Emotional Abuse – 14 Subtle Signs in Relationships

emotional abuse

There are obvious forms of emotional abuse, such as, yelling, insulting, threats, direct orders, and publicly embarrassing you. It is easy to see when others are being emotionally abused, but it can be difficult to notice when you are in it. Especially when the abuse is indirect or subtle. Before we go into the signs of emotional abuse, lets define it. According to One Love Organization it is, “any abusive behavior that includes verbal aggression, intimidation, manipulation, and humiliation” (DeSenctis, E., 2020). Here are 14 subtle signs of emotional abuse in relationships:

  1. emotional abuseBlaming you for their actions instead of taking responsibility: it’s abusive for your partner to blame you for their actions. Saying things like, “you made me do it” or “it’s your fault this happened” is hurtful and disrespectful.
  2. Avoiding certain topics: Feeling like you are walking on eggshells around them and staying quiet about topics that bother you in fear of triggering your partner is a sign of emotional abuse. Abusive partners aren’t interested in resolving situations in a mature manner.
  3. Telling you how to act with the excuse that they are being helpful: abusers disguise manipulative behavior by telling you that they are being helpful. You should be valued for who you are and not be manipulated into someone you are not.
  4. Changing your plans with the excuse that they want to surprise you: to maintain control abusers will change your plans. For example, if they feel insecure about you hanging out with friends. They will surprise you with an invitation to eat at a restaurant. In time your social needs will fall to the side, and you will end up feeling lonely.
  5. Being emotionally available and then distant: this is a form of control that is done to manipulate you into doing what they like. Abusers will not offer an explanation. In fact, they will deny being distant. They do this to keep you guessing and in fear.
  6. Saying hurtful things as jokes: Abusers purposefully say things they know will hurt you. This is a form of manipulation and to control your reaction they say things like, “come on I was only joking” or “dang you are so uptight, I can’t joke with you ever”.Emotional abuse
  7. Making you guess what they want: you aren’t a mind reader and having a partner that expects you to know what they want is childish and immature. On the contrary, a healthy relationship is built on open communication not assumptions.
  8. Suggesting you are being too sensitive or emotional when something hurts you: this abusive behavior can leave you feeling confused as if you overreacted. An abuser will say you are being overly dramatic to not take responsibility or apologize for their actions.
  9. Gaslighting you in order to maintain control: gaslighting is when a partner is denying your reality and lying about how things happened. They may say things like, “you’re not remembering things correctly” or “no, you’re confusing this with something else.” This form of abuse will cause self-doubt in the long run.
  10. Noticing they act different when you are with other people: this form of abuse can go two ways. The abuser can act like they caring and considerate in public in order to fool everyone or they can become all distant and unloving as a means to control how you behave with your friends and family.
  11. Withdrawing affection during a disagreement or argument: this is abusive and it bases the relationship on validation instead of connection. This implies that you are only worthy of love when you do what they want.
  12. emotional abuseIgnoring your accomplishments: abusers feel threatened by it. Instead, of acknowledging the hard work you have done. They minimize your accomplishments by saying things like, “that is easy, anyone can do that” or “that isn’t a big of a deal”. They may even completely ignore it all together.
  13. Implying you aren’t being helpful: To control your thoughts and behaviors. Abusers will tell you what to do and what to think. They disguise this by implying you aren’t helpful and that you are being selfish.
  14. Constantly asking where you are and who you are with: abusers disguise their insecurities and jealousy with the excuse that they are concerned for your safety. They may seem genuinely concerned, saying things like, “remember to leave early before it gets too dark” or “I’ll come and pick you up to make sure you arrive safe.” This is a form of control by knowing all your movements.

Emotional abuse is complex and can go undetected for a long time. If you are feeling physically and emotionally drained. If you are second-guessing your judgement and reality. If you feel unloved and that your feelings don’t matter. It’s a sign something is wrong. Leaving an abusive relationship is harder said than done, but you must acknowledge abusers rarely if ever change. Make yourself the priority and leave. If this is daunting and seem impossible. Remind yourself you can always get help. You can call a helpline or see a therapist for guidance.


DeSanctis, E., (2020). What Emotional Abuse Really Means. Retrieved from: https://www.joinonelove.org/learn/emotional-abuse-really-means/

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