Emotional abuse may not be as visible as physical abuse, but it can be just as painful. “Months or years of being emotionally abused can cause you to distrust your perceptions and even your sanity,” Beverly Engel, psychotherapist and author of The Emotionally Abusive Relationship. “Because the abuse usually takes place in private, there are no witnesses to validate your experience.”
It might be hard, but the first step to getting out of an abusive relationship is admitting that you’re in one. If your partner does some of the following things, then they are emotionally abusing you and hiding it behind acts of “love”.
They control you
The main reason abusive people try to control their partners is because they don’t want to feel insecure and rejected. They act all nice and loving when you’re both alone but become absolute jerks when you are in the presence of others.
If you are excited and happy when doing certain things, they make you feel uncomfortable and bad about it, as if you’re hurting them with your happiness. They use every method to make you stay in the relationship and even resort to suicide threats or legal intimidation like taking your children away.
They throw tantrums
An abusive partner expects you to tend to their every need and request and get mad when you don’t cater to them 24/7. They pout and sulk and throw fits, letting you know you’ll somehow get “reprimanded” for not paying them the attention they deserve. They throw tantrums if you don’t do what they expect from you and threaten you to do what they want.
“They hear the opposing idea from their partner as a personal attack. Feeling victimized, they react with anger and intimidation. Emotionally abusive partners believe their partner is actually the emotionally abusive one,” said Lisa Ferentz, a licensed clinical social worker and educator specializing in trauma.
They manipulate you by punishment
You’re given the silent treatment or flooded with criticism if you keep things real and don’t act like someone you’re not and blamed for whatever negative feelings they’re experiencing. They consider you their main source of unhappiness and for this reason, you are expected to do things and help them feel better about themselves.
Abusive partners use your own fears to make you do what they want, either by threatening to leave you or taking your house, your children etc. You probably want to avoid the constant tantrums and emotional abuse and just give in without a fight.
They insult you
They put you down so that you think you’re not good enough for them or for anybody else. They’ll tell you that you’ll end up in the streets without them, with no money and no friends, to steal away your power, independence and identity. They constantly try to make you feel undeserving, insecure and afraid to express your own point of view for fear of being punished.
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They’re extremely jealous and insecure
Abusive partners make you feel insecure about yourself to hide the fact that they’re the insecure ones. If your partner gets jealous when you talk to people, especially other men, if they tell you to hang out with and who to eliminate from your life, it’s only because they are afraid you’ll reject and leave them.
To stop you from doing that they’ll blame you for various things and throw all sorts of accusations at you. They’ll accuse you of cheating or being attracted to someone else, they’ll say you want to sabotage your relationship to make them the reason for the breakup. They make you feel bad whenever you want to hang out with your friends so that you’ll stop going out with them and spend your time exclusively with your partner. Every little thing you do without them is seen as a rejection.
They blame you for everything
They distort everything you say so that you appear the villain and have to make amends for it or get blamed for things you never said. Their strategy is to “project responsibility or fault onto their partner. They will deceptively twist reality, distort the truth or outright lie to make the case that their partner is to blame,” says Carol A. Lambert, psychotherapist and author of Women With Controlling Partners.
It doesn’t even matter what the discussion is all about. If it ends with the emotionally abused partner giving into what the abusive partner wants, then their mission is complete.
They force you to comply
You feel like you’re not yourself anymore to such an extent that you’ve become sad and depressed. The more you give in to their demands and needs, the more you lose yourself and your power to fight for what you believe in.
When you do comply with what they ask of you, they criticize you for not meeting their standards. They have unreasonable demands and are dissatisfied with what you do to complete them, despite your best efforts. Abusive partners always feel they are the victims and react with anger and intimidation to make you comply. Check out 10 Signs of a Toxic Relationship—Are You the Toxic One?
They ignore your needs and wants
To them, your relationship should only be about them and what they want. There’s no “we”. Your feelings, needs and opinions have no relevance to them and don’t want to listen to what you might have to say. If they do allow you to speak your mind, they “make fun of them or discount them,” adds Ferentz.
They make you feel bad for asking something of them, making you feel less important and doubting your reactions every step of the way. “Was I being too sensitive? Was he right that I was overreacting?”
They force you to make excuses for them
They manipulate you into taking pity on them to prevent you from noticing their emotional abuse. You end up believing that you are the real abuser, so you try to make it up to them and cater to their every need to avoid getting them upset. You feel like whatever they feel is your fault so you try to please them in every way you can.
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They make excuses for their destructive behavior
Whatever they did, whatever they said, there was always a plausible reason behind their behavior. They use excuses such as “I was tired”, “I was stressed from work”, “I drank too much, etc.” “This gives their brain permission to repeat the behavior the next time the context occurs ― that is, whenever the abuser wants adrenaline for temporary energy and confidence,” says Steven Stosny, psychologist and author of Empowered Love. See also 5 Signs You’re in a Toxic Relationship.
Someone who loves you will not make you do things you don’t want to do, put you down and make you feel guilty for whatever happens in your relationship. Someone who loves you for real appreciates who you are, values your opinions and supports you in every way possible. Healthy and functional relationships are based on mutual trust and supportiveness. Find out more from these 10 Signs Your Relationship Is Solid as a Rock.
If you find yourself in an abusive relationship or just got out of one, don’t hesitate to talk to a therapist, join a support group or even discuss with a close friend or family member to help you find a way out.