Are You in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship?

While physical abuse is normally quite easy to determine, emotional abuse can be a very different matter. The very nature of emotional abuse means that the abused person becomes emotionally upset, which can lead to confusion over what is really happening. Emotional abuse also carries none of the obvious signs of physical abuse. A victim of emotional abuse doesn’t have a black eye, a broken arm or cuts and burns…but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t suffering just as badly.

What is emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse can take many forms. Like any abusive relationship, one which is emotionally abusive comes about through one partner attempting to exert power and control over the other. Emotional abuse can be very difficult to qualify and recognize. It includes being made to feel inadequate, name calling and verbal abuse, but it can also involve neglect. Emotional abuse can be tied up with physical abuse, or the removal of comforts or even comfort objects. A woman whose partner stays out at night without informing her could be a subject of emotional abuse too. Different situations constitute emotional abuse for different individuals, complicating the issues further.

Recognizing emotional abuse

While the above gives some examples of emotional abuse, actually applying this to your own relationship and recognizing that you are a victim is hard to do. Victims of emotional abuse often feel that their situation is normal, or that they are somehow responsible for the abuse and deserve to suffer. This, of course, is what many abusive partners want. If you accept the blame, they are absolved, and can continue to control your actions and thoughts through continued abuse. No one deserves any type of abuse. If you are a victim of emotional abuse, there are things that you can do to escape the relationship and reclaim a healthy emotional life. But you can’t do this unless you fully understand the situation.

So it is important to recognize the signs that you are in an abusive relationship. If the following seem familiar in your relationship, you are being emotionally abused.

  • Your partner verbally abuses you, calling you names, telling you you are worthless or stupid.
  • Your partner often criticizes your appearance.
  • Your partner tells you what you should or should not wear.
  • Your partner belittles you in public, making you the butt of jokes and making you feel uncomfortable or ashamed in company.
  • Your partner threatens to leave you if you do not ‘change’ your behavior or appearance.
  • Your partner prevents you from attending your job or college course regularly.
  • Your partner forces you to stop work or college.
  • Your partner prevents you from continuing your normal social life and activities.
  • Your partner dislikes your friends and family and prevents you from seeing them as often as you would like.
  • Your partner threatens you with violence, even if the threat is not carried out in reality.
  • Your partner insists that you call him regularly if you are away from home, or he calls you all the time to check up on you.
  • Your partner removes or destroys your possessions.
  • Your partner controls your access to money or to a car.
  • Your partner monitors your use of the internet or mobile phone.
  • You feel that you have to ‘walk on eggshells’ to avoid angering your partner.
  • Your partner blames you for causing all the arguments or problems in your relationship.
  • Your partner uses the threat of infidelity to control your behavior.
  • Your partner is obsessively jealous, accusing you of infidelity all the time.
  • Your partner applies one rule for himself and another for you. (While insisting that you are home at a certain time, he feels free to stay out all night without explanation, leaving you worried and frightened.)

Emotional abuse can take many forms and it’s a complex issue. But, in general,
If you feel at all threatened within a relationship, or afraid to make your point in a discussion or be able to say when something is upsetting you, you are probably a victim of emotional abuse. An unreasonably jealous partner who tries to control your life and affects your everyday interactions with others is guilty of emotional abuse.

Effects of emotional abuse

Emotional abuse can cause anything from mild upset to suicide. People who are in emotionally abusive relationships often lose all their self esteem and become afraid to leave the house. Their jobs and careers or studies can suffer, and they can become isolated and estranged from family and friends. Depressive mental illnesses can ensue, and even after they have escaped an abusive relationship, victims can find great difficulty establishing new, healthy relationships.

How to survive emotional abuse

Once you have realized that you are in an abusive relationship, there are several things that you can do about it. You can insist, if you feel able, that your partner undertakes counselling for his behavior. If he agrees, you may have a chance of saving your relationship, but it will be a long and difficult process and he has to be truly committed to have any chance of success. Established abusers, emotional or physical, can change, but most do not. If you decide to leave the abusive relationship behind, you can use self help techniques to aid your recovery, or you can turn to the professionals for help. Self help techniques include talking to someone you trust…which can be a friend, family member, or perhaps a doctor or priest.

Writing your experiences and feelings down can also be extremely cathartic. Getting out and about is also healing, especially if it involves a physical activity and social interaction. If you feel that you need professional help, talking to your doctor is a good place to begin. He can recommend you to counselors and therapists. If you are feeling emotionally distressed as a result of abuse, there are also organisations you can turn to. Don’t feel that these are only aimed at those women who have suffered physical violence…they aren’t. Emotional abuse is recognized as just as serious.

You should also check out our emotional abuse help guide for more about how to escape it.




  •  The Samaritans helpline will answer calls and provide support to anyone in crisis or who is considering committing suicide.
  • Voice UK: Helpline 0808 802 8686
    Telephone support and information for adults and children with learning disabilities who have been abused, and for their families and carers.
  • Mind (National Association for Mental Health): 0845 766 0163
  • SupportLine: 01708 765200, email [email protected]– Telephone Helpline providing confidential emotional support to children, young adults and adults on any issue. Aimed at those who are isolated, vulnerable, at risk groups and victims of any form of abuse.