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Spotting the Signs of Emotional Abuse

Spotting the signs of emotional abuse can be difficult if you are living with it every day. You can be unwittingly drawn in to making yourself responsible for the abuser’s behaviour. You don’t want to be upsetting them or hold them accountable so you do what you can to keep them ‘happy’. This may mean saying ‘no’ when you really want to say ‘yes’ or vice versa. You learn to read their mood and find yourself treading on eggshells or doing as they bid so as not to upset them. You alter your own behaviour to suit them and in the process you lose your authentic self. Over time, being on the receiving end of emotional abuse can easily lead to bouts of anxiety and depression. This is sadly a very common occurrence.

You may be able to spot the signs of emotional abuse from the descriptions below.



Language is incredibly powerful and the words you use toward someone can build them up or tear them down. Hurtful words can be very painful indeed. Hurtful words you hear as a child can become your beliefs and you may grow up with a distorted view of yourself and the world.

Here are some examples of verbal emotional abuse:

They criticise you frequently and harshly.

They say mean things to upset you on purpose then say they are only joking and proceed to tell you off for being so sensitive.

Their tone is used to keep you feeling that you’re the problem. They may say things such as:

‘You always say/do stupid things’

‘No one else will love you’

‘I don’t like you when you wear that’



Emotional abuse can take on a physical form which can be quite frightening. Women and children are the ones most often abused in this way but it can and does happen to men also. It may not be the full physical attack where you are beaten black and blue or you sustain broken bones. It’s a little more subtle than that and destroys you none the less.

They roll their eyes at you and they can’t look at you.

They give you the silent treatment which may last hours, days or weeks.

They may push you out the way, shove you to one side.

They may go to hand you something then snatch it away from you.

They may physically direct others away from you in social situations and leave you out.

They may give you disapproving looks.



This is a covert form of emotional abuse. The abuser will manipulate you in ways that cause you to question your judgement and sanity. They will challenge your decisions and opinions and make you feel as if you can’t be trusted. They will make you the problem, fail to take any responsibility themselves and lay blame at your feet.

Here are some examples of what they might say:

‘You should be grateful I’m with you’.

‘You’re the one with the problem’.

‘You’re the reason we didn’t get invited’

‘I’m just trying to make you a better person’.

‘I’m only telling you this for your own benefit’.

‘I can’t deal with you when you’re this emotional’.


Spotting the signs of emotional abuse within your own relationships can be tricky. We don’t like to admit we are being abused by our partner, a parent, a work colleague or our boss. Also, it’s often the case that the abuse doesn’t happen at the beginning of the relationship. It tends to sneak in to the relationship over time and by then you’re vested into it. It’s often the case that the abuse only takes place when no one else is around to witness it. The abuser may appear totally charming to everyone around and you feel that no one would believe you should you divulge what was really going on. It could also be the case that, even if others do witness the abuse they are too afraid to speak out for fear of any repercussions.

Other traits of emotional abuse include, lying, guilt tripping, shock tactics, confusion, constantly moving boundaries and shaming. It’s not difficult to see how, over time you could quite easily imagine or believe that something is seriously wrong with you. You could end up staying in the abusive relationship even though you are living in fear simply because you are even more afraid to leave it. You feel trapped, powerless, confused and thoroughly demoralised.

If you feel that you are being emotionally abused on some level please Contact me to see how I can help you.