How to know if you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship

Most people think of physical abuse when they hear “abuse.” However, emotional abuse can be just as damaging — if not more so. In addition, this type of abuse is often harder to identify and can be more challenging to get out of. 

From my experience working with single moms, many have been in emotionally abusive relationships. Unfortunately, we often don’t recognize the signs until we are out of the relationship. 

It’s essential to be aware of the signs of emotional abuse you may have experienced in the past to move forward into new relationships healthy. 

Related: How to Know If You Are in a Toxic Relationship

How to know if you are (or were) in an emotionally abusive relationship

What is emotional abuse? 

It’s not always easy to tell if you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship. The signs can be subtle and easy to ignore. Verbal attacks, being made to feel guilty or worthless, and extreme jealousy are all common behaviors in emotionally abusive relationships.

Emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior that can seriously undermine someone’s sense of self-worth and security. It can involve verbal attacks, threats, humiliation, and isolation. Emotional abuse can also include controlling or manipulative behavior, excessive jealousy, and intense anger.

In an emotionally abusive relationship, you may feel like you’re constantly walking on eggshells. You may feel guilty, unworthy, or like you’re to blame for the abuse. You may feel like you can’t do anything right.

Emotional abuse can be just as harmful as physical abuse and can have a lasting effect on your mental health. Emotional abuse can be challenging to spot, especially in romantic relationships where there is already a lot of emotional intensity. 

Related: Red Flags to Look Out For When Dating Online

Signs of emotional abuse 

Emotional abuse can be challenging to spot when you’re in the thick of it. However, some signs can help you identify if you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship.

If you feel like you’re constantly walking on eggshells around your partner, or if your partner is constantly making you feel guilty or ashamed, then you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship. Additionally, if your partner ever threatens you or makes you afraid, that’s a sign of emotional abuse.

Only YOU determine if you are (or were) in an emotionally abusive relationship. 

Friends and family don’t have the right, and your (ex) partner definitely doesn’t.  

Other signs of emotional abuse 

If your partner…

  • Constantly puts you down or makes you feel bad about yourself
  • Isolates you from your friends and family
  • Makes all the decisions in the relationship and doesn’t give you a voice
  • Blames you for everything that goes wrong
  • Withholds affection as a way to control you
  • Exploits your vulnerabilities
  • Gaslights you or makes you question your reality

Related: What is She Thinking? The Trauma Effects Single Parents Experience

Or if your partner…

  • Always makes demands on your time and energy, leaving you feeling drained.
  • Constantly checks up on you or monitors your activities.
  • Threatens or openly bullies you.
  • Controls all the finances in the relationship or limits your access to money.
  • Controls what you wear or how you look.
  • Tries to control who you see or talk to.

Or if you feel…

  • Like you can never do anything right in your partner’s eyes.
  • Like you are not good enough for your partner.
  • Trapped in the relationship and like there is no way out.

Just having a couple of these signs may not mean you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship. For example, some signs may mean you’re insecure or don’t have firm enough boundaries. 

But if you identify with several of these signs, I encourage you to seriously consider if your relationship is abusive. 

Effects of emotional abuse

The effects of emotional abuse can be devastating. They can include long-term effects such as depression, low self-esteem, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as short-term effects such as anxiety, stress, and panic attacks.

Victims may also experience emotional difficulties such as depression, stress, and low self-esteem. They may also have difficulty trusting other people and forming healthy relationships. 

Related: How Childhood Trauma Affects Your Relationships

In some cases, emotional abuse can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a mental health condition that can occur after someone has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event.

Symptoms of PTSD can include flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and emotional numbing. 

Emotional abuse can have a profound and lasting impact on victims, making it essential for them to get the help and support they need to heal.

How can friends and family members help someone they think is being emotionally abused?

Friends and family members can help someone they think is being emotionally abused in various ways. The most important thing is to be supportive and non-judgmental. 

It can be difficult for the victim to admit that they’re in a toxic relationship and may feel ashamed or embarrassed. Pressing the victim too much may have the opposite effect. So handling this discussion with love, patience, and grace is extremely important. 

Friends and family members can help by listening to them, offering encouragement, and providing practical support.

They can also help their friend or family member build their self-esteem and confidence. This may involve challenging the abuser’s verbal assaults and standing up for the victim. Friends and family members can also provide information about resources available to victims of emotional abuse, such as support groups or counseling.

Where to get help

Many resources are available to help you escape an abusive situation and heal from the trauma.

You can contact a friend or family member for support or contact a domestic violence shelter or hotline in your area.

There are also many resources available:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: The Hotline provides crisis counseling and 24/7 support for victims of domestic violence
  • Love is Respect: A project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Loveisrespect offers peer-to-peer support, information, and resources about dating abuse.
  • Break the Cycle: Break the Cycle is a national nonprofit working to end dating abuse and domestic violence against young people ages 12-24.

It’s important to remember that you are not alone and there is help available. You deserve to be in a healthy, safe, and happy relationship.

How to know if you\'re in an emotionally abusive relationship