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5 Signs of an Emotionally Abusive Relationship


According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Women aren’t the only ones abused. Overall, in one year alone, 12.7 million men and women are physically abused, raped or stalked by their partners – approximately the number of people in New York City and Los Angeles combined. 24 people every minute. Most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the police.

But what if your partner doesn’t hit you? Does that mean you cannot be a victim of abuse? No. You could be a victim of emotional abuse.

Abuse is any behavior that is designed to control and subjugate another human being through the use of fear, humiliation and verbal (or physical) assaults. Emotional abuse can include overt verbal aggression (name-calling, threatening) as well as intimidation, manipulation, and refusal to be pleased.

Emotional abuse systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence and sense of self-worth. In addition, the NCADV notes that emotional abuse often precedes physical abuse.

No one intends to be in an abusive relationship. Those who were verbally abused as children may unwittingly find themselves in a similar situation as adults because they have not learned how to set their own standards, develop their own viewpoints or validate their own feelings. The controlling stance of the emotional abuser may feel familiar – even comfortable – although it is incredibly destructive.

Signs of Emotional Abuse

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1. Humiliation, Degradation, Criticizing
One partner goes out of his or her way to make the other person feel put down, ashamed, degraded, ridiculed, or embarrassed. They say your opinions or feelings are wrong. Sometimes, this abusive partner might even follow-up his or her insult by saying that it was a joke and that the other person was being too sensitive.

2. Economic Abuse
This could mean controlling money, withholding it, or making it so that a spouse has no source of income besides by asking the abuser. This ultimately puts the abuser in a place of power and control. Economic abuse can also entail interfering with a partner's efforts to maintain a job by sabotaging child care, transportation, or other arrangements, harassing the person at work, and making it generally difficult to find and keep a job.

3. Domination, Control, Shame
The abuser tries to chastise his or her victim or treats the person like a child who needs to be scolded. Belittling the victim's aspirations, dreams, or goals is also a sign of domination. Such abusers also like to remind victims of their shortcomings, faults, and flaws. This plays into the insecurities of the victims, which often results in them staying in the abusive relationship. Domination is also used to control victims by making them feel as if no one besides their abuser will ‘accept’ and ‘love’ them.

4. Blame and Unreasonable Expectations
Victims will often feel as if they are not able to meet the unreasonable expectations of their abuser. Abusers make themselves appear to be absolutely perfect and, in turn, expect their victims to live up to their expectations as well.

5. Isolation, Emotional Distancing
The abuser will use the “silent treatment” – pouting, withdrawing, withholding attention. They do not notice, or care, how the victim feels. The abuser starves the victim of love, praise, and positive feedback. It is another form of punishment and control.

Take a look at your relationship and understand that you have these basic rights:
• The right to good will from the other.
• The right to emotional support.
• The right to be heard by the other and to be responded to with courtesy.
• The right to have your own view, even if your partner has a different view.
• The right to have your feelings and experience acknowledged as real.
• The right to receive a sincere apology for any jokes you may find offensive.
• The right to clear and informative answers to questions that concern what is legitimately your business.
• The right to live free from accusation and blame.
• The right to live free from criticism and judgment.
• The right to have your work and your interests spoken of with respect.
• The right to encouragement.
• The right to live free from emotional and physical threat.
• The right to live free from angry outbursts and rage.
• The right to be called by no name that devalues you.
• The right to be respectfully asked rather than ordered.

If you or someone you know is being emotionally (or physically) abused, seek help from a mental health professional or call one of the following national abuse hotlines below:
The Hotline: (800) 766-7233
Safe Horizon: (800) 621-4673

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Counseling Center
No 2 Abuse: Silent Abuse – The mind game, Teresa Cooper (www.no2abuse.com)