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How to Spot the Signs of Emotional Abuse

What is Emotional Abuse and How Do I Spot It?

There are many forms of abuse, and some are easily defined.  But, emotional abuse is not as clear cut and often goes unrecognized and even accepted.  The following blog post will outline the signs of emotional abuse so it can be spotted and understood for what it is.

Examples of emotional abuse

This list is not exhaustive, but gives a good general overview of behaviors exhibited by an abuser.

  • Name calling
  • Criticism of behaviors, intelligence, abilities or body/looks
  • Making threats
  • Explosive anger
  • Attacks on your character
  • Belittling
  • Slamming doors, throwing things, hitting walls or any other violence on objects or pets
  • Controlling and/or withholding finances or other material things
  • Isolating you from friends/family
  • Invading privacy – checking email, phone messages, text messages, etc
  • Possessiveness and jealousy
  • Demands sex or tries to make you feel guilty for not having sex
  • Doesn’t respect boundaries

One of the strongest characteristics of an emotional abuser is the refusal to take responsibility.  This will reveal itself by the abuser continually turning the situation around to avoid accountability and place blame on the victim.  The abuser may become very upset over something and when the victim begins to point out the fact they did nothing wrong, the abuser will inevitably turn it around pointing blame at the victim.  It will be about what the victim “did to the abuser”, or “said wrong”, etc.  Since most abusers are very intense if challenged, often intimidating and sometimes threatening, the victim will usually back down.

The following are some symptoms of a person who is being emotionally abused.

  • Low self esteem
  • Fearful/afraid
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Walks on eggshells
  • Feels inadequate
  • Feels incompetent
  • Feels undeserving
  • Isolated
  • Feels trapped
  • Feels like they cannot express disagreement or opposition to partner
  • Feelings of confusion and self doubt

Victims in an emotionally abuse relationship slowly start to assimilate to the abusive behavior and over time learn to live with it.  Initially, they may know intuitively there is something not “right” with their partner’s behavior, but as it continues and their self esteem weakens, they grow more accustomed to it.  A combination of lowered self esteem, isolation, secrecy and duration create an opportunity for a victim to continue living in an emotionally abusive relationship.  Victims begin to feel dependent, incapable, undeserving and scared while the emotionally abusive dynamic remains invisible to most people outside the relationship.

If you suspect you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, I suggest you explore that question – either through more articles and websites like this one, talking to friends or seeking out a professional therapist.  I have worked with many victims in my San Diego therapy practice and have seen people rediscover themselves, their needs and make room in their lives for only healthy, loving relationships.

Sylvia Flanagan, MFT is a San Diego therapist with a private practice in Mission Valley.  For more information, feel free to call or email her.
Office hours are Monday through Thursday 9:00 to 6:00.