Emotionally Abusive Relationships – Signs, Effects and Coping Tips

When we talk about abuse very often the first thing one thinks of is physical abuse or sexual abuse, but while those may be the first things that come to mind there are many different types of abuse and they can be just as damaging if not more.

When I spent a moment looking up types of abuse online there were many differing opinions on how many different types of abuse there are. Some websites say four types of abuse, some say six and others say ten. I’m sure with some further searches I would get different answers.

The differences come in how the types of abuse are classified, the way that I see it there three main types of abuse and these can be further broken down into different sub-categories.

The reason why I have wanted to write this post and do a live video with Bernice Michalec from Connection Counselling is because I have personally been the victim of abuse in relationships for a large part of my life. Being in an abusive relationship is soul crushing and painful. It has taken a lot of time and hard work, in conjunction with recovery from addiction to get to a place of self love where I won’t allow anyone to abuse me in a relationship again.

I shared some of my personal experiences in the video which you can watch at the top of this post.

It has been heart breaking hearing about all the women that are being murdered and the escalation in gender based violence and abuse of children during this pandemic.

Often women feel ashamed to stand up and share their stories of abuse and pain, but through sharing our stories and through asking for help we can heal, we can recover and we can learn how to cope.

Emotionally Abusive Relationships

Types Of Abuse

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is when the victim is physically harmed by the abuser. It can be slapping, pinching, punching or any other form of physical harm.

Typically physically abusive relationships start off slowly and get progressively more violent over time. Physically abusive relationships are incredibly dangerous. If you are in a physically abusive relationship please get some help as soon as you can.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is unwanted sexual activity, with the perpetrator using force, threatening the victim or taking advantage of victims that are unable to provide consent.

Emotional/ Psychological Abuse

Emotional abuse is very complex and includes things verbal abuse, name calling, bullying, gaslighting, financial abuse and cultural/ identity abuse.

While any type of abuse is painful the fact is that even though emotional abuse does not involve the abuser physically harming the victim the psychological damage can be severe.

When someone is in an abusive relationship it can be one or all or a combination of the above types of abuse over a period of time and it usually escalates over time – so it becomes more severe as time goes by.

Where and When Does Abuse Occur

Just as there are many types of abuse, there are many places and situations where abuse occurs. It can happen in the home between spouses, or between parents and children. It can happen in the workplace, at schools, between friends or between strangers. It can happen anywhere and to anyone at any time.

The scope of abuse is so large and can have so many varying factors that it is impossible to cover in one article.

For the sake of this article and the live video we are only going to concentrate on emotionally abusive relationships, specifically against women.

Shame help

Signs of An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

If you are in an emotionally abusive relationship it may be very hard for you to recognize it. Emotional abusers make it seem like everything is your fault. You will doubt yourself and start to beat yourself up with negative self talk. Very often you will feel like you are going crazy.

It is typical for a victim of emotional abuse to become isolated and disconnected from family and friends.

A good question to ask yourself is how does that person make you feel about yourself?

If you are in a healthy and happy relationship you will bring out the best in your partner and your partner will bring out the best in you.

If your partner makes you feel terrible about yourself and your partner is not the nicest person around you then chances are high that your relationship is not a healthy one.

Types Of Emotional Abuse

There are so many different ways that you can be emotionally abused and you may not recognize these things as being abusive. It is important to remember that emotional abuse is not about love – it is only about control and power.

Very often emotional abusers are very charming people that are well liked and respected by friends and family. It makes it even harder for a victim of emotional abuse to get the help she needs.

Criticism, Humiliation, Negativity

  • Name-calling or using derogatory pet names: calling you mean names such as dumb, slut or stupid, or pet names such as chubby honey.
  • Patronizing: appearing to be kind while being superior and condescending. Example: It’s ok honey, I know you tried but you don’t know any better.
  • Character assassination: constantly putting you down and saying you are not a nice person.
  • Being dismissive and belittling your accomplishments: when something is important to you dismissing it or putting down something that you have achieved.
  • Yelling: screaming, yelling and swearing in an intimidating way. This can be accompanied by throwing things, pounding of fists or pointing a finger in your face.
  • Embarrassing you in public: they make fun of you in front of other people, pick fights with you or expose something private that humiliates you.
  • Joking and sarcasm: making jokes that make you seem foolish or being sarcastic and then saying they were only teasing you.

Woman stop

 Shaming and Control

  • Threatening behaviour: this can include all sorts of threats that you believe they are capable of carrying out, such as taking your kids away from you, cutting off your finances or shaming you in some way.
  • Spying on you, controlling your behaviour and monitoring where you are and what you do: they tell you what you are and are not allowed to do, what you can wear and who you are allowed to see. They might follow you somewhere or check your phone and browsing history.
  • Making decisions without you such as talking to your boss without asking you, cancelling your appointments without you knowing or closing joint bank accounts.
  • Controlling finances: they keep control of all the finances by keeping accounts in their name only, make you ask for money and account for every single cent that you spend. They can also threaten to withhold finances and to not allow you to have any money if you do not do what they want.
  • Outbursts, unpredictability, lecturing: outbursts and lectures can come out of nowhere or as a result of something you did wrong or forgot to do.
  • Using others: abusers may make you feel shame and humiliation by telling you that everyone thinks you are crazy or stupid.

Accusations, Blaming and Denial

  • Denying what you know is true: abusers will often deny that something took place such as the abuse that they are subjecting them to, an argument that took place or an agreement that you both reached. This is gaslighting and will make you question your own sanity.
  • Goading and blaming: they will create an argument and then blame you for it.
  • Blaming you for their problems: abusers will blame you for everything that is wrong in your life because you are not supportive enough or you don’t do enough for them.
  • Trivialization: when you bring up how you are feeling they tell you that you are too sensitive, you are overreacting and making drama over things that are not as big as you make them seem.

Isolation and Emotional Neglect

  • Ignoring you: they will completely ignore you when you want to talk in person or via phone or text.
  • Tuning you out: when you talk they don’t look at you or pay attention. They may even wave you away.
  • Interrupting you: they interrupt you when you are speaking about something important to you or they interrupt you when you are on the phone or busy with something else because your attention is not on them.
  • Coming between you and your family and friends: they tell your family and friends that you don’t want to see them or if you have plans with them they come up with reasons you should not go, beg you not to go or order you not to.
  • Challenging your feelings: they say that you are wrong to feel what you are feeling.
  • Actively try to turn others against you: they tell your friends, family and coworkers that you are losing the plot, you are unstable or you are prone to hysterics.

This list is by no means complete – there are many ways that an abuser may demean you.

Read Also: How To Deal With A Narcissist Spouse 

Traumatized woman

The Effects Of Emotional Abuse

It is typical for a victim of abuse to feel that she is going crazy and starts to believe the awful things that the abuser tells her. Slowly but surely her self-esteem and self-love gets crushed. She no longer feels valued or worthy of value. She stops taking care of herself and further isolates from her friends and family.

She may want to leave the relationship but is scared of being alone and fears leaving. She may believe that nobody else will want her because she believes what she has been told by her abuser.

She lives her life walking on egg shells, scared of upsetting her abuser and wanting to please him. She defends him and feels responsible, taking the blame for things. Very often she suffers from insomnia and anxiety.

Someone that is being abused feels deep shame and will find it very hard to build herself up again and be strong enough to stand up to the abuser or leave.

How To Cope With Emotional Abuse

It is very important to note this section is for coping with emotional abuse and not with physical abuse. Physical abuse can be incredibly dangerous, even deadly as is clearly highlighted in the news lately. If you are being physically abused it is important to get out of the relationship and to a safe place as soon as possible. The process of leaving a physically abusive relationship is dangerous, so please make sure to get some help from friends, family or a professional. 

As mentioned above someone that is being abused is in a very dark and lonely place. It is all too easy for someone that does not have an understanding of abuse or that has not experienced it herself to point fingers and say she should just leave, especially when there are children involved.

The truth is that having children involved may cause the woman even more distress, shame and self-loathing which can add to this cycle of abuse.

It is essential for a woman that is in this situation to start to slowly and surely build herself back up. Start putting some money away in secret, take up old hobbies again and start communicating with your family and friends.

Start taking care of yourself and build up your self-esteem again. It is only through building yourself up that you will get the strength you need to cope in an abusive situation and eventually get the courage and strength to make some changes.

It is a process and cannot be done overnight. If you can manage to have counselling sessions to help guide you through this process that would be first prize.

Woman counselling

The Benefits Of Counselling

There is such a stigma attached to mental health and there is a misconception that counselling is reserved for people that are mentally unhealthy or that are weak of character.

This is so untrue – in  my personal opinion everyone should be making use of counselling.

Think of your body and your mind like buying a new car. Even if there is nothing wrong with it you will be taking it for it’s 10 000km service and every other service thereafter. If you have been driving a lot on rough terrain you will probably take it in for a checkup more often to make sure that your shocks are still in good condition.

You are not going to wait for your car to break down before taking it to the mechanics, you are going to maintain your car.

The same is true of your mind. It is so important to process everything that is going on for you and to check in with someone that can help you to ensure that you are coping with the day to day things in your life, as well as when things get tough.

Having regular counselling sessions will enable you to have healthy relationships, to handle the curve balls that life throws at you and to ensure that you love yourself and you are happy.

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  1. Patricia von Meyer

    I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. I only realized after we broke up that it was abuse and I was actually in a relationship with a narcissist. I thank God everyday that I am no longer with him. I am dealing with the internal issues it caused day by day. Thank you for this post:-)

    • Lynne Huysamen

      I can totally relate to that Patricia, it is not easy to see clearly when you are in the thick of it!

  2. Emotional abuse is perhaps the worst. While physical abuse possibly heals, the trauma of emotional abuse is lifelong no matter what therapeutic measures one takes. These things just stay with us all our lives. This is an emotional post, Lynne. I am sorry for what you’ve experienced and admire you for getting on the path to heal.

    • Hi Vidya, yes some of if was pretty intense and damaging, but I have worked through it and come out the other side stronger and wiser. I feel for all the women that are still stuck in abusive relationships.

  3. Abuse which can be physical, mental, and emotional, is really a nightmare for the victim. It is something which one can find everywhere, in homes, in offices, and in public places. It happens everywhere and no one is immune from it. This is a really deep and informative post that has analyzed various aspects of this. The bottom line is of course to get out of an abusive relationship at the earliest before it is too late.

  4. I’m currently in a emotional abusive relationship married 18 years with four children four years back my husband burned our house to the ground I made a case and that counted against me because nobody wanted to help me because it was not arson and I knew who burned my house down.Long story short I took him back and the cycle of not giving money is still going on I have to provide for everything even food for the dog on the 05/10/2020 I stood up early went to legal aid and applied for divorce he is now waiting on his summons from the sheriff of the court I just had enough.The next day I joined a ladies fitness class and started walking every morning from 8:30am to10:00am.I truly enjoyed myself for the first time in 18years.So now today I’m laying flat on my bed with a bladder and uterus prolapse 17/10/2020 I’m going in on 19/10/2020 for a hysterectomy may the almighty be with my children and help me to stay strong on my conviction to be a single mom with I’ve been doing for 18years.Thank you for this platform I feel like I’m taking to someone ?

    • Aneesa you have been through so much and it is fantastic that you are taking back your life and looking after yourself. Having spent 15 years in and out of abusive relationships I know how hard it is to leave and how bad an abusive relationship is for your mental health.

      It is fantastic that you are walking and taking fitness classes – exercise is one of the best ways to combat depression and to help you improve your mental health. It is a wonderful form of self-care.

      Good luck for your hysterectomy tomorrow, I hope it all goes well. Please let me know how it goes! I might need to have one soon, I was in talks with my gyni in February this year but then well 2020 happened so I am waiting for a while before I go back to talk about it. I’ve got an enlarged womb and it is causing me pain and discomfort, plus causing complications such as low iron levels because of prolonged bleeding. I went on the pill which has helped a bit, but I am still not feeling right. Hopefully next year I will be able to have it done.

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