The term “emotional abuse” refers to any malicious attempt to control, manipulate, or intimidate someone’s actions or feelings.
Examples include excessive monitoring of a partner by phone or text, preventing someone from seeing family or friends, or manipulating a partner by threatening to self-harm if they end the relationship.
Almost half (48.4%) of women and men (48.8%) have suffered at least one episode of psychological aggression at the hands of their partner.
It is often accompanied by physical abuse, with 95% of men who physically abuse their partners also subjecting them to emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse isn’t obvious
Emotional abuse is difficult to describe to those outside the relationship, especially if the abuser presents themselves as friendly and loving to the outside world.
Because emotional abuse leaves no physical scars, victims may assume they won’t be believed.
In fact, emotional abuse can be so subtle that you may not realize it’s happening to you, especially in the early stages.
Here are a few signs to watch out for:
1. You feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained
Remaining in a state of constant vigilance against emotional abuse takes a toll on your mind and body.
You may find yourself sleeping more than usual, or feeling too sluggish to enjoy your usual activities.
2. You’ve started second-guessing your own judgment
Abusers maintain control over their victims by undermining them.
This can be hard to spot.
For instance, if your partner listens to your opinion but then says “I see, whatever” and then changing the topic of conversation, they have undermined you without resorting to overt hostility.
If your partner regularly undermines you, you might start doubting your own opinions.
Even if you are normally a confident person, emotional abuse can leave you assuming that your partner must always be right and, if either of you are “wrong,” it’s you.
3. You feel embarrassed to talk about your relationship
The experience of emotional abuse can be hard to describe in words.
You might feel awkward trying to explain what is happening in your relationship, no matter how much you trust the other person.
On some level you might know that your relationship is unhealthy, yet feel frustrated by your own inability to articulate precisely why.
4. You’ve started to avoid certain topics of conversation
If you stay silent on sensitive topics because you know they will trigger a hostile reaction in your partner, this could be a sign of emotional abuse.
You might feel as though you are “walking on eggshells” around them.
Abusers have no interest in resolving disagreements in a healthy manner, so a mature, calm conversation may be impossible.
5. You spend a lot of time reassuring them
A jealous, emotionally abusive partner will often demand frequent reassurance.
They may expect you to explain where you have been and who you have seen, even when you have only been running errands or going to work as usual.
They might word their requests in a way that makes them seem innocuous, such as a general enquiry about your day, but if you give the “wrong answer,” they might subject you to further interrogation.
6. Their version of events differs from yours
Gaslighting, a process by which an abuser insists that their victim’s recollection of events is wrong, is a common tactic designed to undermine someone’s self-confidence.
If your partner repeatedly rewrites history or implies that your memory is faulty, be on guard.
In all likelihood, there is nothing wrong with your memory.
Keep a diary for a few weeks, and compare their account with what actually happened.
You’ll soon be able to detect gaslighting.
7. You realize that your partner acts slightly differently when you’re with other people
Abusers in general often live a double life.
In public, they tend to put on a convincing act that fools everyone into thinking that they are a considerate, kind individual who would never subject their partner to abuse.
In reality, only you know the truth – that behind closed doors, they aren’t quite so caring.
8. You start to feel as though your life and feelings don’t matter very much
Emotional abuse is incompatible with love and respect.
If your partner belittles you, controls you, or makes you feel crazy, they have little regard for you as a human being.
You may start to believe that you are unimportant and insignificant;
if you are abused for a long time, your self-esteem may be completely eroded away.
What should you do if you are being emotionally abused?
Unfortunately, abusers rarely change unless they accept their behavior, take responsibility, and get professional help.
In most cases, this proves impossible. Your priority should be on getting yourself some support.
Contact your doctor, a local domestic violence center, a helpline, or a therapist for guidance.