Emotional Abuse Signs, and How It Affects Your Mental Health

Emotional abuse is much more prevalent than we think! (Photo via Pexels/ Rodnae Productions)
Emotional abuse is much more prevalent than we think. (Photo via Pexels/Rodnae Productions)

Have you ever wondered if you have suffered emotional abuse? The American Psychological Association defines emotional abuse as a pattern of behavior where someone repeatedly and deliberately harms another's mental health and overall well-being through non-physical acts. Emotional abuse is harder to spot than physical abuse, as its psychological markers are less obvious.

Even though emotional abuse seldom leaves physical scars, it, nevertheless, is real. No matter how resilient or confident a person may appear to be, they can be the victim of emotional abuse. Anyone who encounters emotional abuse feels it differently, but it has one thing in common - long-lasting wounds.

Your love partner, supervisor, friend, family member, or someone else with whom you have a relationship could all be abusers. No one should ever be subjected to abuse of any kind. It's imperative to understand that the victim is not at fault and that assistance is accessible.


Warning Signs of Emotional Abuse

Abuse can take many different forms and be exhibited in many different ways. It's important to be able to identify the signs of emotional abuse to protect yourself and your loved ones. Here are a few signs of abuse:

1) Criticism

Have you been overly criticized in a relationship with a friend, family member, or romantic partner? Did they make you feel like you couldn't do anything right?

In an emotionally abusive relationship, the abuser repeatedly insults you, even after you have asked them to stop, or they hold you to impossibly high standards and then depreciate you when you don't measure up to those standards.

They might often swear or yell at you even outside an argument. They use critical or threatening words to make you break down or begin to doubt yourself.

2) Humiliation

If you experience humiliation in a relationship, it might be time to talk to someone. (Photo via Pexels/Liza Summer)
If you experience humiliation in a relationship, it might be time to talk to someone. (Photo via Pexels/Liza Summer)

Has an abuser around you intentionally embarrassed you or made you feel ashamed? Have they ever said things like they are the only ones who can love you, or you'll never find someone as good as them?

Emotional abusers may use humiliation as a tactic in ways like degrading comments about your appearance, intelligence, or personal success. Small insults towards you can negatively affect your self-esteem when they are constantly repeated back to you. Emotional abusers take advantage of that to convince you to maintain your relationship with them.

3) Gaslighting

Gaslighting is the act of creating doubt in the other person's mind so much so that they begin to question reality. It's the dismissal of one's emotions and feelings. It's a form of manipulation, psychological control, and emotional abuse. Some common phrases used by gaslighters are:

"You're insane for thinking that"

This statement makes the victim to question their sanity and place greater faith in the abuser's judgment.

"You're exaggerating a small issue"

This is something an abuser might say to minimize their own abusive behavior and dissuade the victim from reporting it to others.

"I didn't say that"

By saying this, an abuser might escape taking responsibility for their words or acts and cast doubt on the victim's memory.

4) Isolation

An abuser may push your boundaries and limits in a negative way. (Photo via Pexels/Cottonbro)
An abuser may push your boundaries and limits in a negative way. (Photo via Pexels/Cottonbro)

An emotional abuser may try to isolate you from your friends, family, or people who care about you. They don't want others in your circle to pick on the warning signs of abuse. They might threaten to end the relationship if you expresses a desire to visit another person. An abuser could try to block new friendly relations.

5) Rejection

Emotional abusers may physically distance themselves from you or suddenly become emotionally unavailable. This is another way of exerting control over you through the power of rejection.

When you are unexpectedly cut off from support, it stirs up a sense of insecurity and self-blame. When you are isolated, you are also dependent on your abuser for emotional support. If they grow cold towards you, it can leave you spinning. Another instance of that is called public rejection, when they ignore you in public or in front of friends and family as a form of punishment.

Impact of Emotional Abuse on Mental Health

Emotional abuse can have both short-term and long-term effects. The shock of being in the circumstances or the concern about how the situation came about is frequently the short-term impact of an abuse. Some emotional abusers don't start until the relationship is firmly established.

Research shows that victims of long-term emotional abuse frequently feel unable to leave their abuser and feel unworthy of a non-abusive relationship, as they have low self-esteem. Victims of adult emotional abuse tend to believe the deplorable things the abuser says about them.


Emotional abuse is insistent, insidious, and overpowering of other people for the sake of one's own self and benefit at the expense of the people around them. If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional abuse, please reach out for help. You are not alone. Research shows that individuals can recover from abuse through therapy and other professional help.

Janvi Kapur is a counselor with a Master's degree in applied psychology with a specialization in clinical psychology.

Edited by Bhargav