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The 10 Little Signs Of Emotional Abuse (Examples Included!)

Thankfully, I never experienced physical abuse in any relationship; but I did experience emotional abuse and in this post, want to share some signs of emotional abuse.

Many years ago before I met my now husband, I entered a relationship that looked great “on paper”.

At the time, I was a Christian wanting to date a fellow Christian leader (I’m much more moderate now!). I met this guy in 12-step recovery during the 4 years I avoided alcohol. He was handsome, polite and incredibly charming.

I remember one night leaving a 12-step meeting, he was leaving in his car.

He drove by, rolled down his window, and told me I looked pretty. He said he felt happy to see me! I experienced massive butterflies in my stomach.

Everyone liked this guy, but when we started dating I experienced more friction that I ever felt before.

We fought constantly (and I’m not an argumentative person).

He was very particular about what I did, but became very defensive when I asked him questions about himself.

Luckily, I attended therapy regularly for a few years, including during this time. After sharing the details of a few of our arguments, I felt startled when my therapist pointed out the signs of emotional abuse and manipulation.

Needless to say, I eventually pulled myself out of the relationship.

He began dating someone else immediately, and also cheated on her shortly after. They eventually became married, and I hope the best for them! I felt concern for her, but obviously it wasn’t my place to approach her.

But, I feel it important to share my experience and a few signs of emotional abuse.

Here are 10 little signs of emotional abuse with examples of how these may be reflected in everyday life.

10 Signs Of Emotional Abuse In A Relationship

#1: He turned my statements around.

Regardless of how clearly I felt I communicated, he always misinterpreted my statements. He constantly intentionally made me the bad guy. Some examples of what this looked like…

  • When I expressed my feelings, they dismissed me and also defended themselves.
  • Rather than feeling heard and seen, I found myself comforting the other person.
  • He sometimes verbally agreed with something I said, but then passively aggressively acted as if I owed them something.
  • He used evasiveness for avoiding difficult topics.

#2: Conversation felt like a battle.

Even during neutral topics of conversation, it always ended up feeling competitive. I constantly fought for myself, feeling the need for proving myself. Sometimes this resulted in the following…

  • He met me with intellectual harassment, throwing too many arguments at me at once for reasonably addressing each one.
  • Additionally, he made conversations about “winning” instead of communicating.
  • He always let me speak first while he insisted on “listening.” This became a tactic to give him space for building an argument or putting himself in a defensive position. He often refused to speak or be honest about his own feelings.
Being a survivor of emotional abuse is fighting daily battles in your head with a person you no longer have contact with.

#3: My emotions were disregarded.

I tried to be transparent with my emotions but was made to feel bad or silly for expressing them.

  • When I felt insulted I was told things like, “I was just joking,” making me feel silly and like I was overreacting.
  • Dark humor was used as a way to divert responsibility for my emotional reactions to his negative behavior.
  • My emotions were met with anger, making me feel like I was hurting him by overreacting or misinterpreting.

#4: I was punished for being honest.

Whether I was talking about something current in my life or a past situation I wanted to open up about, I was put on the defensive for expressing things about myself that should not have affected him personally.

  • When I chose to be honest about difficult subjects the attitude was judgmental and narrow instead of compassionate or neutral.
  • Revealing information about my past was always a gamble as it was often used as a weapon against me for future arguments.

#5: I was made to feel guilty.

A woman feeling sad because something is making her unnatural guilt.

I was made to feel like I never did right thing, or like I was selfish, lacked compassion or was self centered. They were always the victim.

  • Either I spoke up, or I did not speak up enough. Either I was too emotional, or not emotional enough. Another powerful emotion used was sympathy- the other person always made themselves the victim.
  • If I had a headache, he had a brain tumor.
  • No matter what my situation was, theirs was ten times worse.
  • They derailed the conversation and put it back on themselves. If I called them on their behavior, they turned it back on me, or claimed that it was always about me.
  • I was often met with sarcasm for attempts at being conversational or engaging.

#6: I felt like I deserved to be punished.

After some time of being with someone who was emotionally abusive, I became convinced that I was doing something wrong and that they were right about me. All this time I had not known how bad of a person I was.

  • He used ultimatums as a weapon. This caused me to abandon certain topics, especially regarding relationships.
  • Regardless of how valid I felt at the beginning of an argument, I always walked away feeling like a terrible person.
  • I felt like I “didn’t deserve” him.

#7: The person impacted the emotional climate of whoever we were around.

This person was not just dominating in our relationship, but I could begin to see how they impacted others around us as well.

  • I was always in a position to try to fix how they felt.
  • I take responsibility for my co-dependence, but I also now realize he manipulated me.
  • He always dominated conversation in social situations.

#8: I apologized for him to others.

His behavior was not just inappropriate with me. Directed towards me I felt as if I deserved it, but when he misbehaved in front of others I felt embarrassed and ashamed.

  • I found myself making excuses for his behavior to my friends after inappropriate social interactions.
  • Others would be belittled in a joking way, resulting in awkwardness or group guilt.

#9: I was made to feel embarrassed in front of others.

A woman made embarrassed by others

Social situations brought about a new opportunity for him to manipulate me emotionally and make me feel small in front of others.

  • He interrupted me frequently around others, and he accused me of telling stories wrong.
  • Additionally, he constantly belittled me during group social interactions in a “joking” way.

#10: The person had no accountability.

He always placed blame on me or other people. They were constantly the victim and nothing was ever his fault.

  • They took no responsibility for themselves or their behavior. Their expression always focused on the abuse and troubles they faced because of other people.
  • When confronted about things I felt he should be accountable for, he simply did not answer.
  • Confrontation resulted in the responsibility shifting on me or someone else.

*Bonus Sign*: Avoiding was a typical communication strategy.

Instead of addressing what someone actually says, emotional abusers avoid and evade.

  • Rather than approaching certain topics, I would be told I was impossible to talk to.
  • He used the “silent treatment” for avoiding the conversation until I “forgot about it.”

Resources For Signs Of Emotional Abuse

If you feel like you recognize some of these signs of emotional abuse in your current or past relationship, I highly recommend attending therapy. My counselor became the only person who pointed out that I wasn’t going crazy. She encouraged me to exit the relationship when I felt ready, which luckily came soon after I clearly saw the issue.

Unfortunately, emotional abusers gaslight their victims.

Without support, recognizing signs of emotional abuse becomes exceedingly difficult. However, with the help of a knowledgeable third party or professional, victims more quickly and clearly realize that they lack fault! This makes it much easier for people regarding healing and moving forward.

If you need an affordable therapy option, I highly recommend BetterHelp online professional counseling. Their prices remain very reasonable, and you may qualify for additional financial support if you need it. (I may receive a commission for purchases made through the links provided on this post at no cost to you.)

Go here to learn more. 

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