Emotional Abuse-Signs That Things Aren’t Healthy by – Art_Amiss

What is Emotional Abuse?

Abuse is any behavior that is designed to control and subjugate another human being through the use of fear, humiliation, intimidation, guilt, coercion, manipulation etc. Emotional abuse is any kind of abuse that is emotional rather than physical in nature. It can include anything from verbal abuse and constant criticism to more subtle tactics, such as repeated disapproval or even the refusal to ever be pleased.

Emotional abuse is like brain washing in that it systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in their own perceptions, and self-concept. Whether it is done by constant berating and belittling, by intimidation, or under the guise of “guidance,” “teaching”, or “advice,” the results are similar. Eventually, the recipient of the abuse loses all sense of self and remnants of personal value. Emotional abuse cuts to the very core of a person, creating scars that may be far deeper and more lasting that physical ones. In fact there is research to this effect. With emotional abuse, the insults, insinuations, criticism and accusations slowly eat away at the victim’s self-esteem until she is incapable of judging the situation realistically. She has become so beaten down emotionally that she blames herself for the abuse. Her self-esteem is so low that she clings to the abuser.

Emotional abuse victims can become so convinced that they are worthless that they believe that no one else could want them. They stay in abusive situations because they believe they have nowhere else to go. Their ultimate fear is being all alone.

Emotional abuse can also be called psychological abuse, mental abuse. If it occurs within a family it can be called psychological incest or emotional incest.
Types of Emotional Abuse

Abusive Expectations

The other person places unreasonable demands on you and wants you to put everything else aside to tend to their needs.
It could be a demand for constant attention, or a requirement that you spend all your free time with the person.
But no matter how much you give, it’s never enough.
You are subjected to constant criticism, and you are constantly berated because you don’t fulfill all this person’s needs.


Aggressive forms of abuse include name-calling, accusing, blaming, threatening, and ordering. Aggressing behaviors are generally direct and obvious. The one-up position the abuser assumes by attempting to judge or invalidate the recipient undermines the equality and autonomy that are essential to healthy adult relationships. This parent-child pattern of communication (which is common to all forms of verbal abuse) is most obvious when the abuser takes an aggressive stance.

Aggressive abuse can also take a more indirect form and may even be disguised and “helping.” Criticizing, advising, offering solutions, analyzing, proving, and questioning another person may be a sincere attempt to help. In some instances however, these behaviors may be an attempt to belittle, control, or demean rather than help. The underlying judgmental “I know best” tone the abuser takes in these situations is inappropriate and creates unequal footing in peer relationships. This and other types of emotional abuse can lead to what is known as learned helplessness.

Constant Chaos

The other person may deliberately start arguments and be in constant conflict with others.

The person may be “addicted to drama” since it creates excitement.


Denying a person’s emotional needs, especially when they feel that need the most, and done with the intent of hurting, punishing or humiliating (Examples)

The other person may deny that certain events occurred or that certain things were said. confronts the abuser about an incident of name calling, the abuser may insist, “I never said that,” “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” etc. You know differently.

The other person may deny your perceptions, memory and very sanity.

Withholding is another form of denying. Withholding includes refusing to listen, refusing to communicate, and emotionally withdrawing as punishment. This is sometimes called the “silent treatment.”

When the abuser disallows and overrules any viewpoints, perceptions or feelings which differ from their own.

Denying can be particularly damaging. In addition to lowering self-esteem and creating conflict, the invalidation of reality, feelings, and experiences can eventually lead you to question and mistrust your own perceptions and emotional experience.

Denying and other forms of emotional abuse can cause you to lose confidence in your most valuable survival tool: your own mind.


Someone wants to control your every action. They have to have their own way, and will resort to threats to get it.
When you allow someone else to dominate you, you can lose respect for yourself.

Emotional Blackmail

The other person plays on your fear, guilt, compassion, values, or other “hot buttons” to get what they want.
This could include threats to end the relationship, totally reject or abandon you, giving you the the “cold shoulder,” or using other fear tactics to control you.


The abuser seeks to distort or undermine the recipient’s perceptions of their world. Invalidating occurs when the abuser refuses or fails to acknowledge reality. For example, if the recipient tells the person they felt hurt by something the abuser did or said, the abuser might say “You are too sensitive. That shouldn’t hurt you.” Here is a much more complete description of invalidation


Minimizing is a less extreme form of denial. When minimizing, the abuser may not deny that a particular event occurred, but they question the recipient’s emotional experience or reaction to an event. Statements such as “You’re too sensitive,” “You’re exaggerating,” or “You’re blowing this out of proportion” all suggest that the recipient’s emotions and perceptions are faulty and not be trusted.

Trivializing, which occurs when the abuser suggests that what you have done or communicated is inconsequential or unimportant, is a more subtle form of minimizing.

Unpredictable Responses

Drastic mood changes or sudden emotional outbursts. Whenever someone in your life reacts very differently at different times to the same behavior from you, tells you one thing one day and the opposite the next, or likes something you do one day and hates it the next, you are being abused with unpredictable responses.

This behavior is damaging because it puts you always on edge. You’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop, and you can never know what’s expected of you. You must remain hypervigilant, waiting for the other person’s next outburst or change of mood.

An alcoholic or drug abuser is likely to act this way. Living with someone like this is tremendously demanding and anxiety provoking, causing the abused person to feel constantly frightened, unsettled and off balance.

Verbal Assaults

Berating, belittling, criticizing, name calling, screaming, threatening

Excessive blaming, and using sarcasm and humiliation.

Blowing your flaws out of proportion and making fun of you in front of others. Over time, this type of abuse erodes your sense of self confidence and self-worth.

Understanding Abusive Relationships

No one intends to be in an abusive relationship, but individuals who were verbally abused by a parent or other significant person often find themselves in similar situations as an adult. If a parent tended to define your experiences and emotions, and judge your behaviors, you may not have learned how to set your own standards, develop your own viewpoints and validate your own feeling and perceptions. Consequently, the controlling and defining stance taken by an emotional abuser may feel familiar or even conformable to you, although it is destructive.

Recipients of abuse often struggle with feelings of powerlessness, hurt, fear, and anger. Ironically abusers tend to struggle with these same feelings. Abuser are also likely to have been raised in emotionally abusive environments and they learn to be abusive as a way to cope with their own feelings of powerlessness, hurt , fear, and anger. Consequently, abusers may be attracted to people who see themselves as helpless or who have not learned to value their own feelings, perceptions, or viewpoints. This allows the abuser to feel more secure and in control, and avoid dealing with their own feelings, and self-perceptions.

Emotional abuse victims can become so convinced that they are worthless that they believe that no one else could want them. They stay in abusive situations because they believe they have nowhere else to go. Their ultimate fear is being all alone.

Understanding the pattern of your relationships, specially those with family members and other significant people, is a fist step toward change. A lack of clarity about who you are in relationship to significant others may manifest itself in different ways. For example, you may act as an “abuser” in some instances and as a “recipient” in others. You may find that you tend to be abused in your romantic relationships, allowing your partners to define and control you. In friendships, however, you may play the role of abuser by withholding, manipulating, trying to “help” others, etc. Knowing yourself and understanding your past can prevent abuse from being recreated in your life.

Are You Abusive to Yourself?

Often we allow people into our lives who treat us as we expect to be treated. If we feel contempt for ourselves or think very little of ourselves, we may pick partners or significant others who reflect this image back to us. If we are willing to tolerate negative treatment from others, or treat others in negative ways, it is possible that we also treat ourselves similarly. If you are an abuser or a recipient, you may want to consider how you treat yourself. What sorts of things do you say to yourself? Do thoughts such as “I’m stupid” or “I never do anything right” dominate your thinking? Learning to love and care for ourselves increases self-esteem and makes it more likely that we will have healthy, intimate relationships.
Basic Needs in Relationships

If you have been involved in emotionally abusive relationships, you may not have a clear idea of what a healthy relationship is like. Evna (1992) suggests the following as basic needs in a relationship for you and your partner: (I have changed this from “rights” to “needs” and made other small changes- S.Hein)

The need for good will from the others.
The need for emotional support.
The need to be heard by the other and to be responded to with respect and acceptance
The need to have your own view, even if others have a different view.
The need to have your feelings and experience acknowledged as real.
The need to receive a sincere apology for any jokes or actions you find offensive.
The need for clear, honest and informative answers to questions about what affects you.
The need to for freedom from accusation, interrogation and blame.
The need to live free from criticism and judgment.
The need to have your work and your interests respected.
The need for encouragement.
The need for freedom from emotional and physical threat.
The need for freedom from from angry outburst and rage.
The need for freedom from labels which devalue you.
The need to be respectfully asked rather than ordered.
The need to have your final decisions accepted.
The need for privacy at times.

Recommended Books

The Emotionally Abused Woman: Overcoming Destructive Patterns and Reclaiming Yourself, Beverly Engel
The Emotionally Abusive Relationship: How to Stop Being Abused and How to Stop Abusing, Beverly Engel
Evans, Patricia. The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to respond. Holbrook, Massachusetts: Bob Adams, Inc., 1992.

Stalking the Soul: Emotional Abuse and the Erosion of Identity

Emotional Fitness
Signs of Abusive, Authority Based Relationships

This list is based on an adaptation of work from Alice Miller’s For Your Own Good and John Bradshaw’s Healing the Shame That Binds You

Authority figures (AF) can be parents, partners, teachers, school principals, school directors, supervisors, bosses, religious figureheads, cult leaders, etc. Dependents can be children, teenagers, partners, students, employees, religious followers, etc. What matters is that there is a power imbalance and a dependence of some sort, whether physical, financial, “spiritual,” psychological or emotional.

1. AF’s are the masters of dependents.

2. AF’s alone decide what is right and wrong,, good/bad and “appropriate” and “inappropriate”

3. They alone make up the definitions, the rules, the “choices” and the “consequences” (See pseudo-choices and consequences)

4. Dependents are held responsible for the AF’s feelings (anger, disappointment, embarrassment, humiliation, happiness and unhappiness)

5. The AF is only responsible and accountable for good things that happen, never the bad ones. Thus the AF’ appears to always be in the right and when things go wrong, the dependent is always blamed and feels responsible and guilty.

6. The AF tries to exercise total control of the dependent by controlling his thoughts, feelings and behavior. Whenever this control is not absolute, the AF feels threatened.

7. The dependent’s individuality is minimized as much as possible by the AF.

8. The AF creates an intricate system of punishments and rewards which rob the dependent of any sense of inner direction and esteem.

9. The following freedoms listed by Virginia Satire are denied to the dependent as much as possible:

The freedom to perceive
To think and interpret
To feel
To want, need, and chose

10. The AF never (or rarely) admits mistakes or apologizes.

11. All of the above take place in a way which does not expose the AF’s true motives and none of this is openly talked about. No “back talk” is allowed.

Online Consulting, Counseling Coaching from EQI.org
Some of the Effects

Mistakes are concealed
People are under constant stress
Needs are frustrated, denied
Fear dominates
Power is based on fear, not respect
Information is withheld and distorted
Information flow is primarily from top down
Behavior is forced; does not come naturally
Behavior is not consistent with true feelings, which adds to the stress
Conflicts and problems are blamed on the dependent’s “poor attitudes” and “character flaws

– Art_Amiss