It is straightforward to tell whether you are being physically abused by someone, but it is often much harder to decide whether you are being emotionally abused by your partner. The main feature of emotionally abusive relationships is a pattern of degrading, controlling, hurtful and demeaning attitudes or behaviours. These behaviours may be exhibited by one or both partners and so some relationships can be thought of as mutually abusive. If you have ever wondered whether you or someone you love is being psychologically abused, read on to learn about the main signs that someone is an emotional abuser.
1) Interacting with your partner often feels like walking on eggshells:
Once you become used to emotional abuse, you will probably spend all your time feeling alprehensive about the next time that you will be abused (even if you do not outright recognize the behaviours as abusive). This means you will be on edge, watching your partner for behavioural cues that suggest you might soon be on the receiving end of hurtful of belittling remarks. In a healthy relationship, you should always feel free to raise your concerns and discuss your thoughts, regardless of your partner’s mood. In any emotionally abusive relationship, however, you will be unfairly stifled and your partner’s mood will dictate what is and is not up for discussion.
2) Your partner treats you as though you are inferior, or belittles your achievements:
Your partner might treat you as though you are inferior in just one way, or in a whole host of different ways. Some emotionally abusive people will say cruel things about your attractiveness, claiming that someone who looks like you is very lucky to have ended up with someone as good looking as they are. Other partners will act as though your intelligence or qualifications are inferior by reminding you of their advanced degrees, or by pointing out how slow you are when it comes to understanding things that they can grasp easily. This sort of behaviour often goes hand-in-hand with belittling your achievements and claiming that the goals you aspire to are either unimpressive or unattainable. If you are the partner of an abusive person, you end up believing that you are worth very little and perhaps even deserving of these sorts of appraisals.
3) Your partner seems to have a skewed idea about what is ‘funny’:
Some emotionally abusive people try to cloak their demeaning language in what they think can plausibly be explained away as humour. If this is a tactic that your partner uses, you might be used to them teasing you or making cruelly sarcastic remarks before telling you that they were ‘only joking’ if you protest. They may follow this by reminding you that you are bad at understanding humour or are unable to laugh at yourself. In reality, your partner will usually be the one who cannot laugh at their own faults or eccentricities. Abusive partners are typically extremely sensitive to being made fun of, and will verbally lash out if you attempt to tease them.
4) Your relationship has isolated you from other loved ones:
Whether consciously or not, almost all emotional abusers slowly isolate their partners from friends and family. For a couple of reasons, this allows the abuser to more easily get away with the way that they treat you. Firstly, if you are isolated from other loved ones then you are less likely to tell them what is going on in your relationship and are therefore less likely to hear from an outside source that you are being treated in a way that is unacceptable. Secondly, being isolated from friends and family makes you more dependent on your abuser, meaning that you will be more likely to put up with the way you are treated (instead of complaining or leaving).
5) Your partner blames you for all their problems:
Due to their inability to take responsibility for their own faults and failings, emotionally abusive partners will often opt to blame all their problems on you. For example, you may be told that you ‘made’ your partner lose their temper, that you ‘drive’ your partner to drink excessively, or that you have ‘stopped’ your partner from achieving their goals.
6) Your partner threatens to end the relationship if they don’t get their own way:
Emotional abusers usually want to get their own way at all costs, and demand that they be allowed to dictate how you schedule your lives and your time together. If you object, your partner will often overreact and threaten to leave you. This usually makes victims of emotional abuse feel frightened and apologetic, allowing the abuser to get their own way, time and time again. Emotionally abusive partners who do not outright threaten to end the relationship often have other ways of punishing you when you do not allow them total control. They will become moody, withdrawn and cold, denying you intimacy or closeness. Often, this will upset you so much that you allow them to get their own way so that you won’t be denied the affection that you crave.
7) Your partner baselessly accuses you of betraying them:
If your partner is emotionally abusive, you might find that you are often accused of cheating or inappropriate flirting (even if you have no history of infidelity and there is no evidence that you would ever be interested in anyone other than your partner). In extreme cases, your partner may say that you dress or act like you are easy, and try to shame you into severely limiting your interactions with the opposite sex.
8) Your partner feels and acts as though they are always right:
Emotionally abusive people have huge problems admitting that they are wrong or that they owe anyone an apology. If your partner is like this, their repeated refusal to acknowledge that they are not always right may lead you to question your own sanity. Partners who are prone to this sort of behaviour are also often inclined to make excuses that shift the blame away from them (onto you or onto any external source that will allow consistent denial of wrongdoing).
9) Your partner often infantilises you:
There are a number of ways in which your significant other might treat you like a child. Perhaps your partner believes and acts as though they have the right to control your spending, and the right to decide what you are allowed to buy. Alternatively, maybe your partner demands that you ask for permission every time you want to do anything on your own or with your friends. Sometimes the way in which they treat you like an infant might not involve any actions at all, and will instead take the form of comments that describe your behaviour or feelings as ‘inappropriate’ or ‘stupid’. This will leave you feeling powerless and humiliated.
10) It feels as though your partner is impossible to please:
Your partner might act as though nothing you do is ever quite good enough. You might hear complaints on a daily basis, and these could be focused on your looks, your desires, your plans, your attitude, or anything else that is deeply personal to you. When you are constantly treated this way, it is easy to feel as though you are not worthy of better treatment, and easy to even begin to feel grateful to your partner for putting up with someone who has as many faults as you allegedly do.
11) Your partner makes selfish demands or threats when it comes to your physical relationship:
If your partner is emotionally abusive, they may try to pressure you into having sex when you have explicitly stated that you are not in the mood. Alternatively, they may try to verbally bully you into performing specific sex acts that you find demeaning, painful, or off-putting. If you resist complying with their requests for sex or for some particular form of sex, they may threaten to leave the relationship on the grounds that you are ‘refusing to satisfy them’, or even threaten to have sex with someone else who will do what they want.
12) Your partner has a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ personality:
Emotionally abusive people often have radically changeable personalities that switch on an unpredictable basis. Perhaps your partner goes from easy-going to furious, from happy to deeply depressed, or from friendly to emotionally cold. It is also common to find that your partner’s personality is especially different when they have been drinking, and this can be frightening (as well as confusing when you later wake up next to someone who seems sweet or loving once again).
13) Your partner regularly ridicules or dismisses things that you say:
If your partner is emotionally abusive, they will probably be quite quick to dismiss your feelings, suggestions or concerns. Some people can be especially blunt about this, not only dismissing what you say but also outright making fun of you for saying it. If your partner behaves like this, you will often feel lonely and frustrated by their refusal to take you seriously, and will probably begin to wonder whether everything you say really is worthy of ridicule.
14) Your partner demeans you in front of other people:
Although emotionally abusive people tend to prefer to isolate their partners, some instead enjoy belittling them in front of receptive crowds of strangers or groups of their own like-minded friends. Sometimes, this is veiled in light-heartedness so that the other people present will not realize the extent to which you are being demeaned. You might hear comments that ‘jokingly’ suggest you are stupid, unattractive, sexually loose, socially incompetent, and so on. If half or more than half of these signs sound familiar to you, then it is highly likely that you are being emotionally abused in your relationship. However, if even just one of the above signs is something that you experience intensely and frequently, this still constitutes some degree emotional abuse. Some emotionally abusive partners are genuinely unaware of how truly destructive their behaviour can be, so it may be the case that once your partner realizes that they are emotionally abusing you then they will be willing to attend relationship counseling in order to change. However, some emotional abusers will never be willing to admit to the unacceptable and cruel nature of their behaviour, or will seemingly be unable to change. This means that you must be prepared to leave your partner if the cycle of abuse does not stop. As difficult as this will be, it is essential for your emotional survival.