9 Signs of Emotional Abuse, According to a Relationship Expert
It can be difficult to define and spot.
Last month, FKA twigs filed a lawsuit against ex-boyfriend Shia LaBeouf citing many instances of physical, emotional, and mental abuse. Among the laundry list of claims was that he imposed rules about the number of times per day she was to kiss and touch him and threatened to crash the car he was driving unless she told him she loved him — instances of controlling and threatening behavior often used by emotional abusers.
“He brought me so low, below myself, that the idea of leaving him and having to work myself back up just seemed impossible,” she told the New York Times. Twigs added that in filing this lawsuit she hoped “to raise awareness on the tactics that abusers use to control you and take away your agency.”
And when it comes to emotional abuse, awareness is key. While physical abuse is something we are all aware of and can easily define, there are so many different forms of emotional abuse and so many gray areas that it's often difficult to put your finger on.
Typically though, emotional abuse involves the abuser demeaning, controlling, humiliating, isolating, and creating fear in their victim. You are more vulnerable to emotional abuse if you grew up in a home where you witnessed a parent being abusive or being abused, if you were abused in any way as a child, or grew up in a home with addiction, but it can happen to anyone.
Here, 9 signs of emotional abuse in romantic relationships.
9 signs of an emotionally abusive partner
1. A partner who makes threats.
Threatening to break up, divorce, withhold love, deny sex, or anything else along those lines creates fear and anxiety about the relationship. This is a form of manipulation. This includes veiled threats like “the last woman who did this with me is gone!”. Threats can also make you feel pressured to do things that you don’t feel comfortable doing or don't want to do in order to avoid the consequence.
2. A partner who uses degrading language.
Name-calling, degrading language, or cursing at another person is abusive — period. While some of us curse more than others and certain instances are innocent (i.e. “I feel so shitty about this fight we are having”), cursing at a person (“you are an asshole”), is hitting below the belt.
3. A partner who tries to isolate you.
I spent many years working for a rape and domestic violence hotline and early on in the training we learned that batters isolate their victims. Typically, they try to pull them away from their family, friends, and their support system. This leaves the victim more dependent on the abusive partner and makes it more difficult to leave. It is one thing for a partner who loves and cares about you to point out friends who are unhealthy or don’t help you be the best version of you. It is another to have a partner who makes you feel guilty for or demands that you stop spending time with people who love you and treat you well.
4. A partner who mocks, taunts, makes fun of, or attempts to humiliate you.
Name-calling, cruel sarcasm, harmful nicknames, or insults on your appearance serve to embarrass you and make you feel bad about yourself. Doing this in public is particularly degrading and embarrassing, but it should never be tolerated privately either. This type of rude and degrading behavior is insulting and prevent any possible productive conversations between partners. It also tends to derail any discussion that had taken place prior because it creates a new conflict in and of itself.
5. A partner who gaslights you.
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that undermines the recipient's reality and is meant to leave them insecure, unsure of themselves and questioning their sanity. This comes in many forms, including but not limited to denying facts, lying, and invalidating your reality, accusations of paranoia, and being told that things did not happen that actually took place.
6. A partner who is constantly critical and cruel.
These criticisms can be subtle or overt but serve to put you down and erode your self-esteem. There is a difference between a partner who asked you not to leave your socks on the floor, which may feel like a criticism, and someone who performs a character assassination. The second, which involves putting down the core of who you are, hits a lot harder and is out of bounds.
7. A partner who stonewalls.
Stonewalling, which is one of the greatest predictors of divorce, is when a person puts up a verbal and emotional wall and refuses to engage in any conversation. They forgo the usual “ah ha” or acknowledgment that someone is speaking to them and totally ice you out. This cold shoulder treatment makes it impossible to have a dialogue and work through problems.
8. A partner who controls you.
A partner who constantly tells you what to wear, who to talk to, where are you are allowed to go, or someone who makes decisions or plans for you without consulting with you is highly controlling. This may also take the form of monitoring you, checking your phone, or showing up places you were going to be. There’s a difference between a couple where there has been infidelity and both agree to a period of transparency in order to heal a breach of trust and someone who is just inherently jealous and controlling and insists on closely monitoring their partner.
9. A partner who yells or screams at you.
This often goes along with cursing or name-calling, but a partner who has constant angry outbursts raises their voice, or shouts at you is abusive. If you feel that you’re constantly walking on eggshells to avoid your partner exploding, you have a problem.
The bottom line:
You should never be in a relationship that makes you feel bad about yourself or causes you pain. If you aren't feeling good in the relationship and you’re questioning if it is abusive, you need to listen to that. If you are struggling to see whether or not your relationships is a healthy relationship or an abusive one, you may need the help of a therapist or might benefit from calling a domestic violence hotline in order to get some support and clarity.
In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.