How to recognise if you are being emotionally abused

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Is it fair to call it abuse?

Sometimes, people wonder whether ‘abuse’ is the right term to describe any relationship difficulties they’re going through. They may feel like their partner shouts at them a lot or makes them feel bad, but think ‘abuse’ would be too ‘dramatic’ a word to use. Emotional abuse is as real as physical abuse and can hurt just as much.

Relate – what is emotional abuse

How does it make you feel?

It’s all about how it makes you feel. Do they make you feel small, controlled or as if you’re unable to talk about what’s wrong? Do you feel like your partner is stopping you from being able to express yourself? If you feel you have to change your actions to accommodate your partner’s behaviour, it’s abusive.

What constitutes emotional abuse?


Below is a simple list of what constitutes what emotional abuse is. It’s not exhaustive or exclusive but they are points to consider;

  • Intimidation and threats

    This could be things like shouting, acting aggressive or just generally making you feel scared. This is often done as a way of making a person feel small and stopping them from standing up for themselves.

My ex often threatened to have me ‘done over’ by people she knew. She also held a knife to be (usually in the bed room or kitchen)

  • Criticism

This could be things like name calling or making lots of unpleasant or sarcastic comments. This can really lower a person’s self-esteem and self-confidence.

I experienced times when she used to tell me I was a useless father. She would sometimes compare me to her ex’s and openly criticise me in front of other people.

  • Undermining

This might include things like dismissing your opinion. It could also include disputing your version of events or by suddenly being really nice to you after being cruel.

Her mood swings would often go from one extreme to the other within a very short space of time. As a result she was unpredictable. I was not allowed to express any form of opinion that was contrary to hers. It was not unusual for me to appologise for things that I had not said or done.

  • Being made to feel guilty.

This can range from outright emotional blackmail (threats to kill oneself or lots of emotional outbursts) to sulking all the time or giving you the silent treatment as a way of manipulating you.

Her silent treatment was a usual standpoint. Although this in itself could be seen as a positive, it often involved her daughters who were also encouraged to continue the negative atmosphere.

  • Telling you what you can and can’t do.

Emotional abuse is generally about control.  Does your partner tell you when and where you can go out, or even stop you from seeing certain people? Do they try to control how you dress or how you style your hair?

I was not allowed to go out without her or her consent. Furthermore, I was not allowed to see friends and family for various reasons of which she thought were appropriate. Together with this, whilst I was at work, I had to report in either with a phone call or text to inform her of where I was and what I was doing. Sometimes I had to supply a photograph (or facetime) to prove I was in uniform.

You need to ask yourself

Are these conditions what you wanted in a relationship? Do you think it will ever get better or is becoming more suffocating? I felt these at the time but considered that it may have been me. It wasn’t

If you have any doubt ask yourself if your relationship reflect the points above. If it does then you are being emotionally abused.

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