How to Spot Emotional Abuse in Your Relationship

Does your partner emotionally abuse you? Emotional abuse can be subtle and difficult to recognize.

And this type of abuse can erode your feelings of self-worth and chip away at the happiness you deserve.

“The scars from mental cruelty can be as deep and long-lasting as wounds from punches or slaps but are often not as obvious. In fact, even among women who have experienced violence from a partner, half or more report that the man’s emotional abuse is what is causing them the greatest harm.” ― Lundy Bancroft

How can you recognize the signs of abuse so you can take steps to protect yourself?

An abusive person shows his tendency for violence in many ways. He may kick walls, punch the dog, break down doors, or show other violent behavior.

Some forms of violence, however, are less obvious. Emotional violence can be just as dangerous and destructive.

How to Tell if You’re Being Emotionally Abused

To spot emotional abuse, remember it often manifests itself in these ways:

1. Isolation. Sometimes, a person in a relationship can become possessive. A possessive person tells you he cares for your safety, and that his possessive behavior proves that he loves you. Taken to the extreme, possessiveness becomes isolation. The goal of isolation is to control you by breaking down your emotional will to resist.

• The desire to isolate could be caused by your partner’s insecurity. He may project that insecurity onto you by trying to control everything you do, who you meet, and where you go. He may try to make you feel guilty for enjoying yourself or making friends.

2. Verbal abuse. Regular verbal attacks on your character and value destroys your self-esteem. Continuous verbal assaults may cause you to put aside your most important ideals and beliefs.

• Verbal abuse is characterized by critical or humiliating remarks about you as a person. If your partner continuously puts you down and makes you feel unworthy of self-respect, this is a warning sign that something is definitely wrong. Verbal abuse may escalate into sexual or physical abuse if you avoid taking action to protect yourself.

3. Financial abuse. Unless you’re financially independent, you can leave your finances vulnerable to a partner with abusive tendencies. He may deny you access to funds, refuse to allow you to work outside the home or spend money irresponsibly and blame the financial struggles on you.

Next Steps

If you’re the victim of continuous emotional abuse within your relationship, the most important steps are to recognize the abuse and know that it is wrong. This can be a challenge for anyone who has been emotionally bullied over a period of time.

You are worthy of respect, and you can live a life that is free from the emotional abuse of your partner. Think honestly about your relationship and ask yourself these questions:

• Does your partner show, by his words and actions, that he loves you and values you?
• Does he seek your opinion as someone who has much to contribute?
• Does he raise his voice and criticize you often, while hardly ever providing words of affirmation that lift you up?

If you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship, take steps to change your circumstances.

“An abuser can seem emotionally needy. You can get caught in a trap of catering to him, trying to fill a bottomless pit. But he’s not so much needy as entitled, so no matter how much you give him, it will never be enough. He will just keep coming up with more demands because he believes his needs are your responsibility, until you feel drained down to nothing.” ― Lundy Bancroft

Seek friends who build you up and affirm that you’re valuable, and spend time with those friends. Consider couple’s counseling so you can change the way you relate to each other.

Protect Yourself

If you decide to leave an emotionally abusive relationship, it’s important to take precautions to protect yourself. If you choose to walk away, remember that the abuse may continue.

Take these necessary steps to protect yourself:

1. Contact law enforcement officials and inform them about your situation. Request a restraining order or other protection against attacks from your partner.

2. Set up a security system in your new home.

3. Advise your neighbors of your current situation, and enlist their help in watching out for signs of trouble.

Most of all, remember that you are valuable. Anyone who makes you feel otherwise can only do so if you let him. Enlist the help of emotionally strong, positive friends. Take action. Protect yourself. Replace emotional abuse with strength and confidence in your self-worth. You will emerge stronger and happier when you begin to take these steps today.

To Learn More:

Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft
Berkley Books 2003

The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to recognize it and how to respond by Patricia Evans
Adams Media 2010

Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed by Wendy Terrie Behary, LCSW
New Harbinger Publications 2013

Photo: Emilãine Vieira