Recognizing emotional abuse can be tricky. It’s likely the abuser has gone to great lengths to make you feel as if everything is your fault. Then the abuser goes to work on your self-worth and mental health with manipulation and control tactics until your perception of reality matches theirs. It’s a dangerous trap.

If you’re being abused you might even desperately want to leave the relationship, but because your confidence and self-esteem has been so brutally attacked, you see no way out. The abuser has you believing there’s just no way you can make it without them. It’s a sick cycle of bullying and emotional beat-down and it’s got to stop!

Determining Normal Behavior from Abusive Behavior

A normal, healthy relationship should be a cohesive bond. The people involved should treat each other with respect and kindness, delight in each other’s successes and be supportive of their failures. There should be more positive words than negative and have a desire to communicate and work through issues together.

The following list highlights several types of emotional abuse. More times than not, the abuser will use multiple forms of emotional abuse.

Control & Dominion

There is almost always a perceived power struggle and the abuser must obtain and maintain absolute control. This could include anything from what you wear to monitoring your whereabouts at all times. This abuser probably gets intensely jealous when others give you attention and says things to purposely upset or scare you.

This person will also likely require complete control over finances and require receipts or proof of every penny you spend. They also will make decisions without consulting you that normally should be made together. Your opinion isn’t a concern to them.

Demands Obedience

If you are at the beck and call of someone else, walking on eggshells hoping not to disappoint, and treated like a servant, you’re probably in an emotionally abusive relationship. This type will use any means necessary to get their way. It might be voiced as a demand, “Get me some coffee, now” or it may be more subtle and manipulative, “You make better coffee than me, you do it.” And if you don’t, there will be repercussions.

Perhaps the abuser throws a tantrum like a child or refuses to show affection for a period of time. It’s probably not unusual for you to have to ask for permission before leaving, check-in multiple times and give explicit detail of your activities upon return.

Emotional Blackmail

This type of emotional abuse has elements of control and manipulation but here the abuser uses other avenues like public humiliation or being emotionally and/or physically detached to get you to submit. They bring attention to your flaws so theirs are undetected and rarely take responsibility for poor decisions; in fact, whatever they may have done incorrectly is going to end up being your fault anyway.

And then, to put the cherry on the cake, they will deny it even happened. “I never said that” or “You are remembering it wrong.” If this type of conditioning carries on long-term, you begin to doubt yourself and believe what they say as the truth.

Erratic Behavior

Unpredictable mood swings are set off and there’s no real identifiable or rational trigger. One minute everything is going smooth and the next thing you know, you’re in the middle of an argument about what type of gravy is best and the abuser might point a finger at you in an aggressive and threatening manner or just stomp out of the room. Again, childlike behavior such as tantrums, fits or sulking might play a part with this type of abuser as well.

Creator of Chaos

In social situations, the abuser needs to be the center of attention. This person will also be suspicious of all your friends and the nature of those relationships. Little things turn into complete fiascos and often tries to get under your skin. This abuser knows what’s important to you and deliberately challenges and undermines you.

And if you try to stand up for yourself or explain why this causes you pain or upsets you, the abuser might opt for punishments such as threatening to leave the relationship or that they will find someone else. Whatever will invoke fear and throw you off balance.

Character Assassination

This abuser belittles you and your accomplishments. It might happen in private or in public, but the insults and berating are humiliating and cause feelings of worthlessness and shame. Insulting your physical appearance, intelligence, parenting skills, core morals and values; nothing is sacred or off limits. And if others are giving you praise, the abuser will look for ways to distort their view of you as well.


When you start to question things, the gaslighting begins. This abuser makes you feel as if you are crazy or going out of your mind for feeling anything other than what the abuser wants you to feel.

The mind games are very intentional and before you even realize it, this person has you believing your memory is failing you, they treat you like you hung the sun and the moon even when you thought you felt neglected and unloved, and that they aren’t mean… you are just too sensitive. Also, no matter how much evidence you can provide otherwise, you’re always under attack for lying, cheating, flirting, hiding something, or planning to leave.

If one or more of these types of emotional abuse sounds familiar, you are most likely in an abusive relationship. What’s more, abusive relationships aren’t limited to intimate partners and spouses. Family members, friends and even coworkers can exhibit emotionally abusive behaviors.

Regardless who the abuser is, you don’t have to live a life being abused, bullied and beaten down day in and day out. Take back the power of your own life and begin the healing process, even if it means ending the relationship. You are worth it!