25 Signs You're Experiencing Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse isn't something we can necessarily see. It would be obvious to know when someone is hurting us if they always left bruises but when it's our emotions or our freedom that's attacked, it can be difficult to classify it abuse. It's the, "If no one sees it, it didn't happen" mentality. Learn the signs of emotional abuse so you know what to look for.

Emotional abuse isn't something we can see. It would be obvious someone is hurting us if they always left bruises, but when our emotions are bruised, it can be confusing to identify abuse.

It's a, "If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one around, does it make a sound?” situation.

Not surprisingly, there are plenty of experts who believe emotional abuse is more damaging than physical abuse because it often happens every day [source]

What Is Emotional Abuse?

The definition of emotional or psychological abuse is up for discussion, but it's generally referred to as verbal aggression (verbal abuse), dominant behaviour (like lording finances) and/or jealous behaviour like bullying, harassment and power imbalance in a relationship [source]

Emotional abuse usually progresses slowly. You may feel conflicted, tense or guilty. It can quickly turn into feeling helpless, being withdrawn, unable to sleep, diminished self-confidence or feeling trapped [source].

Bigger problems that come out of ongoing emotional abuse would be depression, chronic anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts and Stockholm syndrome [source]. It can precede physical or sexual abuse and yes, your husband can sexually abuse you. 

Through my experience and talking to women who were emotionally abused, I’d say most abusive relationships start out pretty normal. I would even dare to say they start out better than the average relationship because abusers are master charmers.

Does that mean there weren’t red flags? Of course not, quite the opposite. The relationship undoubtedly provided something we craved; red flags ignored. It's totally normal not to see emotional abuse as its happening to you (I’d bet other people see it though!). 

"We live life forward but we only understand it backwards" -Joyce Meyer

Abusers are master manipulators and those who struggle with addiction become flawless in deception. The combination? Woah.

I'm not a psychiatrist, but I've lived it. Twice. 

Keep context in mind as the things I'm going to list are not necessarily considered to be abuse on their own. It's not my intention for you to read this and be like, "Oh man, he called me a name last week, he must be an abuser!" because plenty of these things happen in normal relationships.

We're all human and sometimes we do sucky things. 

The list is a reference in case you need an "ah-ha!" moment (like I had! Six Signs the Abuse in Your Marriage is Escalating) to figure out if your relationship has become unhealthy for you. For simplicity sake, I'm going to use "He" when I'm talking about the abuser, but emotional abuse is not gender-specific and could equally come from a man or woman.

Here's a source for some of the items on the list, but most are my own experience.

I wouldn't classify my husband as an abuser. Yet, he did do a lot of the things on this list as addiction-related behaviour or emotional baggage. He was in a bad place and made bad choices, which is something we can all commiserate with. 

My first marriage was terrible. It lasted less than a year; I had just turned twenty-one when I became pregnant. The marriage was hardly a marriage. He never hit me, but it felt like he did. 

Possible signs of Emotional Abuse

1. He doesn't acknowledge your feelings or minimizes them. Makes you feel like you're imagining things or flat out wrong for feeling the way you do, ex. "You're just being a drama queen". He speaks for you. Twists your words. Interrupts when you're speaking.

2. He only takes responsibility to appease you. When the conversation arises later, it wasn't his fault. Again. Tells you to tell him, "Exactly what he said," in an argument when clearly you don't have any idea anymore; therefore, you're wrong. And now you’re a liar. 

3. He can't go without, without complaining. He has a major sense of entitlement. His time is more valuable than yours and he expects a reward for his efforts.

4. Sex is not mutually wanted or enjoyable.

5. He is inappropriately aggressive in bed (the aggression doesn't match the mood) or talks to you with crude language. 

6. In spite of you saying it hurts your feelings, he watches porn in front of you, around you, and/or compares you to it.

7. He quotes Bible verses about how your body is not your own, it belongs to him. 

8. He tells you how you are to dress, wear your hair, etc. 

9. He bullies, nags, convinces or manipulates you into doing things you don't want to do or that aren't good for you. *Look back because if you're acting like a "peacemaker" you likely don't argue on this point anymore; you just do it. 

10. He ignores you and makes you feel invisible. Especially when angry.

11. He objectifies you. For example, when you're upset he doesn't call you by your name. Instead, he tries to minimize the situation with nicknames like, "babe" "honey" etc.

12. He talks you down to his friends. 

13. He doesn't tell you where he is 90% of the time. If he comes home late without a phone call and if you ask, you're being controlling. Meanwhile, he's controlling and jealous about where you are ALL THE TIME. He needs to know where you are, who you talked to, who else was there. 

14. He accuses you of doing things you didn't do. If you went to get groceries and took too long you were probably out being a sleaze. When you deny it, he passive-aggressively says, "yeah, sure you weren't.”

Photo by Richard Johnson, "Weapon of Choice" | hurtwords.com

Photo by Richard Johnson, "Weapon of Choice" | hurtwords.com

Photo by Richard Johnson, "Weapon of Choice" | hurtwords.com

Photo by Richard Johnson, "Weapon of Choice" | hurtwords.com


15. He angrily walks out on you during confrontation because he, "Can't handle it". Returns like nothing happened. If you try to resolve the issue again, you're causing problems. 

16. Punches, throws, or hits surroundings when angry. 

17. Purposefully flirts with other women when you’re together (this isn’t okay when you’re not together either, FYI!). 

18. Brings up all your past mistakes to deflect blame. If he doesn't have anything, he'll make something up. 

19. Lies. About everything.  

20. If he physically hurts you, he will tell you, "It really wasn't that bad."

21. Uses gifts as ploys for forgiveness.

22. Uses money to control you.

23. Threatens suicide or divorce as emotional manipulation.

24. Threatens to take your children and never come back. *That's the worst threat, honestly!

25. He showers you with compliments when he wants something, if you deny him, watch out (see numbers 1-24!).

Emotional abuse isn't something we can necessarily see. It would be obvious to know when someone is hurting us if they always left bruises but when it's our emotions or freedom attacked, it can be difficult to classify it as abuse. It's a, "If no one sees it, it didn't happen" mentality. Emotional abuse and addiction go hand-in-hand, not because all addicts are abusers but because all addicts must lie and manipulate to abuse their drug of choice. Read more on LeahGrey.com or PIN for later!

Do you feel like your loved one is doing five or more of these things? How about half of them? All of them?

Don't be discouraged! God can fix this too 🙂.

It's important we stay safe from emotional abuse in a relationship. You don't always have to break up the relationship, but you absolutely need to break free from the abuse (of course, sometimes there is reason to break up the relationship too! Read: The Day the Lord Set Me Free from My Marriage).

Need help with an abusive relationship? In the U.S., visit https://www.thehotline.org/. In Canada, check out this all-encompassing resource from the Government of Canada Department of Justice for support in your province and preferred language.

Leah Grey



*Previously titled, “Signs of Emotional Abuse You Need to Watch For”. Updated 07/19/19.