You’re Not Crazy, But Emotional Abuse Can Make You Think You Are

By: Sarah Fader

Updated December 21, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include sexual assault & violence which could potentially be triggering.

If you or someone you know is living in an abusive relationship, it is normal to feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to handle the situation.   There are different types of abuse and they are all serious.  No matter what you have done or may have been accused of doing at any point in your life, you do not deserve to be abused. It is also not your fault if someone else chooses to behave in an abusive manner toward you.  It is possible to recognize symptoms of abuse and to learn ways to end the cycle.

Domestic Violence Defined

Domestic violence, also referred to as intimate partner violence, domestic abuse, spousal abuse, intimate partner abuse, or dating violence, is any behavior that results in the maltreatment of one partner in a relationship by another one.  Domestic violence or abuse can happen in any type of relationship and among people from various backgrounds and with different cultural and societal belief systems.

Types of Domestic Violence

At its core, domestic violence is about control.  Abusers may use physical or psychological means to inflict trauma or harm on their victims. 

Any form of domestic violence is serious.  If you are experiencing abuse in any form, it is important to reach out for help and support and to get to a place of safety.  Some examples of types of domestic violence include:


Any attack or assault on a person that causes physical harm or injury or the risk of harm or injury is considered physical.  Hitting, slapping, kicking, throwing things, or grabbing a person without their permission are examples of physical abuse. 

Signs of physical abuse may include multiple bruises with various stages of healing, broken bones or unexplained accidents, or black eyes.  Although it can occur absent other forms of abuse, it is not uncommon for physical abuse to occur in addition to other forms of abuse, such as sexual abuse or emotional abuse. 

Sexual Abuse

Behavior that involves any forcible act of sexual nature is sexual abuse.  Fondling without permission, sexually harassing, forcing sexual intercourse or other sexual acts fall into this category of abuse. 

Marriage or a committed relationship does not give someone the right to demand or force sex.  You are not obligated to have sex with anyone and should not feel like someone owes you sexual favors. The decision to engage in a sexual relationship should be a personal, consensual choice and never forced on anyone.  Ever.

Like any type of abuse, sexual abuse can have a significant impact on a person’s physical and mental health.  Loss of friendships or relationships may occur.  It can leave victims feeling unable to trust anyone, especially in an intimate way, which may lead to avoiding future relationships.  If your partner forces you to have sex or engage in unwanted sex acts or minimizes the importance of your emotions or feelings about sex, these are signs of sexual abuse.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse may involve withholding money or refusing a victim the right to work and earn money independently.  Depriving a person of financial support or of the things that financial support offers (clothes, food, shelter) are financial abuse.  Financial abuse is a common tool that emotionally abusive spouses or partners use to keep get and maintain control over a victim.  Without a way to support themselves financially, victims are less likely to leave an emotionally abusive relationship.  Unfortunately, even victims who have access to some money (theirs or borrowed) may remain in a relationship because of the emotional abuse that they have suffered. 

Has your spouse, partner, or someone else you know stolen from you or used your name and personal information to incur debt?  Does your partner refuse to let you work or force you to work?  Do you feel like you must rely on your partner for all financial support?  If so, you may be experiencing financial abuse. 

Spiritual Abuse

Any behavior that causes a disturbance in the way you feel about yourself or hinders the way you like to do things is spiritual abuse.  It may involve a partner making rules about your right to practice religious beliefs or to practice culturally held values and morals.  Being forced to give up things that are important to you or being made to feel that you do not have a right to choose is spiritual abuse.

Technological Abuse

We live in a fast-paced world with technology at our fingertips.  While the use of the internet and social media can be useful for educational and professional purposes as well as for personal pleasure, it also creates an environment that is conducive to abuse and control. 

If your partner makes phone calls or sends text messages to you constantly, changes or demands to know passwords to your email and social media accounts monitors your social media activity, or uses GPS tracking to follow your activities, this is technological abuse.  Making fake social media profiles to attempt to trick you or catch you doing things they do not want you to or using social media to harass or threaten you is also technological abuse.

Verbal Abuse or Verbal Aggression

Verbal aggression is when someone uses their words to hurt another person. Verbal abuse includes name-calling, criticism, blaming, accusing, and talking to someone in a condescending way.   Someone who is verbally or emotionally abusive may threaten the partner but may not actually do anything to them.  Nevertheless, the fear of being harmed can have effects that are just as detrimental. 

But, What Is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse is defined as any act that subjects a victim to behavior that could result in psychological trauma, resulting in anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or that causes them to live in fear.  Perpetrators of emotional abuse may use insults, humiliation, or fear tactics to manipulate or control victims.

Isolation, intimidation, verbal assault, or confinement as well as any treatment that causes a decline in a person’s sense of self-worth, identity, or dignity are all examples of emotional abuse. 

Emotional abuse is a form of family and domestic violence as much as physical or sexual abuse is.  It is considered a passive-aggressive form of behavior because it involves acting indirectly aggressive (shouting, threatening) instead of being directly aggressive (pushing, shoving, hitting).

Abusers often use a tactic referred to as “grooming” to make victims believe that their behavior is normal.  In the beginning, an abuser may act charming and kind which leads a victim to trust.  Once a victim feels safe and is unsuspecting, abusers may begin to start manipulating them to assert control.  When this occurs, it becomes easier for abusers to behave inappropriately and to engage in other forms of abuse.

Although emotional abuse may occur in the absence of other forms of abuse, if other types of abuse are occurring, emotional abuse will likely be happening as well.  The feelings of helplessness and worthlessness that emotional abuse cause in a victim often leave victims feeling that they deserve any abuse that occurs.

"Domestic violence or abuse can happen in any type of relationship and among people from various backgrounds and with different cultural and societal belief systems."

Signs of Emotional Abuse

Victims of emotional or psychological abuse tend to isolate themselves from others.  While emotional abuse may take on many forms, some of the most common signs of emotional abuse include:

Character Assassination:  This kind of behavior typically implies that you “just can’t measure up.”  An abuser may make statements that insinuate you are incapable of performing any task as well as others, accuse you of being late all the time, or not knowing how to do simple things.

Public Embarrassment:  People who commit emotional abuse often make a public spectacle of you and may ridicule you for what they believe are your shortcomings in front of others. 

Joking:  Even if what they say may have some base of truth, the truth is usually twisted in a way to make you look and feel foolish.

Having no regard for your thoughts or feelings:  An abuser may imply that the movies you like to watch or the hobbies you enjoy are stupid or a waste of time.  They may accuse you of “not having what it takes” to accomplish something important to you.  Below the surface of it all, when an abuser uses tactics like this, it is usually because they feel insecure and incapable, but instead of acknowledging that, they project those emotions or feelings onto you.

Denial:  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 emotions or feelings are invalid - that's a terrible feeling, and it's not true.

Giving you direct orders:  Abusers often use controlling words or behavior to manipulate or scare victims.  Expecting you to follow their orders as if you belong to them is a common sign of emotional abuse.

Treating you as if you are a child:  Controlling the type of clothes you wear, what you eat, or who your friends are is a sign of emotional abuse. 

Unpredictable behaviors or outbursts of anger:  You may be subjected to uncontrollable rage followed by being showered with affection or gifts.  Happiness and joy may be quickly replaced with uncertainty and the feeling of being on edge all the time.

Jealousy:  Abusers often accuse victims of cheating or flirting with someone else, although they know it is not true.

Guilt-tripping you:  Victims often feel like they owe their abusers something.  You may be told, “I’ve done so much for you and you can’t even do this one little thing for me??”

Withholding:  Emotional abuse may involve withholding love, affection, sex as a form of punishment or control.

Name-Calling:  Abusers may call victim names that are blatantly hurtful such as “crazy” or “loser.”  On the other hand, they may use “pet names” or nicknames that cause hurt or embarrassment.  Miss Piggy and Chubby Pumpkin are examples. 

Insisting on constant communication:  Abusers often want to know where a victim is at all times.  They may call or text several times during the day, stop by unexpectedly or take your keys to keep you from leaving. 


Gaslighting is an extreme form of emotional abuse that involves the act of manipulating someone with the use of psychological efforts.  People who gaslight cause victims to question their own thoughts, memories, or facts related to an event that they know happened. 

While gaslighting can occur in both personal and professional relationships, the effects it has on intimate relationships can be most astounding. 

The term gaslighting comes from a stage play that eventually became a film.  The 1944 movie Gaslight tells the story of a woman who married young.  Her husband was manipulative and controlling.  In his attempts to control her, he began to manipulate her environment in ways that made her question her sanity.  The lights in the home in the film were gas.  The husband would dim the gas lights and make them flicker and would deny that anything was happening when she mentioned it.  He would tell her she was crazy and that nothing was wrong with them.  The emotional trauma she experienced was severe.  In the end, the woman found someone who helped her proves that she was not losing her mind and that the events were happening and not her imagination, and she left the marriage. 

Gaslighting may occur in different forms, but they all employ some sense of an attempt to psychologically control a victim.  Projection is a common tactic gaslighters use.  It is the act of accusing someone else of having shortcomings or faults that one sees in themselves.  For example, if a gaslighter is cheating in a relationship, they may accuse you of being unfaithful.  This is a ploy gaslighters often use to take the focus off themselves and their poor behavior.

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Early Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship

Being in a new relationship can feel exciting.  It’s not likely that anyone begins a relationship expecting to become a victim of abuse.  Unfortunately, this can happen.  Some warning signs may indicate an increased risk of experiencing an unhealthy relationship or abuse. 

Signs of unhealthy intimate relationships and potential dating abuse include:

  • 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 strong indication that they may do the same thing to you.
  • Their ex keeps warning you. Not all exes are jealous or want your partner back. Don’t write them off as jealous right away.  Unfortunately, there may be some truth in what they are saying.  Even if you do not acknowledge what an ex says right away, it is wise to consider what you are told, especially if you begin seeing other behaviors that indicate an emotionally abusive nature.
  • If your partner is always hitting objects or seems violent, this is a warning sign that your relationship could experience some form of physical abuse.
  • Your partner demands sex early in the relationship, even if you are uncomfortable. This is a sign of coercive or manipulating behavior. If you are not comfortable having a sexual relationship, say so.  Demanding sex could indicate that your partner may become sexually aggressive later. 
  • Your partner demands to check your cell phone or internet history - or they check them without your permission.
  • Your partner “checks in” with you all the time, which usually turns into them needing to know where you are and who is with you at all times (for example, through constant texts or phone calls).
  • Your partner calls you pet names, that you do not really like or feel belittled by.
  • 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.  Being the victim of emotional abuse increases the risk of becoming a victim of other forms of abuse unless you get help.  The insult to self-esteem and happiness that emotional abuse causes victims to feel contributes largely to this risk.  Many victims feel it is impossible to have the experience a healthy love relationship.  If you are experiencing emotional abuse, it is okay to reach out for help.  If feel like you are in immediate danger, seek immediate help. The Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233 and is available 24/7. 

Abuser’s Pattern of Behavior

Domestic or family abuse, which can include physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, and financial abuse is a means of control.  Abusers typically play mind games to try and confuse or hurt victims.  Because emotional abuse may not be coupled with physical abuse, some victims may not realize what is happening until the abuse becomes unbearable.

Intimidation is part of the pattern of behavior of emotional abuse.  Victims may feel like they will be punished for thinking or feeling a certain way or may feel as if they have no option but to give in to an abuser’s demands.  Many abusers exhibit periods of abusive behavior followed by love-bombing.  

Love-bombing is a coercive technique that people who manipulate used to make victims question whether a situation is as bad as they originally thought.  It may include behavior such as lavishing you with expensive gifts, bombarding you with texts or phone calls that usually revolve around their “undying affection” toward you and compliments that seem to have no end.  If an abuser can cause a victim to experience self-doubt, it becomes easier to become more controlling.  


Many victims of abuse find themselves codependent on their abusers.  A codependent relationship occurs when victims feel the need to tolerate the abuser’s behavior because it has become a habit.  This habit becomes so “normal” that, in some of these situations, victims may have a sense of feeling lost without the abuser. 

Symptoms of codependence include feeling unhappy in a relationship but fearing what life may be like if the relationship ends.  Neglecting your own needs for the sake of meeting the needs of your abuser, feeling the need to ask for constant approval from your abuser, preferring to live in an emotionally abusive relationship rather than being alone.  Additionally, criticizing yourself the way your abuser would are also signs of codependence.

The Cycle of Emotional Abuse

“Emotional abuse cycle” refers to the pattern of behavior, or cycle of behavior, that generally occurs in an emotionally abusive relationship. The first stage is the honeymoon period. During this stage, many emotional abusers appear extremely charming to their potential victims, as well as to others around them. The thought that a partner may become emotionally abusive is offensive to a potential victim during this time. 

During the honeymoon period, abusers typically use charm and affection and may 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 emotions or feelings for you. Because of this behavior pattern, victims became very attached to their abusers and become more 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 feel unsure if what you say or do will set off the other person. 

The incident stage of the cycle of abuse is when any form of abuse occurs.  The abuse can be a verbal or physical attack or sexual assault.  Threats, manipulation, and intimidation generally occur during this stage.  Abusers may become easily angered, arguing constantly, and blame a victim during this stage. 

Reconciliation occurs when an abuser acknowledges that their behavior was inappropriate and seems to attempt to make right the wrong.  For some, this may be a genuine attempt at better behavior.  On the other hand, this may be another way to manipulate a victim with mind games.

The stage often referred to as “calm” is a period of time during which no abuse occurs.  Abusers may act as though no emotionally abusive incident occurred at all, and victims may try to forget as well.

Without proper intervention, abuse typically continues in a cycle that occurs over and over.  With the right help, however, there is hope for ending the cycle of abuse.


Coercive Behavior Patterns

Emotional abusers often have distinct personality and behavior patterns. They often exhibit self-centered individuals who lack empathy. Once you have been exposed to these traits, you may be able to recognize them in future relationships before abuse begins.

Some abusers may feel like they have no control over their own lives, which results in 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 may 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 are not 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 do not seem worth arguing about.
  • Pressures you to do things you do not want to.
  • Makes decisions for you, without consulting you.
  • Invades your privacy, always being nosey about where you are, what you are 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 have heard accounts of other angry, violent, or emotionally 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.

Covert Emotional Abuse

Covert abuse is psychological and emotional abuse that does not include behaviors that are outwardly controlling such as threatening, blaming, or belittling.  It is often referred to as passive/aggressive behavior.  An abuser who uses covert emotional abuse will purposefully and seemingly systematically try to manipulate your thoughts, feelings, and emotional responses.  This is often accomplished by shifting blame, gaslighting, ignoring, or twisting your words.

When an abuser uses covert emotional abuse, they generally come across as loving or caring in an attempt to make sure their behaviors are not readily seen.  They may appear empathetic, warm, and trustworthy, but this is usually part of the mind game of covert emotional abuse.

Covert emotional abuse is often difficult to identify because victims may interpret an abuser’s behavior as normal, rather than relying on their gut instincts that it is not normal or healthy.  It may involve intense effort from the abuser to make a victim doubt their own perceptions about what they believe is reality. 

Signs That Someone is Emotionally Abused or Has an Emotionally Abusive Partner

If you suspect someone you know is the victim of abuse, it is important to reach out and offer support.  The following are symptoms that may indicate the presence of abuse.

They Are Distant from their Loved Ones

You may notice that the person you love is becoming more distant.  The longer abuse goes on, the more distant a victim may become.

 Someone who maybe your best friend may seem withdrawn or cold toward. You may be angry at this person and think they just do not 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 post-traumatic stress disorder, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or other disorders such as anxiety or depression.

There is usually a difference between just simply not having the time to talk and being emotionally abused. If a person you were once remarkably close with is in a relationship with someone who is controlling, they may suddenly begin ignoring your conversations altogether or have even blocked you from communicating with them at all. This especially applies if the potential emotionally abused person is ignoring their family, who they may otherwise contact when in need.

They Seem to Always Feel a Need to Apologize to You

If you have noticed your friend becoming more apologetic, as if they feel a need to apologize for every little thing, this may be the sign of an emotionally abusive relationship.  While some people naturally learn to become more sensitive to other’s thoughts and feelings and become more willing to apologize when necessary, people in an emotionally abusive relationship may do so even when there appears to be no need for an apology.  They often appear nervous or seem to “walk on eggshells,” especially in the presence of their abuser.

They Need Permission Before Doing Things They Want to Do

"Let me see if my boyfriend/girlfriend allows this." If your friend is always asking for permission from their partner for everything or adhering to rules that their partner seems to establish for them, they may be emotionally abused or in an emotionally abusive relationship.

There is a key difference between letting your partner know what you are doing out of respect and asking for permission. If them "letting their partner know" seems excessive and they're always sending text messages to let their partner know where they are, who they are with, or what they are doing, this could indicate the presence of abuse. 

Anxiety or Depression

Anxiety, depression, or a change in mood could be an example of being emotionally abused. If your friend never seemed to have experienced this before, and their anxiety seems to intensify whenever they mention their spouse, it could be a sign of an emotionally abused person. Abuse can make it hard to ask for help, but research shows that online therapy can help with anxiety, depression, and other symptoms of domestic violence. 


An extensive study by the Berkeley Well-Being Institute found online therapy to be as effective as face-to-face counseling in reducing depression.

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You may read the full study here: Depression: Effectiveness of a Multimodal Digital Psychotherapy Platform for Adult Depression: A Naturalistic Feasibility Study.

They May Tell You About the Abuse

While it does not always happen, sometimes, an emotionally abused person will tell you they are experiencing emotional abuse. They may try to mask it a bit and say that their partner is going through a difficult time or "is just different," but if 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.

The Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Emotional Abuse

Like any abuse, emotional abuse can cause significant effects on a victim.  Denial is common among victims as the thought that they could be victimized by someone they care for is unbelievable.  Initially, emotions or feelings of fear, confusion, and shame may be present.  This can lead to both physical and mental responses such as altered mood, difficulty concentrating, nightmares, muscle tension, and rapid heart rate.

Over time, if emotional abuse is not stopped, and if a victim does not get help, there is a chance that the emotionally abusive behavior can become much worse.  Anxiety, guilt, altered sleep patterns, social withdrawal, and isolation, and depression may occur.  Some mental health professionals believe that emotional abuse may contribute to the development of conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

It is not uncommon for victims of emotional abuse to experience chronic headaches, heart disease, obesity, eating disorders, and substance use disorders. 

Perhaps one of the most frightening effects of emotional abuse is the development of post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD.  PTSD typically occurs in response to a traumatic event or long-term pattern of abuse or neglect.  Victims may experience flashbacks of the event, be easily startled, have nightmares or night terrors.  Children who experience post-traumatic stress disorder may exhibit signs of developmental regression or bed-wetting.

Learning to Cope with Emotional Abuse

Being a victim of emotional abuse or control can feel overwhelming.  You may feel like there is no way out. The first step in recovery is acknowledging that there is a problem.  Seeking the help of a counselor or other mental health professional can offer you an opportunity to discuss your emotions or feelings and to develop a plan to get you to safety. 

Overcoming emotional abuse will require you to be honest with yourself about what you have experienced, how you feel about the abuse, and what you want, and expect for your future. 

Set Boundaries:  Even if an abuser does not like or chooses not to respect boundaries you set, set them anyway.  Establish in your own mind the things that you are willing to tolerate and the things you are not.  Make your intentions and the consequences of overstepping your boundaries clear.  When you do this, it is important to enforce the consequences if/when the abuser tries to manipulate you.

Practice Self-Care:  Anyone who wants to be physically or mentally well needs to learn how to make themselves a priority.  This is especially true if you have been the victim of abuse.  Taking the focus off your abuser and focusing on your wants and needs can help you begin to feel a sense of balance and wellness.  Get plenty of rest and sleep.  Eat well-balanced healthy meals and exercise.  

Avoid arguments:  Even if you are right and the abuser knows you are right, it is highly unlikely that they will ever admit it.  Do not waste your time trying to argue with them or defend yourself from their accusations.  Unfortunately, an emotionally abusive person may take anything you say and turn it against you, including the truth. 

Build a support system:  Talk to a trusted friend or family member about what you are going through.  One thing that many abusers count on is the fact that their victims may not confide in what is going on to others.  In many cases, victims feel so emotionally downtrodden that they do not think others will believe them.  They will!  Talk to someone who can offer you emotional support and encouragement so that you can draw strength for the journey of healing. 

Positive Affirmations for Victims of Emotional Abuse

If you are experiencing emotional abuse, it may feel like nothing is good or positive in your life.  Even with a strong support system or the help of a therapist, one of the most helpful things you can do is to speak positive affirmations into your life.  Positive affirmations are thoughts that are intentional and are focused on building you up rather than tearing you down.

Speaking affirmations into your own life gives you a sense of power and control over what you hear and think, which can improve your overall emotional balance.  It may feel uncomfortable or even silly at first, but words are powerful.  Use them to your advantage.

Affirmations to speak to yourself:

  1. I am becoming stronger every day.
  2. I feel happiness deep within me and I am going to let it out.
  3. I am capable of happiness.
  4. I choose to heal from the hurt.
  5. The negative things that I have experienced do not define me.
  6. No one can take away my right to have a happy life.
  7. Even the most hurtful situations are an opportunity for me to grow stronger.
  8. I forgive (abuser’s name).
  9. I am so excited about the future.
  10. I can live a happy life.
  11. I can live in peace.
  12. I choose to be happy.
  13. No one can take away the love I have for myself.

Healing Quotes:

“Sorrow and wounds are healed only when we touch them with compassion.” Buddha

“Healing takes courage, and we all have courage, even if we have to dig a little to find it.”  Tori Amos

“All healing is first a healing of the heart.” Carl Townsend

“Eventually you will understand that love heals everything, and love is all there is.” Gary Zukav

“Of one thing I am certain, the body is not the measure of healing, peace is the measure.”  Phyllis McGinley

Stopping the Cycle of 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 usually impossible to stop verbal abuse through reasoning or logic because an emotional abuser typically does not form their actions with rationality or logic.  Many victims seem to remain in a constant state of panic looking for the reason for the other person's angry outbursts. 

An inability to rationalize why abuse is happening and to find the logic behind an abuser’s motives is one reason emotional abuse can make you feel like you are crazy. The arguments may seem to go on in circles because the abuser generally 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 generally 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. Do not play into the abuse and if you need to walk away and leave the situation, do that. If you do not 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. Some abusers try to provoke an argument with a victim.  They may call you names, lie to or about you, or blame you for things that are their fault.  It’s important to remind yourself that this is an issue with them, and it is not your fault.

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 emotionally 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 the relationship 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 with you while you are making your exit. 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 1-800-799-7233. 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 have been physically struck, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline. If you have been emotionally abused, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline.  The National Domestic Violence Hotline is completely anonymous.  You can find help and advice that can give you resources on ways to safely leave an abusive relationship.  If you need help and are not sure where to turn, start by making the call.  

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 helpful for domestic violence but may be helpful for another crisis as well.

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. In fact, emotional abuse can cause both physical and mental health issues, especially if it is long-term abuse.

Victims of emotional abuse may develop anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder.  They may also exhibit signs of physical illness such as gastrointestinal problems, chronic and unexplained pain, decreased desire for sex or intimacy, high blood pressure, and compromised immune systems.

Things to Remember

Abuse of any kind can leave you feeling like no one cares and that there is no hope for a normal life.  Abusers tend to use coercion and manipulation to make victims feel a constant state of vulnerability.  If you are in an abusive relationship, it is important to remember these things:


Marriage Is Not Consent

While sexual intimacy is an important part of a healthy marriage, you do not owe anyone sex. Forcing someone to have sex is rape.  Even if a couple is married, if one spouse forces the other to engage in sexual behavior, this is sexual assault.   

Support Networks Are Important

Having a network of supportive people not only gives you a sense of belonging but can also be a great source of strength and encouragement if you are going through a difficult time.  Trusted friends or family members, elders in a church group or other social group that are involved in, or teachers are often a good source to look to when building a supportive social network

Your Identity, Dignity, and Self-worth are Important

The psychological trauma you experience in an emotionally abusive relationship can make you lose your sense of self, your identity, and your dignity. You are important.  Abusive relationships can leave victims feeling totally dependent on an abuser for everything, which may strip away any sense of personal identity, emotions or feelings of dignity and respect, or self-worth.  Your thoughts, feelings, and needs are important.

You Can Have Secrets

Although you may have nothing to hide, it is not okay for another person to demand access to things that belong to you personally.  You should feel that is okay and safe to have your own email, social media accounts, or telephone that is not used by or “investigated” by your partner. 

Remember, there are times when an emotionally abusive person will project their own behavior onto a victim. 

There is No Reason for Physical Violence

Your partner should never use intimidation, manipulation, or violence to try to control you.  When personal boundaries are violated and physical violence occurs, this can lead to long-term emotional or physical trauma and, in some cases, could lead to the death of a victim.  If you are or have been the victim of a physical assault, it is important to reach out for help. 

Taking Control of Your Life Back

If you are in immediate danger, call emergency services like the hotlines mentioned above.  If you are not in immediate danger and need time to think or plan, consider the following.

Abuse is not your fault or your responsibility.  While you may want to help your abuser, without professional help, it is unlikely that the behavior will stop.  It is not your responsibility

Deciding that you will not respond to arguments or emotionally abusive behavior can feel like an impossible task.  However, it is one of the most important steps to healing and gaining control of your life again.   Disengage from your abuser’s behavior and remember to set boundaries.  As much as possible, limit your exposure to the abuser.

Get Out!  It may be necessary to cut all ties with your abuser to protect your physical and emotional well-being.  If you decide to leave, make it clear that the relationship is over.  Do not accept calls or texts.  Do not allow visits and whatever you do, do not go back

Take the time you need to heal.  Emotional abuse can have a significant impact that many feels is impossible to get over.  With time and the right help, healing is possible.  Take the time you need to focus on self-care.  Engage in healthy relationships with friends and loved ones.  Also, avoid trying to begin a new relationship until you are emotionally healthy and stable.  

Mental Illness Is Not a Reason to Suffer Abuse

Unfortunately, because many people who suffer from a mental illness may feel isolated or set apart from others, they may not immediately seek help if they need it.  It is important to understand that the presence of mental illness or any other physical or mental health condition does not give anyone the right to abuse you. Additionally, it is not okay for someone to dismiss your claims of abuse based on any prejudices because of any illness you may be experiencing.   

Seeking Help

Emotional abuse can cause deep emotional trauma that is often long-lasting.   At times, the ups and downs of the abuse cycle can make you feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster ride.  If you are in a relationship that involves any type of abuse, it is important to reach out for help.   

Some people may want to find an in-person therapist. 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.

You are Not Alone

Although you may feel alone, you are not. More than 12 million people in the United States are victims of abuse annually.

If you are a victim of emotional abuse, any other form of abuse, it is possible to recover and live a healthy and happy life that is free from any type of abuse.  Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and to talk about what you are experiencing. 

Talking to a mental health professional can help you explore your feelings and find the strength to live a healthy life.  With the right help, you can have a plan of care established that will help protect your overall safety and well-being.


At BetterHelp, We Can Help

Whether you choose to talk to a local counselor, visit a community mental health center, or engage in online counseling, you can learn effective ways to cope with the effects of emotional abuse.  Online counseling options, such as the services provided by BetterHelp, focus on providing mental health care that is accessible – all you need is an internet connection.

The dedicated team of professionals at BetterHelp will listen to what you have to say, validate your feelings and experiences, and support your journey to healing from psychological abuse. You may have been through a very difficult time, but you can recover. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

"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 a 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."

It's Okay To Get Help - Get Started With BetterHelp

"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 continuing working with you."

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is Emotional Abuse Actually Abuse?

Although many people may not realize it, emotional is actual abuse.  While you can see bruises and broken bones, the trauma associated with emotional abuse often goes unseen.  It doesn’t make the abuse any less real or traumatic. 

There are other kinds of emotionally 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.


Who Could Be A Victim of Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse is often talked about regarding intimate relationships, and relationships between romantic partners indeed 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. Children can also 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.

What are some ways abusers use control?

Abusers may try to assert control over victims using physical or psychological methods.  Threats of violence, physical or sexual violence, manipulation, and isolation are just a few examples of the way some abusers may use control.

What are some examples of abuse tactics?

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.

  1. Threats

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 emotionally 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.

  1. Constant Criticism

Criticism is not always emotionally 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.

4.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 of 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 deserve anything better.


  1. Isolation

The abuser makes sure that the victim is kept apart from friends or other family members; this is another not so easy to recognize a 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.

  1. Victim-Blaming

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.

Who is Likely To be Abused?

Domestic violence and emotional abuse can happen in young adults, 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.

What is the definition of emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse defined by the United States Department of Health and Human Services indicates that someone is the victim of insults or some other type of scare tactic and intimidation at the hands of someone else. A victim of emotional abuse usually feels isolated and controlled by their abuser.

Without a safety plan in place, emotional abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse often go hand-in-hand and they affect children, youth, and families in major ways.

The Department of Health and Human Services is just one of many organizations offering support for emotionally abused people. This federal organization makes it clear that it’s not your fault. The federal department of health has a human services division, family and youth services, and an administration on children, youth, and babies (Administration for Children and Families or ACF). These agencies are designed for offering support for state agencies and conflict resolution for people across the nation that need help.

People abuse others not realizing that it has long-term effects on their victim. The long-term effects are just as serious as physical abuse. Sometimes people stay in emotionally abusive relationships because abuse defined in their eyes means they aren’t in immediate danger.

What are the signs and symptoms of emotional abuse?

The signs and symptoms of emotional abuse can be difficult for a victim to recognize. Often, it’s your friends, family members, or youth services bureau that recognizes it first. People abuse others in an emotional sense by constantly wanting to know what someone else is doing all the time. You may feel that your partner is jealous all the time and gets angry over what you wear, what you eat, and what you say. Your abuser may be afraid that your internet usage is a way for you to hide things from them. You may also be afraid your internet accounts are being watched or hacked. Your abuser may use a scare tactic to force you to give them your usernames and passwords so they can monitor you at all times.

A person that inflicts emotional abuse often wants to control your spending and have access to your bank accounts. You may not be allowed to go to work or school or see your friends and family. An emotionally abused person feels unjustly threatened and humiliated. At your worst moments, you feel trapped and wish you could hit an escape button. During the worst of the abuse, it’s important to remember that it’s not your fault. The first step for you to be able to feel safe is to seek help from someone who can help you with safety planning. Most communities have a youth services bureau or other community agency that specializes in emotionally abusive situations that can help.

What are the effects of emotional abuse?

There are short- and long-term effects of emotional abuse which makes it one of the most important health topics. In the short term, emotional abuse makes a negative impact on your self-esteem. It can cause anxiety, depression, and feelings of hopelessness. 

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