The term “emasculate” has negative connotations of stereotypes and labeling. It tends to refer to a woman “stripping a man of his manhood.” Belittling and degrading may be more accurate terms. Being belittled or degraded by someone who you love—no matter what gender you are or they are—can be uncomfortable, humiliating, and hurtful, especially if it goes too far and goes on for too long. What can seem like little things can become a big problem in a relationship. If a negative behavior becomes more than an isolated incident in a relationship, breaking the pattern is important for your emotional health. If the pattern of belittling or trivializing is used for power or control over a partner, it may be a sign of verbal abuse.
Note: If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, please seek help. You can reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Call 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224, text, or use LiveChat.
If you would like to learn more about building healthy relationships, therapy can help. Licensed mental health professionals are available to offer both individual and couples therapy at ReGain.
To belittle means to cause a person to seem “little or less than.” Being belittled in a relationship will likely make you feel small or dismissed. You may have a feeling that your partner is purposefully making you feel degraded or trying to “cut you down,” whether when you’re alone or with others.
Examples of belittling include:
Unwanted criticism: A partner can feel belittled by unsolicited criticism, especially when it’s negative or unproductive. Constantly pointing out flaws and mistakes can demean a partner.
Condescension: Talking down to a partner can be belittling, as one partner has an air of superiority over the other.
Undermining: Questioning a partner’s competency can undermine the partner, as can going behind the partner’s back to “correct” what they’ve done or said.
Put-downs: Putting down a partner, even if done under the veil of “teasing” or “joking,” can be belittling. Bad-mouthing a partner to or in front of others or behind the partner’s back can also be embarrassing, degrading, and belittling—and can make everyone involved feel uncomfortable.
Passive aggression: Sometimes belittling can be very obvious, but it can also be subtle or passive-aggressive. For example, a partner may regularly roll their eyes or go behind you to “fix” what you’ve already done.
Claiming to “be helpful”: Belittling might come in the form of so-called “helpfulness.” A partner might insist their behavior of “putting you down” is an act of support to help you “be better.” In this case, you might try letting them know that you’ll ask for help or advice when and if you’d like it.
How to Address Belittling Behavior
Plan to have an honest, respectful, calm conversation:
Knowledge is Power: Understanding Healthy Relationships
If you feel belittled or degraded in your relationship, understanding what a healthy relationship looks like can help you set positive personal and relationship goals.
Belittling and Relationship Red Flags:
If a partner who has a pattern of belittling you does commit to or follow through with the positive change, it may be time to consider the relationship's future and what you need to do to protect your mental health. A licensed mental health professional can be very helpful as you navigate relationship challenges, changes, and decisions about continuing or ending the relationship. Both relationship and individual therapists are available online at ReGain to offer you compassion that’s convenient to access.
The following are some red relationship flags:
When Belittling Becomes Emotional Abuse:
If belittling, humiliation, and criticizing are harsh, unrelenting, and intended to undermine the partner’s self-esteem, the relationship may be emotionally abusive. It is important to know that if a relationship becomes abusive, you should seek help immediately. Relationship abuse is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship. The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers help 24/7. The number is 1-800-799-7233. You can also text “Start” to 88788.
Examples of emotional abuse include:
Signs of a controlling partner in an abusive relationship include the partner:
If you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, know that the abuse is not your fault and that help is available.
You should feel safe and supported by your partner. If belittling becomes a pattern in your relationship, please reach out for help right away. You can call it The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The number is 2/4 at 1-800-799-7233. You can also text “Start” to 88788. They can help you find resources so that you’re safe.