How to Recognize an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

August 21, 2019 Hannah O'Grady


Do you know how to recognize an emotionally abusive relationship? When our society discusses relationship abuse, there is often a focus on the more overt forms such as sexual abuse and physical abuse. It is not uncommon for emotional abuse, which can often take on a more subtler form, to slip by unnoticed. In my experience, there is also a hesitancy to acknowledge this form of abuse and validate its existence. However, being with an emotionally controlling and manipulative partner can have lasting detrimental effects on our psyche. Therefore, it is imperative to recognize an emotionally abusive relationship's signs, even the ever so subtle ones, that you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship. 

How to Recognize an Emotionally Abusive Relationship 

Look for these things to recognize an emotionally abusive relationship:

  • Irrational jealousy -- At the onset of your emotionally abusive relationship, things may be going beautifully, yet, over time, your partner may begin to control you through intense jealousy. He or she may strive to disguise this jealousy as intensive care and love for you. I had one partner who would raise his voice at me whenever he thought there was a chance I was talking to my ex. However, he claimed that he felt so deeply for me and didn't want to lose me to another man; therefore, he successfully convinced me that his behavior was justified. I became brainwashed and overlooked this jealousy, mistaking it for love. Even when this partner said he could never be with me longterm because I was a "lying slut," I continued to make excuses for his actions. I simply became more determined to make him love me because, at that time, he convinced me that no one else ever would. 
  • Guilt-tripping -- When your partner is emotionally abusive, they may begin to guilt-trip you or even gaslight you by manipulating you into questioning your sanity and morality. Again, as with jealousy, your partner may disguise this behavior as love for you. One night I was at a party with my abusive partner when a friend of mine called on the brink of killing himself. I stepped away and took this call, coaching my friend through his crisis until he felt like he was de-escalated and in a safe space. As soon as I hung up, my partner began shouting at me, claiming that I was attempting to make him jealous by talking on the phone with another man. Even as others at the party looked on, my partner continued to shout despicable slurs and guilt-trip me. I felt as if I had no other choice but to apologize profusely. 
  • Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness -- When you begin to blame yourself for the way your partner is treating you, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness can intensify. You may even start to take everything your partner says about you as fact. When I was dating my abusive partner, he told me that I should kill myself. I began to internalize what he said and believe that he was right. I remember the moment where he texted me that message so vividly, and this memory still weaves itself into my thoughts and nightmares from time to time. It was the day of my sister's graduation, and instead of celebrating with my family, I was locked in my room, staring at myself in the mirror too dissociative to cry.

Despite all of these red flags, I stayed in this relationship for longer than I would like to admit. The act of being brainwashed, paired with my partner never laying his hands on me, led to my ignorance. However, it is essential to realize that abuse can take on many forms. Not all unhappy relationships are emotionally abusive relationships, but I have learned that talking to others and relying on your gut instinct can open your eyes to whether abuse is happening. Despite what your partner strives to convince you, you deserve to be happy. 

APA Reference
O'Grady, H. (2019, August 21). How to Recognize an Emotionally Abusive Relationship , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 29 from

Author: Hannah O'Grady

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