How To Tell If You're In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

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Oftentimes, people in emotionally abusive relationships don’t understand that they are being abused because there’s no violence involved. Many will dismiss or downplay emotional abuse because they don’t think it’s as bad as physical abuse, but this is a mistake. Emotional abuse has major consequences and it’s often hard to recognize. This form of abuse deteriorates a person’s self-esteem, independence, and dignity. Not only is it serious because it affects a person’s well-being and could turn fatal, but also because the person has been brainwashed to think that the behaviors are normal aspects of a relationship!

Knowing how to recognize emotionally abusive behavior is the first step to empowering yourself (and others!) should you ever find yourself in this situation. We want you to understand that these behaviors are not healthy, so we’ve put together the stages and signs of an emotionally abusive relationship.

A Perfect Start. At first, many abusive relationships are actually incredibly romantic and seemingly perfect. In the beginning, your new partner will go out of their way to show their attention, devotion, and affection for you. They’re charming and treat you wonderfully, and you can’t help but be lured to them. But the romantic gestures and gifts are usually ploys to captivate you and distract from what is to come.

Picking Up Speed. The relationship moves very quickly. Proclamations of deep feelings and desires for exclusivity or a label follow. It can feel overwhelming, but also incredibly romantic and flattering. You’re constantly texting and talking to one another; it’s like you can’t get enough! They might surprise you with a visit when you’re not expecting it, and you see these things as testimonies of growing affection. The relationship feels intense, but you excuse it because it’s love – or so you think.

No Space Allowed. At first, it’s sweet how protective they are of you and how they get a little jealous of the idea of you with anyone else. But then the protectiveness and subtle jealousies turn into possessiveness. They start to get paranoid, and they begin to require that you are always accessible. Any time that they text or call you, they expect you to answer right away. They’re always questioning your whereabouts, who you were with, and what you did. They make excuses to justify their mistrust or dislike of a classmate, friend, or family member. They rationalize their behavior by claiming that they worry about you and are concerned for your safety. The intensity of the relationship starts to feel more like smothering, with your partner growing more and more attached. In the process, you begin to slowly lose touch with friends and family, and the relationship becomes overwhelming and exhausting.

Irrational Jealousy. Your partner’s jealousy begins to worsen, and they start to suspect that you may be disloyal or accuse you of cheating. In an effort to prove your devotion to them, you work harder to appease their fears – spending less time out with friends, cutting off communication with anyone who could be considered romantically interested, and sacrificing family gatherings to avoid conflict. They act like they’re a victim, claiming that infidelity in past relationships, a difficult upbringing, or irreconcilable differences with people close to you are justification for their possessiveness. In reality, they are just attempting to hide their jealousy. You become increasingly isolated from support systems like friends and family, and as a result, you become more and more dependent on your partner.

Unpredictable Affection. If you don’t comply or agree with your partner, they withdraw their affection or become irritated and hostile. Their love is based on your willingness to conform to what they want, and a lack of submission will result in them either becoming cold and detached, or aggressive and angry. They use affection as a tactic to exploit and control you. You find yourself feeling like you need to be overly careful when dealing with them to avoid offending, upsetting, or enraging them – in other words, it’s like you have to “walk on egg-shells” around them.

Shifting the Blame. Arguments with your partner are turned around and made to seem as though it’s your fault or you brought the issue on. Somehow, other people are always to blame for your partner’s problems, and they never accept responsibility for issues in their life. They use you and those around them as an outlet to vent their anger. Eventually, you start to think that you might actually be at fault for their irritation or the problems in your relationship. Maybe if you just tried harder not to upset them, things would be better and you could get back to what the relationship was when it first started. You take their emotional outbursts as proof of how intensely they care about you, because if they didn’t care, they wouldn’t get so angry – right?

Put-downs. Criticism is common in your relationship, with your partner ridiculing your spending habits, lifestyle choices, what you eat or drink, or your appearance. When you try to confront your partner about it, you are met with gas-lighting – they question your account of the incident, make you second-guess yourself, or tell you that you’re overreacting or being “crazy.”

Putting on an Act. Your partner acts charming and personable in public, but behind closed doors they behave very differently. You feel as though no one would believe the mistreatment that you endure because of the outward persona that your partner depicts.

The Guilt Trip. To keep you in the relationship, they make threats to blackmail you, claim self-harm or suicide, or warn about injuring those you love. They use whatever manipulation tactics they can to prevent you from leaving them. You feel like you don’t deserve better or will never find anyone who cares for you as much as they do. Your self-esteem is pretty low and the idea of finding new love doesn’t seem possible. Being single seems daunting and lonely, and besides – shouldn’t you stick it out? While you fight with each other, you think it’s normal to disagree sometimes. You stay with them because you believe that you can save them or get them to change their ways. You remember the better days and how wonderful things were the beginning, so you don’t give up just yet and cling to the idea that things will turn around.

If you recognize some or any of these behaviors in your partner or in your friends’ relationships, you should know that it is not in fact normal. These behaviors and stages are very commonly associated with an emotionally abusive relationship, and just because you are not being physically harmed, it doesn’t mean that the abuse isn’t taking its toll on your mental health.

Moreover, abusive relationships rarely start with physical violence. Instead, they start with the subtleties of an unhealthy and emotionally volatile relationship, which progressively worsen as the relationship continues. In time, emotional abuse can escalate in severity, turning from verbal attacks and mental manipulation to physical beatings and possibly even death.

Recognizing that these behaviors are unhealthy and abusive could help you or someone you know out of a dangerous relationship. If you or someone you know may be in an abusive situation, we highly encourage you to check out our real time resources.

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