Definition of Emotional Abuse

Abuse of any kind can leave lasting effects on a victim, especially when the abuser is a close loved one or the victim’s partner. However, emotional abuse healing, treatment and recovery are absolutely possible.

What is Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is defined as any behavior that uses emotions to control or manipulate someone.

The emotions used can vary per abuser but usually shame, blame and guilt are involved as these are some of the strongest emotions we feel.

Emotional abuse has no aspect of physical abuse involved. Often, abusers will deny their abuse because of this.

Signs of Emotional Abuse

Sometimes the behavior of the abuser is so subtle that it might be hard to tell what exactly is happening. Here are a few common signs and scenarios to watch out for.

They Undermine You

An emotional abuser will constantly undermine the victim and try to make them feel inferior. They will do and say things to try to make the victim feel as though they are not smart, capable or have good ideas/opinions.

They will slowly chip away at the victim’s confidence and will try to convince them that they’re incapable of making decisions for themselves.

When the victim tries to speak up for themselves, the abuser will cut them down either in a subtle, sarcastic way or with blunt verbal abuse.


Isolation is a key sign of emotional abuse. Since the victim’s family and friends want the best for their loved one, the abuser will try to eliminate or cut back on contact.

Think They’re Better than You

Not only do they undermine the victim, but the abuser will act as if they are better.

If the victim excels in something, achieves something or has something good/exciting come into their life, the abuser will try to cut them down.

They will make the victim feel as if they aren’t as good as they are. The abuser will not want the spotlight off of them and will do whatever they can to lessen the achievements and accomplishments of those around them. 

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Unreasonable behavior

Along with all of the other unreasonable treatment and behavior that we’ve been discussing, there are a series of typical patterns of behavior that you will see with an emotional abuser.

Here is a list of common behaviors you might encounter.

They’re demanding.

Aside from constantly putting you down and draining you emotionally, emotional abusers are demanding.

Abusers will demand small things of you daily. They may demand that you spend most of your time with them. They may make demands about your relationships and set unreasonable boundaries or expectations.

All this, yet if you try to demand the same, they will most likely tell you you’re selfish or try to make you feel bad for wanting anything for yourself.

They try to make you feel obligated to them.

When you’re dealing with an emotional abuser you will always feel as though you are walking on eggshells.

Everything you do will be picked apart, yet they will make you feel as though you always have to answer to them.

They’re argumentative. 

Another common sign of emotional abuse is constant arguing. Even if there is nothing wrong, the abuser will typically pick fights (that don’t make any sense), just to keep you on your toes.

emotional abuse healing

Their goal is to have you so beaten down by their behavior that you just give in and give them complete control.

They might make fun of your family/friends.

I had this happen to me once. This guy I was with would constantly say rude things about my family and would even compare me to my sister in a way that was mean to her.

It’s a weird tactic because all it did was make me dislike him even more. The point of doing this is to cause a divide between you and your loved ones.

They contradict themselves.

The abuser will even go as far as to contradict themselves.

This could be because they either are forgetful and can’t keep up with all the things they do/say to manipulate you but it can also be a severe tactic to see if you’ll let them get away with it.

Personally, I’ve had to deal with this is in the past as well. It’s exhausting. Again, this is usually just another way to wear you down to gain complete control.

They criticize how you do things.

This is one of the most basic forms of emotional abuse and will be noticeable right away.

The difference between an abuser and a non-abuser who might criticize you is that the abuser doesn’t really know how you do things.

They just want something to criticize you for. If someone is constantly criticizing you, take note if they contradict themselves in the future.

While criticizing someone is rude and emotionally immature, it is not always a sign of abuse. 

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Make you feel guilty. 

Another classic sign of an abuser is that they will try to make you guilty for basically anything.

Whether they accuse you of cheating or you took longer than usual getting the groceries, abusers will pick at anything they can to try to make you feel guilty or shameful.

Guilt and shame are two of the strongest negative emotions. If they can make you feel that way, they have a better chance of being about to control you.

They deny their behavior.

Say you’re a victim of emotional abuse and you’re sick of it.

The minute you try to stand up for yourself with specific scenarios that are bothering you the abuser will deny it or try to spin it around on you.

They will be so irrational that they will not even try to see your side of the story. They are argumentative, defensive and unreasonable.

Contrary to what they’ll tell you, they do not love you. It’s best to (carefully) get as far away from them as possible.

They’ll use your fears against you. 

“So you’re saying an abuser will say they say they love you yet they’ll use your fears against you then deny it when it happens!?” Yep! Exactly.

Again, speaking from experience, I was once in a situation where I was in a long term relationship with an abuser.

After a couple years a few of my little, day to day fears came to the surface and you can guess what he did. It was the dumbest thing and really hurtful at the time.

I had to call him out each time it happened and if I didn’t flat out say “Why are you doing this to me?” or “I don’t do this to you.” each time, he’d keep doing it.

I think eventually when things got really bad he tried to “ease up” on the abuse to get me to stay but I know how that would have gone.

That’s another unfortunate part of emotional abuse. Sometimes they’ll ease and treat you better just long enough to mess with you then the treatment will start back up again.

Be careful and do not fall into this content trap.

They might track your location.

Since an abuser is so controlling, don’t be surprised if they start tracking you.

They may demand that you let them or they might somehow do it without you knowing. A relationship should be built on trust and they will not understand that at all.

Methods of Control

Often the methods of control are subtle. The goal of the abuser is to manipulate you without you leaving them or standing up for yourself.

Here are a handful of common control techniques that are often used.


They’ll make you feel like they can’t live without you. The abuser will sometimes make you feel like they are incapable of doing basic things so you end up doing everything for them.

They will also make you feel like you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to them but their behavior contradicts that as they clearly do not love you.

If you’re a giving person, they will push that as far as it can go.

Accuse You of Cheating

As previously mentioned, guilt and shame are two of the strongest emotions we experience.

They may or may not accuse you of cheating, however they will always question your behavior and try to make you feel guilty when there is no reason for you to.

emotional abuse healing

Ignoring You

Another common method of control is ignoring you or giving you the silent treatment. They may tell you not to bother them for a certain amount of time or just ignore you and refuse to talk to you.


The more distressed and uneasy you are, the happier abusers are.

If you’re not familiar with the term, gaslighting is when an abuser acts a certain way which causes the victim to question their own thoughts or reality.

For example, when the abuse starts, you might notice it after a while. After constant conditioning, the abuser will make it so that you think it’s all in your head and nothing is wrong.

They’ll tell you they love you and might provide reasons why they do.

For me, each time I was unhappy and brought up any concerns this guy would take me out to a nice dinner, buy me something, or show me all the reasons why it wasn’t true.

Depending on the severity of the abuse, abusers will go to great lengths to make you feel like there is nothing wrong.

Honestly, I didn’t know there was a term for this until well after I had left my abuser. Had I known that it was a “real thing” I probably would have left long before I did.

Verbal Abuse

Some abusers are not so subtle in their methods and will verbally abuse the victim.

Name calling and swearing at them are two common forms that abusers will use.

Usually in this case, the victim is so severely conditioned that they might believe that they’re to blame as this treatment will not drive them away.

Healing from Emotional Abuse

The best thing you can do for yourself when healing from emotional abuse is to talk to a therapist.

A therapist can help identify the areas of emotional damage and pinpoint emotional work you can do to improve and heal.

Personally, a huge portion of my damage was healed just by having a professional acknowledge the abuse I had been receiving. It made so much sense to me and I instantly felt a huge weight lift.

A therapist will also be able to put a “name to the face” of the treatment you’ve been receiving.

emotional abuse healing

This will help categorize it and you’ll be able to separate yourself from it much faster.

By talking to a professional, you will not only heal from your trauma but will gain new perspectives and skills to use in the future.

Emotional/Mental Abuse from Parents

Typically, we hear about mental abuse from a partner as this is one of the most common forms of domestic abuse.

However, there are plenty of cases where children have been emotionally or mentally abused by their parents.

Parents who are  overprotective, overbearing, too controlling or use affection as a tactic of manipulation are all ways that children usually experience emotional or mental abuse.

If the child feels like they are always walking on eggshells, are afraid of upsetting their parent(s) out of extreme fear of consequences or if they always feel like they’re in trouble or that they never can do anything right, they are being emotionally and mentally abused.

A parent who also compares their child to someone else in a negative way is also abusive toward the child.

Reassurance and knowing that their parents are proud of them are essential for a child’s development and success in life.

If they are never reassured of this or feel like they’re parents aren’t proud of them, they may have to deal with the psychological effects of this the rest of their lives.

Another common form is isolation.

While the parent(s) might think they are protecting their child they are actually harming them.

While protecting their child is their responsibility, stunting their individual growth is very harmful.

If a child or teen feels they are not able to make their own decisions or express themselves, they will struggle to be successful and excel in life. They may even develop Dependent Personality Disorder.

emotional abuse healing

It will take a lot of mental health work for the child to undo years of that kind of dependency – but it is doable.

Whether you’re a victim of emotional abuse or know someone who is, it can be difficult to reach out and talk about.

I hope this post helps you or someone you know navigate an abusive situation a little better. Knowing the signs of abuse and methods of control can save you time you may waste with abuse or protect you from a potentially dangerous situation.

As previously mentioned, here is the discount link to sign up for online therapy (plus the “extras” toolbox) at 20% off your first month! START ONLINE COUNSELING 20% OFF

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References and Other Helpful Articles – emotional abuse – 5 signs of emotional abuse


Hi, I'm Marissa! I'm passionate about mental and emotional health and want to share what I've learned over the years with others! I've seen first hand how mental health struggles can cause serious issues within relationships, work life, daily productivity, self-worth and more! I truly believe that we owe it to ourselves to bring more awareness to these life changing topics. Start your mental/emotional health journey by learning more today!

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