The Subtle Warning Signs Of Emotional Abuse

By Mike Rizzo, LMFT, CSAC

When we think about the word abuse what often comes to mind is physical abuse or sexual abuse. These acts of violence are easily identified, traumatize the victim and are intended to inflict power and control over the them. When the conversation turns to emotional abuse the lines can be blurred and often the victim may be experiencing emotional abuse and not be aware of it. The perpetrator further minimizes the experience by blaming the victim for their behavior by saying “You make me yell at you” or telling the victim to “Stop being so sensitive”, “Can’t you take a joke” or “You’re over reacting”.

In her article, When Is It Emotional Abuse, Andrea Mathews discusses what emotional abuse is not. She summarizes that it is not emotionally abusive to break up with a partner. It is not emotionally abusive to argue with your partner. It is not emotionally abusive to speak one’s partner with blunt honesty.  

Physical, sexual and emotional abuse are a way the perpetrator asserts exclusive power and control over the victim. With emotional abuse, Matthews states that the emotional abuser does not use physical harm but rather the emotion is the perpetrators weapon of choice.

Some of the signs of emotional abuse might include:

  • Name calling
  • Gaslighting (attempt to make you question your sanity)
  • Isolating you from family and friends
  • Subtle or overt threats
  • Refusing to communicate
  • Punishment
  • Withholding affection
  • Invading your privacy 

Emotional abuse can lead the victim into depression and/or increased anxiety. As the perpetrator repeatedly reminds the victim of their faults and short comings this eats away at their confidence, self-esteem, self-worth and often questioning their own sanity. The emotional abuse leads to a perfect storm of isolation and a bending of victim’s reality that often leads to depression. Emotional abuse often causes anxiety because it produces anxiety-producing events.  Such as; overthinking, poor self esteem and confidence, chronic stress and feeling like you are walking on eggshells.

If you think you are a victim of emotional abuse it is important to seek help. Emotional abuse is dangerous to your mental health and can take an emotional and physical toll on your well-being. When you’re ready you may want to begin by seeking help form a qualified therapist or treatment program. Be sure they understand the dynamics of domestic violence and how to treat it. Some other tips include:

  • Seeking support
  • Being physically active
  • Eating well
  • Resting
  • Don’t isolate/ be social
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Meditation
  • Listening to soothing music
  • Massages
  • Yoga

It can be dangerous to stay in an abusive relationship. If you find you are in need of help or have any questions, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1 (800) 799-7233.


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