Emotional abuse is a type of abuse that occurs when one person dominates or controls the emotions of another. It can take many different forms, but all have the same goal: to control the victim. Victims of emotional abuse often feel constantly threatened, isolated, and insecure. They may also experience low self-esteem and feelings of guilt and shame.
According to experts, emotional abuse is just as damaging as physical abuse in its effects on the victim. Physical abuse can cause bruises and broken bones, but emotional abuse can leave scars and lasting psychological damage on the victim that can be much more difficult to heal from.
7 Traits of an Emotional Abuser
Here are some of the most common traits associated with emotional abusers:
1. A history of manipulation
To manipulate others, they must first manipulate themselves. People who have been abused will often seek out victims—usually, those they perceive to be weaker or vulnerable.
They will try to gain the upper hand by exploiting your emotions, telling you things to get a rise out of you, and even using physical violence to control their victim.
If you’ve ever felt like your partner was keeping score on who has hurt whom and trying to find a new way to keep you down, you know how damaging emotional abuse can be. It’s important to know the signs of emotional abuse so that you can get help and support before things become too serious.
2. A lack of empathy
Emotional abusers don’t see themselves as capable of harming others, nor do they have an understanding of why their victims behave the way they do. They are only interested in getting what they want and keeping control over you, and they often use fear as a motivator.
This often leads to the abuser’s feelings of powerlessness and frustration at not controlling others around them. If you are experiencing ongoing abuse from someone, you might also notice signs of a personality disorder like narcissism, characterized by self-centeredness and a lack of empathy for others. It’s important to know the signs of narcissistic abuse to find help and support.
People who have been emotionally abused will often try to blame others or convince you that they’re just misunderstood and that you’re the one who is “crazy” or “bad” or “unfair” to them.
They will often feel like they are the only person capable of understanding themselves or other people and will go to great lengths to prove to you that you are wrong. Emotional abusers use guilt and shame to control others and manipulate their victims.
4. An addiction to power
Because Emotional abusers feel powerless, abusers are attracted to those with authority, status, or power and those who are vulnerable. These individuals may even be more abusive toward those they consider less powerful than them, as they’re desperate to get it back.
If you’re in a relationship where your partner is constantly putting you down or belittling you, it’s important to realize that this might not be what’s making them so frustrated. This is an addictive personality trait and could be a sign of narcissistic abuse.
5. A need for attention
Emotional abusers will often do whatever it takes to receive the kind of attention and affection they want. They will use lies, manipulation, threats, and intimidation to keep you at their beck and call, often keeping secrets and using emotional blackmail to gain control. If you feel like someone is only around you because they need you to be there or because they can’t get enough of you, this is a sign of emotional abuse.
6. A history of controlling
If you’ve ever felt like your partner always knew what was best for you or was afraid to make decisions on your own, this could be a sign that they have been emotionally abused in the past.
Emotional abusers tend to be the ones who always have the last word and try to control the situation, even when you know better. If you feel as though you never get a chance to make your own decisions, this is a sign of emotional abuse.
If someone threatens to hurt you or your children, this should be a huge red flag. If they use intimidation and threats as a way to get their needs met or win an argument, they might not have any respect for you. You are not allowed to control people, and you are definitely not allowed to make decisions for others. If you’re feeling threatened by your partner, you need to take steps to get out of the relationship. If you’re feeling trapped or afraid of retaliation, it’s time to find support and get help.
What does Emotional Abuse Look Like?
Emotional abuse doesn’t always look the same. Some common forms include:
- Being told that you’re weak, stupid, worthless, lazy, or selfish, Being belittled, ignored, put down, or insulted.
- Having your opinions and feelings dismissed Being called names such as ‘bitch’ or ‘crazy.’
- Being accused of being responsible for your partner’s actions.
- Being blamed for problems at home.
- Being forced to live with the aftermath of other people’s behavior (for example, if your partner is constantly late or neglectful, you might be forced to clean up after their mess).
- Being excluded from decision-making and having your views ignored.
- Being isolated from friends and family.
- Being forced to do things that are damaging or harmful to yourself.
- Being told that you’ll never change or succeed, that no one will ever love you or that you’re not good enough.
In contrast to physical abuse, emotional abuse can cause more damage because it often goes unnoticed. It can leave a person feeling confused, ashamed, alone, and afraid. It can also make them feel like they’re doing anything wrong. What can happen next? An emotionally abusive person can be tough to spot. But if you do recognize that they’re being hurtful, you need to act. Here are some things to consider:
Don’t let the situation worsen. If you’re in a relationship with an emotionally abusive person, you need to tell them how they’re making you feel. You might think that your partner will ‘get’ it or that they won’t do it again. Don’t hold your breath. People who do this kind of abuse tend to escalate their behavior. If you’re thinking about speaking to someone, consider who else is involved. It may be best to speak to your partner’s parents or friends before you do. They might be able to help.
If you need help, look for people that you trust. Try to find a counselor or other specialist that you can talk to. If you don’t know where to start, ask for your GP or local Women’s Aid advice.
If you’re not being treated with kindness and respect, it may be time to leave. Don’t feel guilty about leaving. You deserve to live a happy life. You deserve to have conversations and enjoy the relationships in your life. Remember, you didn’t cause the abuse. You didn’t do anything wrong. But your partner does, and they need help to change their behavior.