How to Recognize Signs of Emotional Abuse and Protect Yourself

Carol Chea

How to Heal and Become a Stronger You

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Some abuse is easy to spot. Blackened eyes and bruised skin are telltale signs of abuse. But in cases of emotional abuse, the signs can be more difficult to see, and this can lead to horrific consequences.

In a Healthline article by Ann Pietrangelo, signs of emotional abuse can be covert, and can be imposed by romantic partners, parents or other family members, caretakers, or business associates. Here are some of the most recognized tactics that emotional abusers use to control their victims.

Degrading Speech

The old adage, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me" does not take into account the power words have over our emotional well-being. Words are powerful tools in the emotional abuser's arsenal and are meant to destroy the victim's self-esteem. If your partner uses derogatory terms to describe you to others, calls you by pet names that make you feel uncomfortable, or makes jokes at your expense, these can be signs of emotional abuse. Emotional abusers will often berate you if you tell them their words are offensive, often telling you that you are being too sensitive or taking things too seriously. This behavior is unacceptable and should be considered a red flag.

Using Emotional Distance as Punishment

When an emotional abuser feels that their needs are not being met, they will sometimes use "silent treatment" to punish their partner. They will retreat from any conversation, sometimes for days at a time. Their emotional distance can also be seen in their overt attempt to leave you out of activities, pretending you aren't even in the room. In extreme cases, they can leave you stranded with no way home, or lock you out of the home after an argument.

Gaslighting

This tactic is the bread and butter of the emotional abuser. The emotional abuser uses manipulation to make the victim doubt their very sanity. Abusers use terms like, "That's not how it happened," or "You're crazy," or "You have such a bad memory". Abusers will trivialize the feelings of the victim, telling them they are overreacting. They will deny events that happened, making the victim question their own recollections.

Control and Shame

Power is extremely important to the emotional abuser, and this is manifested in several ways. The abuser will demand all financial accounts be held in their name, ensuring the victim is dependant on the abuser for all financial needs. They will make all decisions without including the victim, even canceling doctor's appointments or submitting employment resignations on behalf of the abused partner. They may monitor every movement of the victim, including checking internet history, following the victim to see where they are going and who they interact with, and telling the victim what they can wear and what they can eat.

The emotional abuser is unpredictable, showering the victim with affection one minute, and exploding with rage the next. This unpredictability leaves the victim feeling unstable, and they will do whatever they can to stabilize their partner's mood.

Neglect and Isolation

Perhaps the most damaging behavior of an emotional abuser is neglect and isolation. Their emotional needs are always more important than their partner's, so they will behave in ways that isolate them from family and friends. They demand respect in every circumstance without showing the same to their partner. They dehumanize by ignoring their partner when they are speaking. If they are upset with their partner, they will deny physical contact as a way to punish the victim. This behavior is usually followed by a period of intense attention poured onto the victim, making the victim even more dependent on the abuser for their emotional needs.

There is Help

Emotional abuse is not your fault. You are not to blame for the emotional instability of your partner. There are steps you can take to regain control of your life. Use the "gray rock" method by setting boundaries. This could mean refusing to take part in arguments, keeping interactions brief, giving short answers to questions, and keeping the emotion out of your communication. Seek out connections with family and friends, and let them know what you have been struggling with. Find a therapist who works with emotional abuse victims and practice self-care. Most importantly, if you feel the abuse may escalate, find a way to leave the situation immediately. The National Domestic Abuse Hotline can be reached at 800-799-7233, or by texting LOVEIS to 22522. They can connect you with shelters and other organizations in your area that can help.

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