the relationship as well. Any form of abuse should be handled as the effects of emotional abuse can be lasting.
With emotional abuse, the victim feels it, and it can extend to the rest of the family. A kid seeing domestic violence may be a form of child abuse and a child cannot cope with emotional abuse.
A victim may experience post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, eating disorders, and be unable to cope with emotional abuse of any kind.
Stop blaming yourself. Instead, seek help and realize there is hope. You can be able to find the hope you need.
If you're the victim of domestic violence or emotional abuse, here are some other things you can do.
Leave the room. Don't just leave the room, leave the house. Find a safe place where you can talk to someone. Of course, make sure you can leave your emotional abuser.
Marriage Isn't Consent
While sexual desire is a good thing in a marriage, you don't owe anyone sex if you don't feel it. Forcing someone to have sex is a form of interpersonal violence that is horrifying. Any sexual issues should be resolved in another way.
Support Networks Are Important
Before you get into any relationship, always make sure you have a support network. When it comes to support, friends and family are helpful, but support can come in the form of online friends, a therapist, or any other person who can respond to emotional abuse. They can help you get out of abusive relationships no matter how intimidating they are and can help you escape any abusive behaviors you may face.
Your Identity, Dignity, and Self-worth is Important
A relationship that is abusive can have an impact on your identity, dignity, and self-worth. The psychological trauma you experience can make you lose your sense of self, your identity, and your dignity.
What do we mean by this? An abusive relationship makes you rely on another person in order to show any individualism. With a healthy relationship, you can be able to have a great relationship and still be proud of yourself and who you are alone.
However, the psychological trauma of a relationship can make that a challenge. As someone who is in a relationship, it's important that you move past that.
You Can Have Secrets
Your partner should never have to look at your text messages. This abusive behavior is a form of control. Even if you have nothing to hide, this is not the sign of a healthy relationship, but one of the many forms of interpersonal violence. Don't feel small just because your partner keeps saying that you have something to hide. Usually, they are projecting, and they have something to hide as well.
There is No Reason for Physical Violence
Physical violence is a sign of abusive relationships, period. Your partner should never use intimidating, manipulation, or violence. Interpersonal violence violates personal boundaries and is a pure form of relationship abuse. Physical violence is one of the many forms of abusive behaviors, and it's also not just beating someone up, but it can involve any touching that violates personal boundaries.
Often, this is due to personality disorders. Some personality disorders that may make your partner violent include bipolar disorder, anger management issues.
All abusive behaviors, including emotional, are horrifying, but emotional abuse has the biggest reach.
Finally, the most important thing to take away from this post is to seek help. An abusive relationship can be hard to get out of, and even then, you may have psychological trauma. This trauma can make it hard for you to be alone, and you may end up returning to your abusive partner.
Never do that. Your partner is usually not going to get better. There may be a grace period where things seem to be better, but eventually, your partner will return to their old ways.
There is always going to be conflict in a relationship, but a healthy relationship means that the two of you resolve the conflict in a healthy manner. Otherwise, your relationship will end up being toxic.
Don't hesitate. Get help today.