When people hear the word “abuse,” they often think of physical abuse. But abusers aren’t always so easy to spot. In fact, many people in emotionally abusive relationships don’t even realize it. Yet, emotional abuse is very common.  

People who are emotionally abusive can be quite charming at first. Even after the relationship goes south, it can be very hard to make the decision to leave.

So, what does emotional abuse look like? How can you spot the red flags?

Educating yourself on this issue can help you navigate romantic relationships. Here are several warning signs of emotional abuse that everyone should recognize:

1. Frequent Ultimatums

upset woman“If you really loved me, you would do this.” 

“If you don’t do this, I’m leaving you?”

Do these sound familiar? Ultimatums like this are manipulative and emotionally damaging.

When someone hands out ultimatums, it’s a major sign that they are controlling and less concerned about your welfare than their own. This is a tell-tale sign of emotional abuse. Ultimatums go beyond the minor disagreements that couples normally experience.

Forcing you to jump through hoops or do things that make you uncomfortable to “prove” your love is unacceptable.

2. Disrespecting Boundaries

Does your significant other go through your phone and read your texts? Do they log into your email inbox? Are they prone to flipping through your journal, even though you prefer your writing to be private?

If your partner disrespects your boundaries and invades your privacy, you are dealing with an emotionally abusive person. This kind of behavior indicates that they feel inordinately insecure about your individuality. Your own thoughts, plans, and communication with other people stir up anxiety for them. So much so, that they do not want you to have a private life that doesn’t involve them.

3. Isolation

In a healthy relationship, your partner will have no problem with your friends and relatives. In fact, they will encourage you to spend time with them. Sure, they’ll want to tag along sometimes, but they won’t try to interfere or obstruct your relationships.

An emotionally abusive partner, however, will try to isolate you from your loved ones. They will discourage you from spending time with other people. They may even lie or intentionally create misunderstandings between you and others.

This occurs because they view your loved ones (and any potential connection) as a threat to your relationship with them. Thus, they attempt to cut you off from those connections and make themselves your sole focus. Some times this is accomplished forcefully, through guilt, via clingy behavior or by more subtle means.

4. Blame Game

When things go wrong in your relationship, you will sometimes have to accept responsibility. On other occasions, your partner will have to step up and apologize. That’s just life – we all make mistakes. 

However, if your partner is emotionally abusive, genuine accountability on their part may not be forthcoming. You will likely find yourself shouldering the blame for everything or confused by insincere and manipulative apologies. If you feel you are somehow always at fault, examine your interactions and your partner’s behavior more closely.

5. Constant Criticism

Life with an emotionally abusive partner often leads to the sense that you’re never good enough. No matter what you do, you find that you simply can’t live up to their standards. You try your best to please them, but somehow, you always come up short, hurt, and/or humiliated.

Going above and beyond for them never results in the reaction you’re hoping for. As, a result, you may find that your inner critic is constantly stimulated as well. Over time, your self-esteem and motivation may suffer significantly.

6. Dramatic Apologies

Dealing with a partner’s mood swings is just par for the course in an emotionally abusive relationship. But here’s where it gets tricky: emotionally abusive people often try to make up for their outbursts with dramatic apologies that result in little, meaningful change.

One moment, you’re fighting then, an hour or two later, they’ll come to you with tears in their eyes, begging for forgiveness. This pattern is often an emotional rollercoaster that leaves you emotionally confused and exhausted.


Have you noticed any of these red flags of emotional abuse in your relationship? Wondering what to do next? Work with safe supportive therapist can help. Please don’t wait for security and happiness any longer. You deserve both. Please reach out today for a consultation.

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