5 Things People Who’ve Been Mentally Abused Do

Hey, Psych2Goers! Before we get started, if you have been abused or you suspect someone else has been, we’ve left a list of resources to reach out to. Please do not hesitate to contact them for help for yourself or a loved one.

Do you know how common mental abuse is? According to The National Center for Biotechnology Information, 80 percent of the population has experienced some form of abusive relationship and behavior. However, despite how frequent it is, emotional abuse is still hard to spot. Unlike physical abuse, mental abuse doesn’t leave any visible scars; instead, it affects someone’s behavior, mindset, and mentality. This means some people deny they’ve been mentally abused, and others may not even recognize the toxic behavior. So, whether you’re reading this to be able to recognize emotional abuse in others or recognize it in yourself, these 5 things people who’ve been mentally abused do are sure to help you be more empathetic and kinder.   

1. Constantly take fault   

Have you ever met someone who apologizes for every little thing, even though it’s not their fault? In many toxic relationships, the abuser makes the victim feel as if they deserve the mistreatment. They’ll say phrases like, “Look what you made me do,” or, “You’re lucky I’m still dealing with you.” This type of language is extremely harmful, as it can often lead the victim to think the abuse is their fault. Even after the toxic relationship has ended, they might still feel the need to apologize for everything. This means the best thing to do is be patient and remind them no one deserves to be abused no matter what.  

2. Struggle to be vulnerable 

Has someone ever betrayed your trust? After it happened, did you feel as if you’d never open up to anyone ever again? This happens with emotionally abusive relationships too. Once a victim has escaped their abuser, they’ll often struggle to be vulnerable with others. They may think phrases like, “What if they become toxic too?” or, “I can’t trust anyone but myself anymore.” No matter how many times they feel like opening up to someone, there’s always a little nagging voice telling them not to. Most of the time, it’s not personal; instead, it’s simply a result of being deeply hurt. So, try not to get frustrated or impatient. After all, emotional abuse isn’t something anyone can overcome within a few weeks. 

3. Need constant reassurance   

Have you ever felt like you’re not good enough? One common form of emotional abuse is degrading someone. For example, telling them that they’re not attractive enough, smart enough, funny enough, and no matter what they change, they never will be. If you’ve heard something like this even once, you know how awful it feels to hear. When someone hears this every day, it can affect them throughout their whole life. They could feel inadequate, not accept any compliments, or always need reassurance. Building their self-esteem back up could take years, so try to be empathetic and encouraging. 

4. Breakdown during small conflicts   

Picture this: you’ve just had the worst morning ever. Traffic was horrible, and you forgot your lunch. Then, someone says, “How bold of you to come dressed like that!” If you’ve experienced something like this, there’s a good chance you know what it feels like to break down over a seemingly small conflict. Because people who’ve been mentally abused tend to have low self-esteem, they often second guess themselves and are hypersensitive to criticism. They may get too overwhelmed during a conflict, and criticism could trigger their insecurities and past memories of being degraded. So, if you ever experience someone breaking down over something that seems insignificant, try to remember there’s likely more going on than you know. Treat them gently and calmly, the same way you’d want to be treated on a bad day.   

5. Suppress their feelings 

Have you ever felt like someone just wasn’t listening to what you were saying? How did it make you feel? Invalidated? Unimportant? This happens all the time in many mentally abusive relationships. The abuser often ignores or criticizes the victim for expressing their emotions. This can make them feel as if their emotions don’t matter or that they should be ashamed of them. Even after the toxic relationship ends, they may internalize that their feelings aren’t important and hide them. However, while it may be hard to accept, all feelings are important and valid. Your emotions are how you decide what you like and dislike, your boundaries, and what you want in life. They’re a crucial part of who you are that deserves to be expressed no matter what.   

Mental abuse takes time, energy, patience, and a lot of support to overcome. Recovery isn’t something that can or should be rushed. So, if you’ve noticed someone doing these things, you should try to be empathetic and kind towards them. After all, everyone could use a little more love and care in their life.   

Do you think these signs will help you recognize mental abuse? If so, which ones? Are there any other signs you know? Feel free to leave a comment with your experience, suggestions, or feedback!   

Works Cited

  • Karakurt, G., & Silver, K. E. (2013). Emotional abuse in intimate relationships: The role of gender and age. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3876290/.
  • Mouradian, V. (2000). Abuse in Intimate Relationships. https://mainweb-v.musc.edu/vawprevention/research/defining.shtml.
  • Kimber, M., McTavish, J. R., Couturier, J., Boven, A., Gill, S., Dimitropoulos, G., & MacMillan, H. L. (2017, September 22). Consequences of child emotional abuse, emotional neglect and exposure to intimate partner violence for eating disorders: a systematic critical review. BMC Psychology. https://bmcpsychology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40359-017-0202-3.


  • National Child Abuse Hotline (US and Canada): 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453)
  • National Domestic Abuse Hotline: 800-799-SAFE (800-799-7233)
  • TTY: 800-787-3224
  • Video Phone for Deaf Callers: 206-518-9361
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255)
  • TTY: 800-799-4TTY (800-799-4889)
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HELLO to 741741 (US and Canada) or 85258 (UK)
  • National Runaway Switchboard: 800-RUNAWAY (800-786-2929) 

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