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

Updated August 03, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Robin Brock

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 behaviors, including family, friends, and peers at work. Emotional abuse is not easy to recognize, 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, The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available online and by phone 24-hours a day.

Nobody Deserves Emotional Abuse
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Why Emotional Abuse Goes Undetected

In situations where domestic violence is a factor, actions associated with emotional abuse are subtle. 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. They don't leave visible wounds or physical marks people would notice. Abuse makes victims feel worthless. The long-term effects of emotional abuse may be felt with a more profound impact than scars from physical harm. A victim experiences so much during the 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 became distorted. Agencies like the National Domestic Violence Hotline provide counseling and support for victims and survivors of domestic violence.

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. 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 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. Working through your thoughts helps 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 abused. Domestic violence is an 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 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.

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  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 be physically engaged.
  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. 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, making 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, lie about something that happened, or use 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, 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 National Domestic Hotline provides advice and support to victims, survivors, friends, and family. The service is available for people in need of guidance and advice around the topic of domestic violence.

How Emotional Abuse Changes Your Perspective

What happens when emotional abuse and domestic violence affects 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 relationship. There are a few things you may notice once you recognize signs of abuse.

Nobody Deserves Emotional Abuse

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    • 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. Relationships with friends and family members suffer.
    • You feel like you have no control over your life. You can't choose what to wear, eat, or where to spend your time. 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 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 be 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.

    There are ways to get help to heal from the trauma that domestic violence inflicts on victims, friends, and family. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a national resource that provides people struggling with domestic violence issues with counseling, resources, and local referrals. While the National Domestic Violence Hotline provides crisis and immediate support, people suffering from issues with domestic violence can benefit from therapy sessions with a licensed therapy provider.

    What Can You Do to Cope?

    There are helpful resources available for victims of emotional abuse. Some organizations provide support for victims of domestic violence and other forms of abuse. You can seek counseling or a relationship specialist to understand your feelings, rebuild your self-esteem, and review your options for leaving. Here are other suggestions on how to deal with your relationship:

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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.

Acknowledge You Can't Make Someone Change. You can't fix someone who chooses to be controlling. 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.

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.

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 be demanding, start an argument, try to apologize, or insult 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 wellbeing. 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. The National Domestic Violence Hotline staff trained professionals that are available and offering 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 it's a step in the right direction so you can refocus on accomplishing what you want and getting the love you deserve.

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.


FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is the definition of emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse is a type of mental abuse where the abuser uses emotional manipulation to control their victim. A person who is emotionally abused may not realize that they are being abused at first. They may become conditioned to the abuse so much that it becomes normalized. Emotional abuse is a complicated kind of mental torture to pin down or even describe. That can make it challenging for the person being abused to get help or feel safe enough to act. An individual who is emotionally abused will commonly experience different psychological devices used by the abuser. These tactics are a means of control and domination. Emotional abuse is the same as psychological abuse. An abuser will engage in tactics such as name-calling or gaslighting. It is important to remember that people respond to emotional abuse in numerous ways. Sometimes a person who is being mistreated will ignore it. Other times they may reach out for help to their friends or family or other members of their community. The trouble comes when loved ones or confidants don't believe the person or are in denial that the abuse occurred. Things may appear to be "fine" from an objective perspective, but that does not necessarily mean that they are, and it does not discount the abuse. Whether others believe or validate an experience, emotional abuse is still real for the person or persons on the receiving end of emotional abuse.

What are the signs and symptoms of emotional abuse?

When you are emotionally abused, you may feel that something is off in the relationship. You don't like how you're being treated, but you may not be able to pinpoint what's gone wrong. Dating abuse comes when a person that you are seeing manipulates your feelings for their gain. Abuse involves making another person feel bad about themselves. This erosion of self-esteem can make the individual feel like they want to leave the relationship but feel trapped and cannot leave. The tricky thing about being abused is that, in many instances, the abuser alternates between being kind to their victim and being cruel. It makes it difficult for one to exit the relationship because the good times may be excellent. There are other instances in which a person is emotionally abused, but it's constant; there is no sign of relief in sight, yet the individual feels scared to leave the relationship. They may feel scared due to threats from the abuser, having no resources to leave due to financial abuse or control from their partner, or due to another aspect of their abuser’s patterns or temperament.

What are the effects of emotional abuse?

The long term effects of emotional abuse can be extreme trauma, anxiety, decreased confidence, and fear. Additionally, some turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms or struggle to validate their feelings and what they went through in terms of abuse. Some individuals, although not all, develop PTSD after abuse. During the abuse, a person might become isolated from friends family or loved ones due to demands or subtle moves made by the abuser, such as pushing the victim into staying home when they want to go out through manipulation or even insisting they move far away from everyone and everything they know together when that’s not what the victim wants. An abuser might push someone into staying home by saying, “but I want you to stay here with me” or by saying that your friend or family member is a “bad influence” on you and that you shouldn’t hang out with them. It is important to see this for what it is. You do not deserve to be isolated from those that you love, and often, this is a calculated way that an abuser keeps you away from anyone who could catch on to the way that you’re being treated or who could help you out of the abusive situation or household. One could isolate or experience depressive symptoms following abuse as well. The individual may become afraid to engage in romantic relationships, and their self-esteem could suffer. The good news is that healing from emotional abuse, as well as other traumas, is possible. It's essential if you are emotionally abused to seek therapy, whether that's with an online clinician or with a provider who practices in person. You can feel good again, and you may not even realize the extent of which abuse affected you until you’re in a better place. Therapy or counseling can help you by allowing you to validate your own experiences and feelings, challenge negative self-beliefs, develop coping skills, and decrease symptoms of trauma, depression, anxiety, or anything else you’re facing as a result of abuse.

What is the difference between emotional and psychological abuse?

Emotional and psychological abuse are two terms that can be used interchangeably. Psychological abuse is a harsh form of mistreatment, where an abuser makes the abused feel like they’re “crazy.” The individual who is abused questions what they saw or felt. It’s an extremely detrimental form of abuse because the person can’t decipher what’s real from what is not. Emotional abuse is sometimes hidden behind closed doors. For example, your abuser may pretend to be kind to others and might be incredibly charismatic. They might also refrain from emotional abuse in public places or slip up rarely so that no one sees. This can make it even more difficult to recognize that what's going on is very serious abuse. If you are in this situation, freedom and healing are possible. Use the resources in the article above, tell someone you are close to, and form a safety plan if needed.

Can emotional abuse cause PTSD?

Emotional abuse can cause post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Emotional abuse can trigger a traumatic response in the survivor, impacting the person negatively. They may become so fearful of getting into a romantic relationship, that the concept itself becomes the trigger for PTSD. Many mental health providers specialize in trauma or trauma-informed therapy and are adept at offering support to those who have been through trauma or who live with PTSD. No victim including those of emotional abuse domestic violence or neglect deserves it. Abusers are often highly manipulative, and even dangerous, which can make it difficult to leave. In any situation, the abuser is the one to blame. It is vital to stand with victims and to hold abusers accountable. While someone can usually determine if there’s a possibility that they might have PTSD based on their symptoms, to receive a diagnosis, you must see a medical professional such as a general doctor or psychiatrist. You can seek therapy without a diagnosis, but having a diagnosis can help for record-keeping and insurance purposes.

Is mental abuse worse than physical?

Intimate partner violence is inclusive of all forms of abuse, including emotional or mental abuse. All abuse is harmful and can engender horrible after-effects. Being physically abused is painful, but mental abuse is also excruciating. Words can hurt! For this reason, it is not fair to compare one type of pain with another. One is not worse than the other; it's just a different type of abuse. Name-calling can scar you, as can gaslighting, stonewalling, or controlling behavior. Whether you're physically harmed via hitting, punching, scratching, burning, biting, or sexually abused, etc., the act and experience are awful, and that is also the case with mental abuse. Financial abuse is always very serious; controlling a partner’s finances is one way that abusers prevent victims from leaving, which is something no one deserves to go through. This can create an additional barrier to getting out of an abusive situation and is one of the reasons that abuse victims can’t always “just leave.” Threats are another potential barrier. It’s essential to be compassionate, non-blaming, validating, and supportive to survivors as well as those who are currently in abusive situations.

Is emotional abuse and neglect the same thing?

Emotional abuse and neglect are slightly different. When a person is emotionally abused, there is direct contact with the abuser, where the individual is being manipulated emotionally. Neglect is when an abuser ignores the victim, whether through stonewalling, where the abuser won't respond verbally to the victim, or by not caring for the individual's physical or emotional needs of said victim. The neglect serves as a form of punishment or as a means to cultivate power over the more vulnerable party. Whatever kind of abuse you are suffering, it is essential to get help because, despite any messages you may be receiving to the contrary, you do not have to do this alone! You deserve to be treated well and with respect, and therapy can be an excellent place and safe space to discuss the effects of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse domestic violence and neglect are all very serious issues that can have long-term repercussions, so don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals offering support, whether you speak to someone online or in person.

How do you break the cycle of emotional abuse?

Domestic abuse is a scary phenomenon that can impact innocent people. Even what seem like healthy relationships can quickly become domestic violence or domestic abuse. If you suspect that you're being abused, you can always call the national domestic violence hotline. Young people sometimes second guess themselves as to if they're being emotionally abused, though this can occur at any age. The abuser may gaslight them, or challenge them to question what is real. They might be made to feel "crazy" or believe that they imagined mental abuse. The long term effects of emotional abuse are severe. If you're suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, it's not your fault. Emotional abuse can make you feel like you did something to bring it on, or you deserve it. That's not true. You can break the cycle of abuse when you find a therapist to help you. Post traumatic stress disorder is a condition that can evolve out of emotional abuse, which is why it's crucial to seek treatment. It affects many different survivors. It's one of the common long term effects of emotional abuse. If you want to break the cycle of emotional abuse, it's essential to find a therapist. You need to realize that the long term effects of emotional abuse are dire. Post traumatic stress disorder can have long term effects on your mental health. Emotional abuse can take on different forms, which can impact the way you experience trauma moving forward.

What are examples of emotional abuse?

It's important to recognize the signs of emotional abuse, and if necessary, to seek emergency services for the abuse. If your abuse gets to the point where you're afraid for your life, call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Your partner may blatantly call you names, monitor your calls or texts, and look at your cell phone or internet history. If the abuse involves monitoring who you're talking to, that's an invasion of your privacy. Your partner could be controlling when you see your family or friends. There are medically reviewed studies on how post traumatic stress disorder can develop out of emotional abuse. Your abuser could expose your secrets to your family and make you feel ashamed. The name-calling or gaslighting can make you feel small.

There isn't a grain of truth to these insults that your partner is putting on you. Your abuser could try to take financial control of your bank accounts, or track every penny you spend. They could be so controlling that they're preventing you from leaving the house by hiding your car keys. If someone is looking over your every move, that is scary and painful. Your pain is valid. Understanding that can be challenging because you may not trust yourself. If you recognize the signs, such as you feel like you're walking on eggshells around your partner, or there's a pattern of behavior that you notice where your partner's hurting you, that could be a sign of emotional abuse. Your abuser may brush off their treatment and say they were joking, and accuse you of not having a sense of humor when they're emotionally abusing you. That's a form of gaslighting, and brushing off your feelings isn't okay. You may feel ashamed to stick up for yourself, or feel guilty because you're unsure if you're being hurt, but your feelings are valid. No matter what happens, remember it's not your fault that you were abused.

What's the difference between mental and emotional abuse?

Mental and emotional abuse are the same thing. If you're mentally abusing them, you may be gaslighting the person or trying to make them question what is real. Emotional abuse consists of manipulating a person's feelings so that you can keep them in the relationship. Mental and emotional abuse are interconnected, and both involve intentional emotional harm on another person. Abuse and abusive relationships are traumatic experiences. If you have encountered an abusive partner or abusive partners, know that it’s not your fault. No form of abuse is okay, and no one deserves it.

Abusive relationships or abusive partners can have a pervasive effect on someone’s mental health. If you have an abusive partner, it’s essential to get out as quickly and safely as possible. If you are in the process of working through your past with an abusive partner or abusive partners, seeing a mental health provider such as a counselor or therapist can be incredibly beneficial. Your emotional health and wellness are of the utmost importance, and victims survivors or those otherwise affected by these issues deserve liberation and healthy relationships. 

There are many resources available for past and current victims of emotional abuse domestic violence and similar concerns. The department of health and human services provide resources for survivors of domestic violence and other forms of abuse. To learn more, visit the department of health and human services website. Again, those experiencing domestic violence can call the hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233). There is an easily located chat option on the hotline website if you’re unable to speak verbally via a hotline due to the possibility of being overheard by your abuser or someone else in the household. 

If you’re afraid that you might be being monitored by an abusive partner, utilize the escape button on a website offering support to leave quickly, and make sure that you are searching the web using an incognito browser. Many websites offering support to victims such as the domestic violence network website (dvnconnect.org) have an escape button.

How does verbal and emotional abuse affect a person?

There are medically reviewed articles that document how emotional abuse impacts people. Rather than rely on second-hand information, it's essential to get the facts from a scientific journal. You can get accurate statistics and facts about emotional abuse from medically reviewed studies. A person could develop post traumatic stress disorder. An individual could suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder as a result of the repeated trauma of emotional abuse. You can read the medically reviewed studies and discover the severe effect of post traumatic stress disorder. You might benefit from reading these articles. If someone has endured multiple traumas, they might receive a diagnosis of C-PTSD or complex post traumatic stress disorder. One reason to read medically reviewed studies on emotional abuse is to recognize that you're not alone. Emotional abuse can have a severe long term impact on an individual's mental health. It isn't only about the short-term effects of the trauma. What the medically reviewed studies indicate is that emotional abuse leaves lasting scars on people. It could be that your abuse involves mental and physical components.

You might have endured emotional, mental, and sexual abuse together. If you're in a space where you have worked on your triggers, reading medically reviewed studies can help you understand how abuse impacts people, such as yourself, and support you in growing. In the short-term, emotional abuse can impact your self-esteem, self-image, and ability to make friendships. In the long-term, the damage of the trauma can result in severe mental health conditions. A person could struggle with panic attacks, insomnia, or rage issues. By reading medically reviewed studies, you can get accurate information on what happens to a person who has been emotionally abused. You don't have to guess what could happen. In fact, reading medically reviewed studies can show you what mental health treatments have worked to help those with emotional abuse. For example, people who have developed depression from being emotionally abused may have benefited from a certain kind of therapy. Reading a medically reviewed study will show you what sort of therapy helped them recover from depression. Aside from reading the research, you can take control over your life and get the help you need in therapy. Whether you work with an online therapist or someone in your local area, there is a mental health provider out there who can help you heal from the after-effects of emotional abuse.

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