What is Emotional Abuse? Signs, Effects, and Recovery

July 14, 2021

Mental Health

While you may often wonder what emotional abuse is, it needs no rocket science to understand its complex and abstract nature. An intangible form of abuse that leaves no physical scars or bruises but often leaves deep, lingering emotional wounds is referred to as emotional abuse. It is also a form of psychological abuse that may have term effects. The effects of emotional abuse may impact emotional, social, psychological, and physiological health. Emotional abuse is exercising control over the other person by using emotions to shame, embarrass, blame, criticize, or manipulate others. An emotionally abusive relationship involves a consistent pattern of bullying behavior. It also involves using offensive words that undermine a person's mental health and wears down a person's self-esteem. 


In most cases, people say that it is just the way their parents or partners have always been. It is not until they begin to peel back the behavior that they realize how toxic and unhealthy it was. What is emotional abuse? More often than not, people do not even realize that they are experiencing emotional abuse. It is one of the most complicated forms of abuse to recognize as it is quite subtle, overt, and manipulative. It suffocates the person experiencing it and makes them feel trapped. But it doesn't have to be like this or last a lifetime. 


In such a scenario, if you wonder how to recover from emotional abuse, the answer is simple. It begins with acknowledging and understanding emotional abuse. While it may seem challenging at first to overcome this pattern, it is not entirely impossible before you start with the healing process.


How Do You Know You Are Experiencing Emotional Abuse?

Experiencing Emotional Abuse
Experiencing Emotional Abuse

Well, it is subtle and hard to detect. If you are contemplating whether or not your relationship is abusive, try deliberating on your interaction with your parent, friend, partner, or family member and remember how they make you feel. If you feel frustrated, misunderstood, confused, anxious, depressed, wounded, or worthless, there is a high chance that you are a part of an emotionally abusive relationship. 


  • Emotionally abusive people have unrealistic expectations, such as expecting you to keep everything aside to meet their needs, make unreasonable demands, or being dissatisfied. They demand all your time, criticize you for not accomplishing tasks according to their standards, or disallow you from having different opinions. 
  • An emotionally abusive person undermines, distorts, or dismisses your perception, doesn't accept your feelings, or invalidates how you feel about something. They often accuse you of being too emotional, crazy, or sensitive and accuse you of being selfish. 
  • Emotionally abusive people start arguments for the sake of it and create chaos. They have sudden emotional outbursts, mood changes, behave erratically, or make contradictory statements. 
  • They use emotional blackmail to control or manipulate you by making you feel guilty, humiliating you in public, exaggerating your flaws, and using your fears and vulnerabilities to control you in public situations.
  • Emotionally abusive people treat you like an inferior, make jokes at your expense, blame you for their shortcomings, talk down on you, use sarcasm while interacting and act like they are always right. 
  • People with emotionally abusive tendencies would try to control who you spend time with, monitor your digital activities, and accuse you of cheating. They would demand to know where you are at all times and treat you like a possession.

How Do You Recognize Other Signs of an Emotionally Abusive Relationship?


As per the National Domestic Violence Hotline, there are several signs of emotional abuse a person should look out for. They are - 

  • Name-calling
  • Continuous criticism
  • Insulting
  • Use of weapons for threatening
  • Preventing a partner from leaving home
  • Withholding affection as a punishment
  • Threatening to hurt pets, children, or members of a partner's family
  • Destruction of partner's property
  • Attempting to control a partner's appearance
  • Serially cheating on a partner
  • Cheating to prove themselves more desirable than their partner

If you spot any of these signs in your relationship, suspect your friend or a family member being subjected to emotional abuse, you can consult a mental healthcare professional for advice. 

Types of Emotional Abuse


A person may be subjected to a different type of emotional abuse, both for the long and short term. Different people in life can inflict this emotional abuse. Let us explore the nature and potential sources of emotional abuse. 

Parental Emotional Abuse

Children are often victims of emotional abuse. Contrary to popular belief, a family friend or a relative is more likely to abuse a child than a stranger. Emotional abuse could include threatening, bullying, shaming, humiliating, yelling, or belittling a child. It could also involve telling a child about their worthlessness, limiting signs of affection, comparing a child with others negatively, and making them undergo silent treatment as a punishment.  

Relationship Emotional Abuse

When it comes to romantic relationships, emotionally abusive individuals may not be sexually or physically abusive from the very beginning. However, if a relationship continues down an unhealthy path, it can lead to physical abuse too. It begins with demeaning or making the partner feel worthless.

Marital Emotional Abuse

Contrary to stereotypes, marriage does not grant anyone the right to abuse their partners emotionally, sexually, or physically. Emotional abuse in a marital relationship may make the other person feel worthless and lead them towards unhealthy thoughts.

Emotional Abuse At Workplace

What often goes unnoticed is the emotional abuse at the workplace. From intimidation, shaming someone to deceiving someone or making them feel guilty, emotional abuse can happen in several forms. Emotional abuse at the workplace may result in unfinished tasks, procrastination, and a profound impact on a person's self-worth, self-esteem, and productivity. 


Long and Short-Term Effects On The Brain and Body


For a person on the receiving end, emotional abuse is a cycle that is difficult to break. At first, the person might take the denial route but later find it disturbing to acknowledge their involvement in an emotionally abusive relationship.


For a short span, the brain and body may undergo mood swings, aches and pains, muscle tension, and breathing issues accompanied by psychological effects such as hopelessness, fear, shame, and confusion. 


When the emotional abuse continues for longer, these short-term effects become prolonged and contribute to low self-esteem and depression. Studies suggest that emotional abuse also contributes to chronic fatigue syndromes, guilt, anxiety, insomnia, loneliness, or social withdrawals. 


Children experiencing emotional abuse may have difficulty regulating their emotions, suffer from sleeping disorders, experience regression and later, have trouble developing trusting relationships with others.


How To Recover From Emotional Abuse


It can take a lot of time to get over an emotionally abusive relationship or get healed completely. While a mental health professional can help, other strategies can help you to regain your ground. And it all begins with recognizing the abuse, identifying the emotional abuse, and being honest about it. Here are some strategies that help you in your emotional recovery - 

Pen It All Down

It is essential to start journaling your reality. Write down everything - what you say, feel, think, or do. Keep a record, and your emotional abuser will never be able to make you doubt yourself. Your records will help you trust yourself more. 

Stop Blaming Yourself

Those who suffer emotional abuse are often told that it is their fault. It's not. You don't deserve it. Stop blaming yourself for it. Think again.

Don't Engage

Don't engage with your emotional abuser. Don't respond, argue or apologize. 

Learn To Trust

Prolonged emotional abuse can have repercussions. It can make you distrustful of others and scared of intimacy. Remind yourself that there are plenty of kind people too. Let them into your world. Trust them. 

Seek Help Whenever Needed

Those who are not in your shoes might downplay the effects of emotional abuse. But seeking help is a sort of self-compassion, and you should not feel ashamed of it. 

Make Yourself a Priority

Make your mental and physical health a priority. You don't have to please anyone. Take a rest. Eat healthy meals. Think positively and take care of your own needs. Self-care goes a long way in helping you deal with emotional abuse and stress.

Establish Boundaries

Firmly convey to the abusive person that they must not yell at you, insult you, call you names or be rude to you. And that if they continue to do so, you may leave the room or leave them altogether. Communicate the boundaries that you would strictly adhere to. 

Realize You Can't Fix Them

It is beyond our control to change an emotionally abusive person because they choose to be vicious by choice. Remind yourself that you are not to blame yourself for their choices and cannot control their actions. You can only control your response.

Build a Support Network

It isn't easy to convey what you are going through. But speaking up can help. Take your time away from the abusive person. Talk to a counselor, family member, or a trusted friend. Surround yourself with those who love and support you. 

Work on an Exit Plan

If your partner, friend, or a family member has no intention of changing their emotionally abusive behavior, you don't have to tolerate it for a lifetime. It will take a toll on your mental and physical health eventually. Work out an exit plan with the help of your counselor, a trusted friend, or a family member. 


Key Takeaways


Within the ambit of intimate relationships, both genders are susceptible to emotional abuse. Whether males or females perpetrated the original abuse, those who have experienced it are deeply psychologically scarred. Whether they endured emotional abuse from childhood or abusive adult relationships, they continue to suffer many self-destructive symptoms. 


But those who have managed to free themselves from the stranglehold of an emotionally abusive partner continue the Sisiphian battle to heal. Situations like these need reminding us that emotional abuse is never the fault of those experiencing it. 



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