Signs of Psychological and Emotional Abuse

Most people recognise what physical abuse is, but when it comes to emotional or psychological abuse could you recognise the trauma?. Emotional abuse can be insidious. Since it encompasses any kind of abuse that isn’t physical, there are a range of behaviours that fall under the spectrum. It can start from subtle things, like criticism, to more destructive abuse like manipulation, humiliation and intimidation. . If you think you may be a victim, it’s important to be able to recognise the signs of emotional abuse and also understand why the abuser needs to carry out this pattern.

Mental or emotional abuse can occur in any relationship including among friends, family members, and co-workers. Emotional abuse is one of the hardest forms of abuse to recognise. it destroys the victim’s identity and self-esteem to the point they can doubt their own perceptions and reality.

The underlying goal of emotional abuse is to control the victim by discrediting, isolating, and silencing. In the end, the victim feels trapped. They are often too wounded to endure the relationship any longer, but also too afraid to leave. So the cycle just repeats itself until either the abuser moves on to a new victim or the victim leaves.

Here are some examples:

  • Name-calling. They will openly use offensive words at you, calling you “Ugly…..’’ Stupid….” or words too awful to repeat here.
  • Derogatory “nicknames.” This is just more name-calling in not-so-subtle disguise. “My Chubby Girl” or “My little Idiot” should not be considered terms of endearment.
  • Character assassination. This usually involves the word “always.” Why can’t you do anything right, You’re always doing everything wrong!, ‘’Why are you always late?’’ ….and so on. Basically, they want you to believe you couldn’t cope without them.
  • Raised voices. Yelling, screaming, and swearing are meant to intimidate and make you feel small and inadequate. It might be accompanied by clenched fists, invasion of personal space or throwing things.
  • Patronising. “Oh lovely, That’s a bit out of your league, you need to know your abilities better.”
  • Public embarrassment. One day, you are out with friends, and they not only start criticising you in front of them, but directly to them in front of you.
  • Dismissiveness. You tell them about something that’s important to you and they say it’s nothing. Body language like eye-rolling, smirking, headshaking, and sighing help convey the same message.
  • “Joking.” The jokes might have a grain of truth to them or be a complete fabrication. Either way, they make you look foolish.
  • Sarcasm. Often just a dig in disguise. When you object, they claim to have been teasing and tell you to stop taking everything so seriously.
  • Insults of your appearance. These can be anything but always aimed to disengage you and cause you to question your own worth. ‘You need to go to the gym more’ or ‘You always look so frumpy’ are two examples.
  • Belittling your accomplishments. Your abuser might tell you that your achievements mean nothing, or they may even claim responsibility for your success. Graduations and work promotions will be a non event.
  • Put-downs of your interests. They might tell you that your hobby is a childish waste of time or you’re out of your league when you play sports. Really, it’s that they’d rather you not participate in activities without them.
  • Pushing your buttons / Baiting. Once your abuser knows about something that annoys you, they’ll bring it up or do it every chance they get. The verbal abuse escalates until it is the main way your partner speaks to you. Your wishes are ignored, and you are treated cruelly. The fights escalate into screaming matches, and you find yourself yelling or crying hysterically.

Control and shame

Trying to make you feel ashamed of your inadequacies is just another path to power. They may question others’ legitimacy. Often they criticise others for a less-than-perfect performance or rub a failure in another’s face. They have a knack for knocking others down a peg. The result: They feel one-up. In addition, the recipients of their shaming may feel they have to defend or explain themselves, which often gives narcissists additional ammunition for more shaming.

Tools of the shame and control game include:

  • Threats. Telling you they’ll take the kids and disappear, or saying “I leave you if you don’t….”
  • Monitoring your whereabouts. They want to know where you are all the time and insist that you respond to calls or texts immediately. They might show up just to see if you’re where you’re supposed to be.
  • Digital spying. They might check your internet history, emails, texts, and call log. They might even demand your passwords.
  • Unilateral decision-making. They might close a joint bank account, cancel your doctor’s appointment, or speak with your boss without asking.
  • Financial control. They might keep bank accounts in their name only and make you ask for money. You might be expected to account for every penny you spend.
  • Lecturing. Excessively discussing your errors with long monologues makes it clear they think you’re beneath them.
  • Direct orders. From “Do it this way” to “Drive in that lane/at his speed/ in that direction etc…,” orders are expected to be followed despite your plans to the contrary.
  • Outbursts. You were told he wanted to stay in the house but the kids wanted a day out and now he’s in the car and you have to deal with a red-faced tirade about how controlling you are.
  • Treating you like a child. They tell you what to wear, what and how much to eat, or which friends you can see.
    Helpless. They may say they don’t know how to do something. Sometimes it’s easier to do it yourself than to explain it. They know this and take advantage of it.
  • Intermittent reinforcement. They’ll explode with rage out of nowhere, suddenly shower you with affection, or become dark and moody at the drop of a hat to keep you walking on eggshells.
  • They walk out. In a social situation, stomping out of the room leaves you holding the bag. At home, it’s a tool to keep the problem unresolved.
  • Using others / Triangulation. Abusers may tell you that “everybody” thinks you’re crazy or “they all say” you’re wrong.

Accusing, blaming, and denial

To narcissists, relationships are transactional, like buying and selling. The goal is to get what you want at the lowest price. It’s a self-centered, business mindset. Emotions don’t intrude. In relationships, narcissists focus on their goal and will use any method possible to achieve it.

Here are some examples:

  • Jealousy. They accuse you of flirting or cheating on them.
  • Lack of accountability. They say you cause their rage and control issues by being such a pain.
  • Gaslighting: Denying something you know is true. An abuser will deny that an argument or even an agreement took place. This is called gaslighting. It’s meant to make you question your own memory and sanity.
  • Using guilt. They might say something like, “You’re so ungrateful. Look at all I’ve done for you,” in an attempt to get their way.
  • Reactive abuse. Abusers know just how to trigger the victim, they have spent a while studying them before the devaluation stages begin.. Once you the actual victim reacts, you’ll be blamed for being aggressive or ‘The Problem’
  • Denying their abuse. When you complain about their attacks, abusers will deny it, seemingly bewildered at the very thought of it. This is another form of gaslighting
  • Disregarding . When you want to talk about your hurt feelings, they accuse you of overreacting. The perpetrator has built their identity against fundamental feelings of invalidation, they are intensely sensitive to shame and blame. Responsibility of any kind triggers the narcissist’s threat of exposure to criticism. The narcissist is so averse to responsibility, they systematically stages their life to avoid it and becomes masterful at denying and projecting it onto others,
  • Saying you have no sense of humor. Abusers make personal jokes about you. If you object, they’ll tell you to lighten up.
  • Blaming you for their problems. Whatever’s wrong in their life is all your fault. You’re not supportive enough, didn’t do enough, or stuck your nose where it didn’t belong.
  • Destroying and denying. They might crack your mobile screen or scratch your car, then deny it.

Emotional neglect and isolation

Abusers tend to place their own emotional needs ahead of yours. Many abusers will try to come between you and people who are supportive of you to make you more dependent on them.

They do this by:

  • Demanding respect. No perceived slight will go unpunished, and you’re expected to defer to them. But it’s a one-way street.
  • Shutting down communication. They’ll ignore your attempts at conversation in person, by text, or by phone.
  • Dehumanising you. They’ll look away when you’re talking or stare at something else when they speak to you.
    Keeping you from socializing. Whenever you have plans to go out, they come up with a distraction or beg you not to go.
  • Trying to come between you and your family. They’ll tell family members that you don’t want to see them or make excuses why you can’t attend family functions.
  • Withholding affection. They won’t touch you, not even to hold your hand or pat you on the shoulder. They may refuse sexual relations to punish you or to get you to do something.
  • Tuning you out. They’ll wave you off, change the subject, or just plain ignore you when you want to talk about your relationship.
  • Smear Campaigns: Actively working to turn others against you. They’ll tell co-workers, friends, and even your family that you’re unstable and prone to hysterics.
  • Calling you needy. When you’re really down and out and reach out for support, they’ll tell you you’re too needy or the world can’t stop turning for your little problems.
  • Interrupting. You’re on the phone or texting and they get in your face to let you know your attention should be on them.
  • Apathy. They see you hurt or crying and do nothing.
  • Invalidating your emotional responses. Whatever you feel, they’ll say you’re wrong to feel that way or that’s not really what you feel at all.


A co-dependent relationship as one where the couple are dependent on a level of imbalance between them to provide their sense of structure and self-esteem.

This can mean a variety of things in practice. But generally speaking, it usually entails one partner taking charge when it comes to certain things and the other being more passive —with both of you feeling that you benefit from the arrangement.

At its more extreme end, this dynamic can mean one partner being almost totally ‘in charge’ — deciding exactly what both of them are going to be doing day-to-day, while the other is very deferential and takes a backseat to arranging things.

You might be co-dependent if you:

  • Are unhappy in the relationship, but fear independence
  • Consistently neglect your own needs for the sake of theirs
  • Ditch friends and side line your family to please your partner
  • Frequently seek out your partner’s approval
  • Critique yourself through your abuser’s eyes, ignoring your own instincts
  • Make a lot of sacrifices to please the other person, but it’s not reciprocated
  • Would rather live in the current state of chaos than be alone
  • Bite your tongue and repress your feelings to keep the peace
  • Feel responsible and take the blame for something they did
  • Defend your abuser when others point out what’s happening
  • Try to “rescue” them from themselves
  • Feel guilty when you stand up for yourself
  • Think you deserve this treatment
  • Believe that nobody else could ever want to be with you
  • Change your behaviour in response to guilt; your abuser says, “I can’t live without you,” so you stay

What to do

If you feel you are being psychologically and emotionally abused, trust your instincts. Know that it isn’t right and you don’t have to live this way.

If you fear immediate physical violence, call 999
If you aren’t in immediate danger and you need to talk or find someplace to go, call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 0808 2000 247. This 24/7 hotline can put you in touch with service providers and shelters across the UK.

Otherwise, your choices come down to the specifics of your situation. Here’s what you can do:
Accept that the abuse isn’t your responsibility. Don’t try to reason with your abuser. You may want to help, but it’s unlikely they’ll break this pattern of behaviour without professional counselling. That’s their responsibility.

Disengage and set personal boundaries. Decide that you won’t respond to abuse or get sucked into arguments. Stick to it. Limit exposure to the abuser as much as you can.

Exit the relationship or circumstance. If possible, cut all ties. Make it clear that it’s over and don’t look back. You might also want to find a therapist who can show you a healthy way to move forward.

Give yourself time to heal. Reach out to supportive friends and family members. If you’re in school, talk to a teacher or guidance counsellor. If you think it will help, find a therapist who can help you in your recovery.

Leaving the relationship is more complex if you’re married, have children, or have commingled assets. If that’s your situation, seek legal assistance. Here are a few other resources:

Break the Cycle: Supporting young people between 12 and 24 to build healthy relationships and create an abuse-free culture. Educational information, hotline, and searchable database of services in your area.

Love Is Respect (National Dating Abuse Hotline): Giving teens and young adults a chance to chat online, call, or text with advocates.