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What is emotional abuse?

Updated: Mar 17, 2022

A healthy relationship is based on trust, understanding and mutual respect.

This is true of personal relationships, as well as professional ones.

Sometimes people seek to exploit these elements of a relationship in order to benefit themselves in some way.

The sign of emotional manipulation can be very subtle.

It’s often hard to identify, especially when it is happening to you.

You can learn to protect your self -esteem and sanity, too.

Emotional manipulator get close too quickly

What they are doing well, however is trying to make you feel special so that you divulge your secrets. They can use these sensitivities against you later.

Like for example: "I feel like we’re just connecting on a really deep level. I’ve never had this happen before or "I’ve never had someone share their vision with me like you have. We’re really meant to be in this together".

They let you speak first.

This is a popular tactic with some business relationships, but it can happen in personal ones too. When one person wants to establish control, they may ask probing questions so that you share your thoughts and concerns early.

They, then, can use your answers to manipulate your decisions - "Well you are just going to have to explain to me why you’re mad at me again".

They twist the facts

They alter reality with lies or misstatements in order to confuse you.

They may exaggerate events to make themselves seem more vulnerable. They may also understate their role in a conflict in order to gain sympathy.

For example - "I asked a question about the project and she came at me, yelling about how I never did anything to help her, but you know I do, right?

Emotional abuse involves attempts of frightening, control, or isolation.

This type of abuse doesn’t involve physical violence, though it might involve threats of violence directed toward you or your loved ones. It’s characterised by a person’s words, actions, and the consistency of these behaviors.

Abuse may start gradually, but it happens again and again.

People of any age or gender can abuse or experience abuse, many of times unconsciously. And abuse doesn’t just happen in the context of romantic relationships.

The person abusing you could be your spouse or romantic partner — but they might also be your business partner, caretaker, or even your adult child.

Regardless, you don’t deserve the abuse, and it’s definitely not your fault.

Some signs of emotional abuse are: humiliation, negating, and criticizing.

Examples are:

Derogatory nicknames.They call you "stupid", a "loser" or use other insults.

Character assassination. This usually involves the word “always.” You’re always late, wrong, screwing up, disagreeable, and so on. They might say these things to you, or use them to describe your behavior to others.

Screaming, yelling, and swearing are form of intimidation used to make you feel small. Maybe they never hit you, but they throw things or damage property.

Patronising. They belittle you by saying things like, “I know you try, but this is just beyond the scope of your brain.”

Public embarrassment. They pick fights, share your secrets ....

“Joking.” When you express discomfort with something they’ve said, they snap back, “Can’t you take a joke? Grow up.”

Insulting your appearance. As you head out, they stop you at the door. “You’re wearing that ridiculous outfit? ". Or they constantly say you’re lucky they chose you.

Belittling your accomplishments.

Putting down your interests. They suggest your hobby is a waste of time. “You’ll never be any good at the piano, so why do you keep trying?”

Control and shame

They may try to control you by:

Monitoring your whereabouts. They want to know where you are, always, and insist you respond to calls or texts immediately. They might show up at your work or school, just to check you did actually go there.

Spying on you digitally. They demand your passwords, or insist you go password-free, and regularly check your internet history, emails, texts, and call log.

Making all the decisions. This might involve closing a joint bank account and canceling doctor’s appointments. Or maybe they tell you what to wear, what to eat (and how much), or which friends you can spend time with.

Controlling your access to finances. They keep bank accounts in their name and make you ask for money. They also expect you to keep your receipts and account for every penny you spend.

Emotional blackmailing. Someone using this tactic will attempt to get you to do things by manipulating your feelings. They might use tricky questions to “test” you, take on the role of victim, or try to guilt-trip you.

Lecturing you constantly. After you make a mistake, no matter how minor, they catalog all of your errors with a long monologue. They describe all the ways you’ve fallen short and make it clear they consider you beneath them.

Giving direct orders.

Having frequent outbursts. They told you to cancel that outing with your friend, or put the car in the garage, but you didn’t. So, they become enraged, angrily shouting about how inconsiderate and uncooperative you are.

Feigning helplessness. They say they don’t know how to do something, hoping you’ll simply do it yourself instead of taking the time to explain it.