[TW: This article discusses abuse in relationships and touches upon themes of emotional and physical abuse. If any of these topics strike a chord or are triggering for you, please take care of yourself first.]
Emotionally abusive relationships do not necessitate physical abuse to be considered cruel. Abusers resort to tactics like manipulation, gaslighting, humiliation, intimidation, and isolation. Unfortunately, emotional abuse can happen in any relationship, not just romantic ones. Abusive relationships, emotionally or otherwise, are harrowing and can cause or exacerbate mental health issues.
If you find yourself in an abusive relationship, please reach out to a therapist for help and guidance.
While there are many resources available informing you what to do if you find yourself in an emotionally abusive relationship, there are seldom articles diving into why someone might be emotionally abusive. Before I continue, I would like to say that the purpose of this article is not to excuse or justify abusive behavior. The purpose of this article is to inform, and hopefully, help you choose to create meaningful relationships and empower you to walk away from relationships that do not serve you.
Below are a few reasons why someone might be emotionally abusive.
- They don’t know how to regulate their own emotions.
Emotional intelligence and regulation are incredible traits to have, especially because they help establish better relations. Unfortunately, not everyone possesses these traits. Most people choose to ignore their emotions–eventually lashing out at an unsuspecting victim.
Those who are unaware or do not know how to regulate their emotions frequently lash out whenever their emotions like anger, sadness, or frustration, are out of control.
There is not a definitive reason behind emotional dysregulation, but there are theories that suggest early psychological trauma or neglect as a possible cause.
Luckily, there are tools that can help you create awareness for your emotions. One of them is dialectical behavioral therapy which can help you become more mindful and aware of your emotions.
- They might have low self-esteem.
Many of us seek validation in our lives. We often try to find our worth through our work, wealth, successes, and sometimes relationships. In the context of relationships, we often wish for the seemingly perfect relationship so that others can say that we’ve “have it together” or “figured things out.” However, self-esteem should never be contingent upon temporal and ephemeral things. Self-esteem is built from within.
For some, that may be difficult, particularly for abusers. Abusers usually resort to victimization to eschew any kind of responsibility and dole out severe criticism and derogatory epithets to keep control. As a result, the victim feels like they need to walk on eggshells– afraid of voicing their opinions and needs. Unfortunately, most of these behaviors stem from an abuser’s have low self-esteem.
A poor self-image may serve as the impetus for the need to feel in control. When you have a poor self-image, any comment directed towards you is suspect. You might be more sensitive to them because you believe that they reflect your poor self-image. As a result, you lash out.
For example, someone who fears that they are unloveable may obsessively and constantly monitor where their partner is and who they hang out with or manipulate their partner to give them constant attention. However, this behavior can become abusive and lead them to lose that relationship.
- They deal with their inner turmoil by projecting onto a scapegoat.
As a result of the previous two points, many abusers project onto their partners. They project their insecurities, flaws, doubts, and fears by calling their partner names and making assumptions about their person.
Some common phrases that indicate projecting are:
- “I saw you flirting!”
- “It’s all your fault.”
- “Don’t be offended. I’m saying this because I care about you.”
Context is important. However, these and similar phrases can erode a relationship and are sometimes common in an emotionally abusive relationship since they rely on tactics like gaslighting to make someone feel guilty for something they should not.
- They are modeling toxic behavior they learned during childhood.
There’s a saying that hurt people hurt others. In this case, it can be true. Most people have acquired learned abusive behavior, which they bring into their relationships. That is the only way they know how to navigate a relationship.
- They are not empathetic.
For some, turning off their empathy can a defense mechanism, but in the context of abusive relationships that isn’t the case. A lack of empathy can be caused by a head injury, a personality disorder, or environmental trauma.
Regardless, it is not the job of their partner to “fix” them.
Emotional abusive relationships can be traumatizing for both the abuser and victim since they both suffer. Though both parties suffer, you should never feel pressured to continue an abusive relationship. Remember that this article is not meant to justify an abuser’s behavior, but rather the purpose is to help those who have or are being abused understand, perhaps minimally, why they are being abused.
If you find yourself in an emotionally abusive relationship, please reach out to a licensed therapist for guidance and assistance.
Cuncic, A. (2021, January 4). What Is Dysregulation? Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-dysregulation-5073868.
Hammond, C. (2017, March 22). 13 Reasons Why People Abuse. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/pro/exhausted-woman/2017/03/13-reasons-why-people-abuse#3.
LifeStance. (2020, November 23). How To Tell If Your Relationship is Emotionally Abusive. Lifestance Health. https://lifestance.com/blog/how-to-tell-if-your-relationship-is-emotionally-abusive/.
Pietrangelo, A., & Legg, T. J. (2018, December 6). How to Recognize the Signs of Mental and Emotional Abuse. healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/signs-of-mental-abuse.
Stosny, S. (2015, June 10). What Drives Emotional Abuse in Relationships. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anger-in-the-age-entitlement/201506/what-drives-emotional-abuse-in-relationships.