11 Red Flags of Emotional Abuse to Spot in Several Types of Relationships

Emotional abuse can be very difficult to spot. We have compiled a list of some things you could be looking out for if you suspect there is emotional abuse going on between two (or more) people. These signs might not give a complete guarantee of what is going on, but it can give you a hand to see if there is something odd going on. These emotional abuse signs are not only meant for romantic relationships: platonic or family relationships can show the same and similar signs of emotional abuse. For easier reading we will usually refer to two parties: “the abuser” and the “abused.”

  1. Deviating behavior

    Break Up Crying GIF

If you have a suspicion who might be performing the abuse and who is being abused, then see if the one who is on the receiving end behaves differently in the presence of that person. Are they more nervous and tense when that person is present. Have a careful look if there is a change when you see them with and without the other suspected abuser present.
People who are abused emotionally might behave quite differently in the presence of their abuser.

  1. “Jokes”

You’ve probably heard these types of remarks somewhere. Someone may make an insulting remark to someone else, and when the person who said it notices others were listening it’s suddenly a joke. However people react to it, some of these “jokes” are just thinly veiled instances of emotional abuse.

  1. Constantly keeping them in mind…

Blue Tears Crying GIF by Barbara Pozzi

Emotional abuse often involves a creating a certain amount of dependence on the abuser. If the abused is always keeping the suspected abuser in mind, it might be a sign of being over-dependent. Examples could be the receiver saying things like “Oh I don’t know if X would agree with that,” or “Hmm, I won’t buy this shirt for myself, X doesn’t like that color.” Exerting control over another person is an important part of emotional abuse (OPDV 2013).

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  1. False accusations

It sounds quite obvious, but not all accusations are as explicit as just yelling “you did [thing X]!!!”. In emotional abuse situations, subtle false accusations are more common. You might overhear people subtly implying that the other is not spending enough time on them, or perhaps insinuating that the abused is cheating.

  1. When you’ve known the receiver for a long(er) time…

Sad House GIF

… and the emotional abuse happens behind closed doors, you might see them looking different on the outside. Maybe they hunch their shoulders more, or seem to be taking less care of themselves in another way such as not brushing their hair. Effects of emotional abuse can range from loss of sleep, eating problems, anxiety and even self-harm (Balwinder 2017).

  1. And the abused…

…can have abnormal emotional responses, ranging from over-emotional to extremely dull even in situations where a reaction would often be expected. People who have been abused can really struggle to control strong emotions too in some cases.

  1. Weirdly jealous

Matthew Mcconaughey Crying GIFA little bit of jealousy can always happen. If jealousy gets too powerful, and starts having far-reaching effects, it’s time to double check.

  1. Important note…

Abuse is genderless. While some groups are more likely to be emotionally abused, it’s important to know that the ones who emotionally abuse others can be from any gender and age group.

  1. What also happens a lot is that…

woman rain GIF by Emma Darvick
woman rain gif by emma darvick

…the people who emotionally abuse someone make a real effort to keep their victims away from family and friends to increase dependence. Are your normally regular appointments suddenly getting cancelled all the time? Did they mention they couldn’t because of the person you suspect might be emotionally abusing them?

  1. The blame game

    Cry Tears GIF

Another common occurrence is that emotional abusers take everything out on their victim. Even things that go wrong that have nothing to do with that person whatsoever. The abuser dropped a glass? That’s the abused person’s fault (when it really isn’t). The abuser came home late from work? That’s the abused person’s fault (when it also really isn’t).

  1. Abusers are so focused on their own emotion that…

They seem not to notice or care how the other person feels. They purposefully use the silent treatment often and also without justification.

So these were signs that there might be emotional abuse going on in a relationship. Have you recognised any in your friends or maybe yourself. Feel free to share with us on tumblr or facebook.

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Balwinder 2017 

OPDV 2013

Confidence after emotional abuse 

Psychology today “charm harm” spotting hidden abuse

Everyday health emotional abuse 

NSPCC UK child abuse and emotional abuse

Love P. relationships abuse 

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