We often hear people say they are emotionally abused. But what does that really mean? What does emotional abuse look like? Once we recognize it, we can work to stop it.

Just because someone is negative or says things you don’t like, doesn’t mean they are emotionally abusive. If you hurt because of a break-up, have an argument, or someone yells, that is not abuse. But when the volume turns up, arguing becomes screaming that turns to name-calling, and someone denigrates your person, then you are moving into emotional abuse.

Emotional abusers use their words as weapons. It’s all about control. Do as I tell you or I will put you in your place. The weapon is usually verbal attacks and criticism. It takes the form of belittling, put down, and gaslighting to make you think you are crazy.

Emotional abusers try to make you think you are responsible for their unhappiness, so they play the blame game regularly. When you try to hold them accountable for their part of the problem, it’s all your fault.

When emotional abusers talk about you, their eyes roll in contempt. They call you stupid or inept. They may refuse to talk to you, treat you in cold and distant ways and isolate you from other people. Sarcasm is used to mock you. Affection is withheld as a way to punish you from getting out of line. And then an apology may come, but the cycle soon repeats.

The feelings that follow emotional abuse are usually insult, worthlessness, confusion and wounding. The bully tactics result in a loss of your esteem, self-loathing and a doubt in your perceptions and assessment of things. Emotional abuse can be overt or more under cover, making it harder to recognize at times. Eventually, you become your own internal critic and worry that you might just be as bad as the person paints you to be.

A few more markers of emotional abuse include:

  • A constant dissatisfaction regarding who you are as a person
  • A demand to attend to their needs over yours
  • Probing and prodding for every detail of your life apart from them
  • Being labelled selfish for basic self-care
  • Being condescending
  • Feeling like you have to walk on “eggshells” around the person
  • Putting you down in public and in front of others

If you feel you are being emotionally abused, find a therapist who can help you respond to the manipulation and control. Make sure the work includes understanding your worth as a child of God because emotional abuse wears at your very being.  Part of the work is to restore your worth. It takes a lot of work and intention to turn the emotional abuse cycle around, but with help, you can regain your dignity.