Emotional Abuse “Checklist”: 20 Red Flags In Your Relationship What You Can Do

Updated November 2, 2022 by ReGain Editorial Team

Emotional abuse in relationships occurs through behavioral patterns meant to break down a person's self-esteem and is a form of domestic violence. Domestic violence behaviors don't always involve physical violence. Domestic violence may also be controlling and manipulative while having significant effects on a person's life. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a national support agency that provides support and referral for domestic violence victims. Instances of domestic violence can occur in different relationships, including dating and marriages. Other people may be affected by these abusive behaviors, including family, friends, and peers at work. Emotional abuse is not easy to recognize in romantic relationships, and it leaves victims feeling wounded and trapped. Until something is done to stop the cycle, it continues. In this article, we provide insight into the power and control that drive domestic violence behaviors along with a short emotional abuse checklist. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, Human services like the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available online and by phone 24 hours a day, and online therapy is also always available for those in need of it.

Nobody Deserves Emotional Abuse

Why Emotional Abuse Goes Undetected

Actions associated with emotional abuse are subtle in situations where domestic violence is a factor. This can make it difficult to detect. Some may not suspect it because they are unaware of how it impacts people. Actions related to this form of abuse are persistent and can affect both young people and older individuals. They don't leave visible wounds or marks on one’s physical appearance that people could immediately notice as physical abuse. Emotional abuse can also make victims feel worthless even without the physical signs, which is why it’s also frequently referred to as mental abuse. The long-term effects of emotional abuse may be felt with a more profound impact than scars from physical harm from domestic violence and sexual abuse, and oftentimes the psychological abuse leads to post-traumatic stress disorder. That doesn’t mean that one is worse than the other, just that an individual can be suffering on the inside, and it can be hard to detect by others.

A victim experiences so much psychological abuse from name-calling, accusations, gaslighting, and verbal abuse in domestic violence situations. It is difficult for victims to establish a sense of self because their self-image becomes distorted. Agencies like the National Domestic Violence Hotline provide counseling and support for victims and survivors of domestic violence and give them the advice they need to form a safety plan and leave their current situation.

Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline to get help and support 24-hours a day online.

Domestic violence victims often get trapped in the abuse because they worry about what other people may say about them. The influence of power and control their abuser has over them may skew their reality and be hesitant to accept they’re in an abusive situation. In cases where domestic violence is a factor, domestic violence victims can struggle with issues of self-worth and other mental health disorders that appear as a result of controlling behaviors such as withholding affection, manipulation, and physical abuse. These thoughts influence victims to isolate themselves from others to avoid such labels. They feel as if no one will want to be around them. Emotional abuse victims may experience health concerns, such as anxiety and depression. Understanding what emotional abuse is and how to detect it is essential. You can talk about your feelings and concerns with someone you trust or a couple's counselor. Don’t feel ashamed - working through your thoughts helps you regain control of your well-being and your life.

20 Signs of Emotional Abuse in Your Relationship

Sometimes a partner may question if they are being emotionally abused. Domestic violence is insidious behavior that can often go undetected without intervention and support. You may wonder how to define your relationship based on actions and events that occur. To understand if domestic violence in the form of emotional abuse is present in your relationship, think about when your partner interacts with you and with others. How do you feel when they interact with people you know? How do your partner's actions leave you feeling afterward? Do you feel hurt, anxious, confused, frustrated, depressed, or worthless? If so, emotional abuse may be the cause. Here are signs to watch for when suspecting domestic violence in the form of emotional abuse.

  1. You avoid doing certain things that make your partner angry, like posting on social media or hanging out with friends and family. 
  2. The abuser opposes things often by challenging your opinions and perceptions.
  3. You have to check in often with your partner and let them know where you are and who you are with all the time, even when you're spending time with close family members.
  4. The abuser blocks you during conversations by accusing you of something or changing the topic.
  5. Your abusive partner cracks jokes that are hurtful while complaining you are too sensitive.
  6. The abuser makes you feel as if your feelings are wrong or they don't matter.
  7. The abuser makes you apologize for things you didn't do. The abuser makes you feel selfish or stupid because of their actions.
  8. The abuser may put words in your mouth or speak for you without your consent to undermine your self-esteem.
  9. The abuser has sharp mood swings. One moment they seem distant, the next they are not available, and then they are loving. Such behavior turns an independent person into a people pleaser full of anxiety.
  10. The abuser may deny things said or actions that took place, including previous abuse from a past relationship. Sometimes this is done to create doubt in your perception or memory of an event.

  1. The abuser puts you down and won't acknowledge your accomplishments. The abuser finds pleasure in belittling your strengths to achieve more control of you.
  2. The abuser keeps things from you as punishment, such as money, affection, or sex.
  3. The abuser isn't someone you want to have sex with because the sexual desire is gone. You may feel fearful or angry with your partner and not feel safe or open to being physically engaged. Meanwhile, they might treat you as a sex object or use sexual abuse to get their way. For example, people who are sexually abused may be forced into unwanted sex acts.
  4. The abuser makes you feel like things are your fault. The abuser makes you feel sorry for them for no reason leading to feelings of abandonment or rejection if you don't take their side.
  5. The abuser has unrealistic expectations. They want you to do things that meet their standards, and when you don't, you get criticized, or you face the silent treatment. They expect you to meet their needs first or make demands deemed unreasonable.
  6. The abuser invalidates you. They make claims you're too sensitive or emotional. They refuse to accept your perceptions or opinions. They suggest you are wrong. They reject your feelings and say how you should feel, or they want you to explain repeatedly how you feel.
  7. The abuser likes to argue or create conflict. They want arguments, make confusing statements, and experience sudden changes in their emotions. They nitpick at little things like your hair or your job. They may publicly post negative comments about you on social media.
  8. The abuser resorts to emotional blackmail. They do this in different ways, such as by manipulation, being in control, lying about something that happened, or using compassion, fears, and other emotions to control the situation or you.
  9. The abuser acts as if they are better than you. They act entitled or superior while being condescending, using sarcasm, treating you as inferior, and acting as if they are right all the time.
  10. The abuser controls you through isolation. They may take away possessions, make fun of your loved ones, or use envy or jealousy to keep you from others as a way of love. The abuser may coerce you to spend your time with them only or control how money is spent.

If you or someone you love is struggling with domestic violence issues, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available to provide online support 24 hours a day. The service is available for people in need of guidance and advice on the topic of domestic violence. Keep in mind that although they can help you create a safety plan, the National Domestic Violence Hotline isn’t a replacement for medical care or long-term professional counseling and therapy services.

How Emotional Abuse Changes Your Perspective

What happens when mental and emotional abuse and domestic violence affect how you perceive your relationship? The abuser uses different ways to abuse your emotions, but in some cases, they may not realize what they are doing is wrong if it's a behavior they think is normal. Some abusers do this because they were emotionally abused in the past by someone they trusted. It doesn't make it right. Recognizing signs helps you understand the health of your romantic relationship. You may notice a few things once you recognize signs of verbal abuse in marriage or relationship.

Nobody Deserves Emotional Abuse

  • You feel shame. Your confidence and self-esteem are eroded because of believing things said by your partner what they say works to demean, criticize, humiliate, or shame you.
  • You lose motivation and strength. You may question how you view reality. You may lose trust in yourself based on things said by your partner.
  • You are isolated. You may go out with friends and family, but your partner starts questioning why you spend time with others or use similar tactics to increase your vulnerability. Your partner wants you to themselves. Your healthy relationships with friends and family members suffer as a result of this.
  • You feel like you have no control over your life. You can't choose what to wear, eat, or where to spend your time. They can even use financial control by withholding all the money and seizing your bank accounts, which is a form of financial abuse or economic abuse. Your partner makes decisions for you to be in control, and you feel uncomfortable with their results. They have to know your choices first.
  • You're told no one else understands you. An abuser, like a verbally abusive wife/husband, will make it clear that no one else wants you or wants anything to do with you. They may say no one else can love you like them to keep you from leaving.
  • You wonder about their mood swings. Your partner may show different emotions that are extreme, from a bad mood to being romantic. Emotionally abusive partners can be unpredictable, making the relationship unhealthy.
  • You are angry you're not standing up for yourself. The abuse makes you weak and affects how you fight back. You may have given up or felt too confused to know what to do. You may think your partner is right and start hating yourself and feel guilty for the state of the relationship.

Your Top Priority Should Be Your Mental And Physical Health. Keep your needs first, and don't worry about pleasing them. Take care of yourself by eating right and getting rest. Do positive actions to keep you grounded. These actions will help you handle the abuse productively with the energy you need and will improve your physical and emotional health.

Acknowledge You Can't Make Someone Change. You can't fix someone who chooses to be a controlling husband or wife, or controlling girlfriend/boyfriend and contributes to abusive relationships. An emotional abuser won't change unless they make that choice for themselves, despite your actions. Instead of blaming yourself, focus on what you can change, and that is how you respond to the abuse and the traumatic experiences.

Quit Placing Blame On Yourself. You may think something is wrong with you after being in an abusive relationship. You may question why the abuser is acting this way toward you if they love you. A person engaging in abuse chooses to do so, and you are not a problem. You don't have control over their actions.

Maintain Boundaries. Be firm with your abuser and tell them what will happen if they continue abusing you. Let them know you will no longer accept the name-calling, the put-downs, the manipulation, or the insults. Do what is necessary to stick to your boundaries. Healthy relationships will always have these too, and they will be respected.

Know Who You Can Reach Out to for Support. Talk to people you trust, such as family members or friends. A counselor or doctor may also be helpful. Finding someone to confide in is essential. They can help put your situation in perspective and reduce feelings of isolation.

Don't Engage the Abuser. When they use a tactic such as being demanding, starting an argument, trying to apologize, or insulting you, walk away. The more you engage with the abuser, the easier it gets for them to hurt you. It is obvious no matter what you do, they won't be satisfied anyway.

Make Plans to Leave. You can't stay in an abusive relationship when an abuser has no intention to change. The abuse will take a toll on your mental and physical well-being and increase your likelihood of post-traumatic stress disorder. If you need to end the relationship, end it. Talk about what you want to do with a family member, friend, or counselor.

Seek Professional Advice. Reach out to support services like The National Domestic Violence Hotline if you are in an abusive relationship. Many resources and human services like the National Domestic Violence Hotline staff trained professionals that are available and offer support 24 hours a day via web chat and phone. The professional staff is available to provide crisis support for victims of domestic violence and their families.

Take back your power to regain control of your life. You don't have to take these steps alone. You can stand up to abuse with support resources, including family, friends, and counseling. It may be challenging, but getting assistance from human services is a step in the right direction so you can refocus on accomplishing what you want and getting the love and healthy relationships you deserve. Be sure to also reach out for help and develop the skills you need to cope from a licensed professional at ReGain. Online therapy will give you long-term solutions you can use even once you’ve safely escaped your abusive relationship.

If you or someone you love is a victim or survivor of domestic violence in need of immediate support, contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online or by phone 24-hours a day.


Below are commonly asked questions on this topic:

What are the 5 signs of emotional abuse?

What things count as emotional abuse?

What are 6 behaviors that indicate emotional abuse?

What are two warning signs of emotional abuse?

What are signs of gaslighting?

What are gaslighting examples?

What are four signs of emotional abuse?

How do emotional abuse victims act?

Is there a difference between mental and emotional abuse?

Which of the following is most likely to indicate emotional abuse?

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