How to recognize emotional abuse

Emotional abuse comes in many forms and isn’t always easy to recognize. Sometimes abuse is subtle while in other cases, emotional abuse can leave lasting scars that never fully heal. I speak here, from personal experience and I am going to share some warning signs to look out for.

Unfortunately, I’ve been in my fair share of abusive relationships. Not just emotional abuse, but physically and verbally abusive as well. I’ve learned over the years what are some major red flags early in a relationship.

But emotional abuse is a harder beast to recognize. Sometimes the abuse is so subtle, you don’t even realize it’s happened – until it’s too late. By this point, you’re invested in the relationship.

The worst part of it? The abuser will use tactics to keep you isolated from your support group. And worse – they will at some point, try to blame everything on you – so you’re constantly apologizing for something that isn’t your fault at all.

It’s messed up, isn’t it? And maybe I can’t word this so eloquently as I’d like to, but here are a few warning signals to look out for early on in relationships.


Isolation

A classic tactic by emotional abusers is to try and isolate their partners. In early stages of the relationship, they will spend as much time with you, getting to know you and wanting to talk to you all the time. It may seem like they are enthralled by you – and they very well may be.

But this is often a tactic abusers use to isolate their victims. In some cases, the victim won’t even realize it until they’re totally cut off from their friends and family.

Some things I’ve heard from former partners:

  • “I don’t want you to see that person, I don’t like how they treat you.”
  • “I want to spend all free time with you, is that so wrong?”

Keeping you isolated from your loved ones is a sign of emotional abuse. This may lead to physical abuse and makes it easier to hide. The abuser also knows that without your support group around, they can get away with more devious behaviour.


Emotional Neglect

My ex, Trigger, used to ignore me for weeks on end. I realized later, that this was extremely unhealthy and it was a form of emotional abuse. He would ignore me – I’d get upset over it. He’d come over and apologize and blame his PTSD. Things would get better for a month, and then he’d go right back to ignoring me. This went on for nearly FOUR years. I won’t even count the last year as a relationship. It really wasn’t – in hindsight.

Some abusers will outright punish their victims by purposefully ignoring them. This is especially terrible when living together. Ignoring someone as punishment after a fight is not only emotionally abusive but it’s also highly manipulative.

In many cases, the victim will apologize for something they didn’t even do or weren’t at fault for – until the abuser speaks to them again.

Shutting someone out for weeks at a time while supposedly in a loving relationship – it’s just so wrong. While I didn’t expect daily contact from my ex – it wasn’t in our arrangement – being ignored for weeks on end without an explanation caused me a lot of pain and I acted out because of it.


Humiliation and bullying

Humiliation is a common tactic used by bullies to intimidate their partners. Name-calling, shaming, derogatory pet-names or character assignations are all examples of how a person can humiliate you.

There was someone in my family who loved doing this to me at every family dinner. When I finally called her out for it, I remember hearing other family members say, “Oh, that’s just the way she is.”

Every time I opened my mouth up at the dinner table, any ideas or suggestions I brought forward were met with “you’re ridiculous” or “that’s not right” or “you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She loved to publicly embarrass me and tell humiliating stories that happened twenty years ago – she still brings them up every now and then.

I remember one time she tried to tell me I didn’t know what a migraine was – after having been diagnosed with chronic migraines. That’s “just how she was”.

If I left the dinner table or stormed out of the room, I was labelled as childish and in the end – she won. I gave her exactly what she wanted.


Humiliation Tactics

Humiliation can be subtle – things like eye-rolling, smirking, laughing or even exchanging a glance with someone else can also be signs that someone is making fun of you.

Dismissiveness – so many times while speaking up at family dinner parties, I was met with dismissive remarks.

“I remember that – it happened when I was living in the basement. I loved living in the basement. It was like having my own apartment as a kid.” – I said at one family dinner.

“You never lived in the basement,” she said to me.

“Uh, yes I did. In elementary school. For like a year,” I reminded her.

Everyone else at the table nodded and she just rolled her eyes at me.

“I hate the organ music. Why can’t you just play the piano more often? The hymns are so awful,” she would say.

“You don’t have to come to church, you could just, you know, stay home,” I would reply back – and that often shut her up.

If I was in a good mood, she’d often shut it down by saying something like “you look fat in that” or “you shouldn’t wear that colour, it makes you look ugly”.

I know there’s a lot of more that I’m missing – but I think I’ve blocked out a lot of the things she has said to me over the years. I hardly see her now outside of Christmas dinners.

And the family wonders why I don’t want to spend much time with them.


Recognizing emotional abuse and standing up for yourself

As time went on, I learned to accept these people for who they are and that they will never change. I also learned to stick up for myself. And I learned that I didn’t have to call these kinds of people family. Even though we were related – I didn’t need to see them outside of family gatherings. And even then – I could keep attendance to a minimum. Which I have – happily – for quite some time now. I turn down invitations to parties, and even weddings – mostly – because I don’t want to be around these people who think so little of me.

Life is too short. I’d rather be with people who respect me for who I am – and not make a mockery of me behind my back.

I remember my brother in law telling me on the way home, “You should hear what they say behind your back.” And I should have asked for clarification on who was saying these things. I’m guessing it was my immediate family – some of them anyway.

We’ve never seen eye to eye. They look down on me because I’m not married and don’t have a lot of money. They also make fun of me because of my weight. It’s why I very rarely see them on a social level. Why would I constantly subject myself to that?

Just because you’re related to someone – doesn’t mean you have to like them. Or even spend time with them. Surround yourself with people who love you for who you are. Not those who are taking advantage of you.


I think I’m going to stop there because I’m getting worked up thinking about past experiences. I’m in a healthier place in my life now. I know what’s right and what’s wrong. I know that I can’t change who people are but I can change how I react to them.

I also know what signs to look out for in relationships. And I also know that even family members can be toxic. It’s why I write this blog under “Wendy” only – because I don’t even want them to read these thoughts here. I know there will be backlash.

If you have someone in your life who is constantly putting you down, they dismiss everything you have to say, they yell at you for no reason or they thrive off making you feel bad —

Then cut your losses. Say your goodbyes. Remove yourself from that person. Even if they’re family.

Because life is just too short to even worth trying to be a people pleaser. The issue isn’t you at all. It’s them.

Learn to stand up for yourself and be your own advocate.

But most of all, know that you are worth so much more than these abusers (and assholes) can give you.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Mountain Eagle says:

    Exactly! Great summary. I have the same situation in my family and can completely relate. You nailed it right on the head.

    Liked by 1 person

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