How to Identify Emotional Abuse

by | Apr 14, 2015

How To Identify Emotional Abuse Nancy'S Counseling CornerIf you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, you may not even know it. At least, you may not have a name for it. But you do know your partner makes you feel bad. You do know you are unhappy with your relationship. You do know something’s very wrong.

It’s helpful to break down various methods of people who are emotionally abusive so if you’re a victim, you can identify what the problem is and get help. Here are some typical tactics:

1)    Verbal Intimidation. This includes demeaning, ridiculing or denigrating you, as a person. Putting you down—not your behavior, necessarily, but your core self. Your values, your personality, who you are. Example: “My wife is so dumb she thinks that as long as there are checks in her checkbook there is money in her checking account.” Even though the wife knows this is untrue about her, it hurts. Her husband has said this as a “joke” to humiliate her. To illustrate she is not smart. With enough remarks like this, she will begin to doubt herself. She will be ashamed. Over time, she will actually think she is not very smart.

2)    Passive Aggressive Behavior. Sometimes this is very obvious. Your partner says she supports your diet and then brings home ice cream that she knows you can’t resist. But sometimes passive aggressive behavior is so subtle it’s hard to put your finger on it. And the more subtle it is, the more damaging it can be. He tells you he knows you were brought up in a home that didn’t value intellectual curiosity, so he understands he needs to help you figure things out. The implication is that you’re stupid. The desire is for him to take control and make decisions for you. To make you dependent on him.

3)    Restrictions. When your partner restricts you from seeing your family and friends, when he forbids you to participate in activities you enjoy, he is isolating you. He might insist you can’t have a cell phone because it’s too expensive, but what he really means is it allows you to interact beyond his control. He might say something romantic, like, “When you’re away from home so much it takes away from our time together.” What it really does is take away from the time he can bully you.

4)    Domination. When your partner takes over, she gets her way about everything. Where you go on vacation. What restaurants you go to for dinner. What items to purchase for your home. If you venture an opinion you get put down very quickly. “Last time we went to a restaurant you liked, I had that terrible lasagna.” Pretty soon, after enough negative comments, you learn not to share your opinion and let her make the decisions. It keeps the peace, but erodes your self-esteem.

5)    Non-Constructive Criticism. This is how your partner makes you feel inferior. She stands over you as you load the dishwasher and when you’re finished, she rearranges the dishes. She reminds you repeatedly of past mistakes. She jumps on any little decision you make to illustrate its fallacies. She delights in pointing out your inadequacies. She makes you feel unsure of yourself. She makes you feel bad about yourself. Over time, it can be the most damaging emotional abuse of all.

If you recognize any one of the above, you are in an emotionally abusive relationship. Abusers often employ a mix of tactics—maybe even all of these. You must find the strength to either fix your relationship or end it. Otherwise, you will continue to suffer. Getting professional help is a good start.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here:



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