11 Ways To Recognize Emotional Abuse

Trigger warning: this article contains sensitive content involving emotional and physical abuse.
person standing
Simone Acquaroli

Abusive relationships can happen to anyone, anywhere. They’re not limited to gay or straight relationships, or even to romantic relationships. You can have an abusive relationship with a co-worker or your own child, and it’s important to recognize the signs of emotional abuse before it becomes physical. As alone as emotional abuse can make you feel, abusers follow certain specific patterns. 

1. You feel nervous around them. Likely the first sign of an abusive relationship is the feeling of your stomach dropping when they walk in the room. You’re never quite comfortable around them. You don’t feel able to express yourself and can’t relax with them in the room. Rather than feeling glad to see this person or hear from them, your first thought is, “Oh, no. What NOW?”

2. They hate anything you care about. Yes, some people are genuine opposites, and there are people in this world who enjoy the opposite of pretty much everything you love. You like wearing pink, listening to jpop, and eating vegan; they like wearing black, listening to metal, and eating steak as bloody as possible. This is different. This is someone who hates anything as long as you care about it…if your opinion changes, so does theirs:

John: I hate this album.

Marsha: I used to like it, but you’ve told me all the reasons you hate it, and I’m starting to see your point. This album does suck. I’ll turn it off and put on something better.

John: What are you talking about? I LOVE this album.

3. They’re always right. You are always wrong. As in the example above, the person seems to live in a world of absolutes where their (often critical of you or your traits) opinion is the absolute truth. If you’re of another race, they hate that race and they have random facts and generalizations to support it. Maybe they have opinions about your entire gender, or people who (insert thing that you do). Everything they say is a FACT and if you argue, you’re just DUMB. They will often shout over you if you attempt to argue, and this is part of the grooming process: once they get you to the point where you decide silence is easier than dealing with their reaction, they can move on to the next stage of abuse. That’s why it’s important never to remain silent when you disagree, to avoid “offending” someone who is being offensive.

4. They destroy your belongings, aggressively or passive/aggressively, and they will target the belongings you care about most. It’s often an “accident” or “your fault” for “making” them so angry…but you can’t help but notice THEIR clothes/car/electronics are always in pristine condition.

5. Everything you say is offensive to them. Rather than attributing your feelings to anything going on between you or in your lives together, they take it as a personal attack.

John: The dishes need doing.

Mona: Yeah, I get it, okay? I didn’t do the dishes. I’m a useless piece of garbage that can’t even get her dishes done!

John: I didn’t say…

Mona: I hate that you do this to me! You constantly make fun of me! I can’t do anything right, can I?

Note: it will probably be hours before the dishes are clean, and John might not eat tonight, because he’ll be too busy managing Mona’s emotions. 

6. You feel like you’re raising a child. Please don’t confuse the following statement with someone who has an actual physical disability and legitimately needs your help: this is about an able-bodied person who, as above, flips out whenever they’re asked (and they ALWAYS have to be asked) to be responsible for anything. As the abuser becomes increasingly incapable of absolutely everything (because irritating you feeds their need for negative attention) you become responsible for everything, in your life and in theirs, and

7. Everything is your fault. If they miss an appointment, get up late, forget the laundry in the washer, it’s because YOU didn’t remind them. If they cheat, Its because YOU weren’t available enough…éven if they were the one saying no.

8. They lie as second nature. They didn’t leave the clothes in the washer to go mouldy, even though you can clearly smell it on the clothes. They didn’t spend the money that disappeared from your joint bank account, even though you can clearly see the transaction. They didn’t buy the booze in their hand, and that isn’t booze you smell in their glass.

9. Everything is about control, AND about making you think YOU’RE the one in control. If these statements seem contradictory, they are, and that’s just how the abuser wants it.

Child: *cries*

Parent: What do you want? What is your problem? Why are you doing this to MEE?!!?!?

Kyle: Why does Nancy always ask me to do the budget and then blow it and say it’s my fault? She puts me in control of the budget and then ruins it. I’m not in control of it at all!

Elena: If he loves me, why did he cheat on me? If he doesn’t love me, why didn’t he leave.

10. They want to get you alone so there are no witnesses. This is the co-parent who carries your own child out of the room claiming the child did something wrong. The person who never wants to attend family events with you because people will see the way they treat you. The one who complains when your friends come around.

11. It’s exhausting, and tedious. A friend of mine said it best when she described her morning alone vs her morning in a relationship with an emotionally abusive person:

“When I lived alone, I would wake up, take a shower, open my closet, get dressed, have breakfast, maybe wash a couple of dishes, and leave. With him, I would have to spend 30 minutes waking him up while he repeatedly fell back asleep or he’d blame me for not getting him up. He’d be angry if I didn’t wake him up on time. I was already exhausted at 7 a.m. I’d go in to take my shower, put my phone on the counter, and he’d go through all the messages. I’d get interrogated on every message or he’d ask what I was deleting that I didn’t want him to see. Something would always be missing when I got out of the shower like my hairdryer or my brush or my entire makeup bag. He’d always ‘help me’ by putting my laundry in the washer the night before and then leave it in the washer to get mouldy, so getting dressed was impossible and I was constantly buying new clothes. I kept telling myself, at least he’s not hitting me. I was replacing $400/mo worth of belongings, constantly exhausted and on edge, tired and miserable…so by the time he DID hit me it felt like a relief. Because for a while, he was apologetic and nice to me. At least until the bruises healed and he knew he couldn’t get arrested.”

***

Abuse is a process, not something that just happens one day. It’s not always apparent to friends or family, especially in the case of an abuser who is very charismatic or well established in the community. Victims of abuse will often turn to suicide or other forms of self-harm rather than contacting the police, so learning how to recognize the signs of abuse before it happens can be very important. TC mark

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