Sadly, victims of domestic violence and their friends and family are not always able to recognize the signs of abuse and violence. One of the major difficulties is that domestic abuse does not always involve physical violence. A black eye or other bodily injuries are easy to recognize than emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse is much more difficult to understand or interpret. It is often very subtle. Many victims of emotional abuse don’t know they are being abused. Yet, they live in fear each day of upsetting their partner. A partner who commits abuse, physical and/or emotional, is doing so for one reason. Control. To an abuser, control is everything.
We usually think of an emotional abuser as a romantic partner. However, keep in mind that a friend, a relative, or a co-worker can show signs of such behavior, as well.
Signs Your Partner May Be an Emotional Abuser
We’ve talked about this before. Emotional abusers use their behavior to control, scare and isolate. It is not always obvious since it can be done under the guise of, “I only act this way because I love you so much.” If you don’t understand that logic, it is, of course, your fault. Abusers love to make their point by calling you stupid.
Does your partner:
- Belittle you and constantly criticize you yet won’t hear a word of criticism about him or herself.
- Act overly jealous, even when there is no reason, then defends him or herself by saying it’s because he or she loves you so much
- Humiliates you when other people are around and pretends he or she is only joking.
- Limits your access to friends and family.
- Is in complete control of your financial situation.
- Uses threats to get what he or she wants.
- May explode in a temper tantrum at any time for no apparent reason.
- Destroys property that is precious and meaningful to you.
The ultimate goal of any abuser is to destroy your self-esteem. That is exactly what continual criticism will do. They rarely discuss anything; instead, they yell and present you with ultimatums. Or they are joking and sarcastic, as in, “Honey, I can’t believe you didn’t know better.” Whatever the method, it is presented as a fait accompli that you can’t do anything right. This is frequently accompanied by the word “always.” You are always embarrassing him. You are constantly late, etc. You never look good enough or act smart enough.
Such behavior is all-too-often done in public, in the form of a joke and with a strong eye roll, to add to your discomfort and embarrassment. “Can you believe she only reads romances?” Everyone is supposed to laugh. But there is nothing funny happening. The only one amused is the abuser.
Abusive behavior can involve more than attempts at embarrassment. Abusers are masters at maintaining control.
- Does he or she threaten to commit suicide or do some other harmful act if they don’t get their way – and blame you? “This is what you are forcing me to do!”
- Are you being constantly monitored with text messages or phone calls? Does the abuser get upset if you don’t respond immediately? Does he or she check your phone and computer regularly? Many abusers demand to know your password but will not give you theirs.
- Abusers make all the decisions in a relationship. That can include speaking with your supervisor about the hours you work or canceling a hairdresser or doctor’s appointment without explaining to you.
- Finances are a major issue to an abuser. It is the perfect object with which to control. Do you need to account for every dollar you spend?
- Abusers do not discuss – they give orders—dinner at six o’clock on the dot. No argument will be brooked.
- Abusers provide long lectures on how your behavior isn’t acceptable, how you embarrass them, and how you need to improve. Conversely, they view their own behavior as perfect.
- Does your partner gaslight? In other words, does he or she decide what your reality is? (Yes, I am stupid. Yes, I am fat. He or she says so.)
How do Abusers Maintain Control?
Emotional Abusers have control down to an art form. Here are some of the things they do to make you feel inadequate and anxious.
- They throw temper tantrums over the slightest annoyance.
- They treat you as if you needed decisions made for you – they will tell you what to wear, what to eat, and who to be friends with.
- They keep their behavior unpredictable. The behavior that earned a tantrum yesterday may get praise today. Keeping you on edge is what an abuser does best.
- Abusers will not only deny abusive behavior, but they will also accuse you of being the abusive one.
- The abuser trivializes his or her behavior by claiming you can’t take a joke and need to lighten up. They will remind you that their behavior is your fault.
- Emotional abusers will keep you from communicating with your family. They will make sure you are isolated and alone.
Abuse should not be tolerated in any form. However, some people may be codependent with their abuser, in effect becoming dependent on the toxic behavior that they live with. In some way, they may be encouraging it. In a codependent relationship, two people are engaged in a circle of destructive behavior. Both partners bring his or her part into the mix.
Consider the following:
- Do you neglect your needs in favor of your abusive partner?
- Do you neglect your friends and family to keep your partner happy?
- Does your life involve around getting your partner’s approval?
- If given a choice, would you rather endure the abuse than being alone?
- Is your relationship one-sided: you do all the giving, and your partner does all the taking?
- Do you feel responsible for your abuser’s abusive behavior?
- Are you not convinced that you deserve to be treated any better?
- Do you change your behavior to please your abuser?
How to Handle Codependency
If your life is in danger, call emergency services. Otherwise, here are steps you can take to become less codependent:
- You may want to help your abuser, but you need to accept that you will not be able to change him or her. Set your own boundaries. Decide what behavior you will and will not accept.
- Abusers rarely change. Control is their drug of choice. If your partner does not see a therapist, you may need to leave the relationship.
- Reach out to friends and confide in them.
Happy relationships have their arguments, just like abusive relationships. The difference is in how disagreements are handled. If you are confused about the state of your relationship, a professional therapist can provide you with a great deal of insight.
The legal process can get difficult, which is why we always recommend that you seek the assistance of counsel; or at least have a consultation. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today to review the issues of your case, the legal options you may have, and certain rights that pertain to your unique situation.
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