Identifying emotional abuse in a relationship

Are you in an emotionally abusive relationship? If it took you more than thirty seconds to answer that question, chances are that you might be in such a relationship.There is always that nagging feeling at the back of our heads that tells us when something is not right even though it looks or feels right.

Often times we find it easier to identify physical abuse than emotional abuse in relationships. This is because the scars from physical abuse manifest themselves quicker while those from emotional abuse might take months, if not years to manifest themselves.

It’s hard to identify emotional abuse because it requires that we recognize certain dark qualities in the people we love. We all want to please our loved ones, to show them love and affection, make them happy and be there for them whenever they need it.

We expect the same of them. But what if they take advantage of this and ask from us more than we can give or take? And most importantly, how can we know when the line has been crossed; from mere love to emotional abuse?

Defining emotional abuse

In the book The emotionally Abusive Relationship: How to Stop Being Abused, Beverly Engel defines emotional abuse as “any non-physical behavior [or attitude] that is designed to control, intimidate, subjugate, demean, punish, or isolate another person through the use of degradation, humiliation or fear.” She further asserts that this abuse can come in subtle forms like;

  • Withholding attention or affection
  • Disapproving, dismissive, contemptuous, or condescending looks, comments and behavior
  • Sulking and pouting
  • Projection and/or accusations
  • Subtle threats of abandonment (either physical or emotional)

How to identify emotional abuse in your relationship

It is naturally expected that the person we are in-love with should have our best interests at heart. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes relationships that started out right might find themselves in problems when people change.

Sometimes we get involved with people knowing very well that they’re emotionally abusive but because we are desperate to be with them, we explain away their toxic behavior.

  1. When you dress up over-protectiveness and insecurity as love

There’s always that temptation to feel special whenever the person we love gets jealous or insecure over us. It makes us aware of their deep feelings. It tells us in some twisted way that they cherish us and that they don’t want to lose us. However, too much of this becomes emotional abuse.

You will know that line has been crossed when your partner is constantly checking your phone. They go through every message and every name in your list of contacts. They want to know who you are talking to or chatting with every single time your phone beeps or rings.

They get mad at you simply because you laughed or smiled during a conversation with someone of the opposite sex. They want you to check-in with them every single stop you make for the day. They want to know the names of the people you are with at all times.

In worst case scenarios, he/she will not allow you to associate with anyone. This includes your family, friends, or co-workers. They might not want you to work in the first place. They would rather have you at home all to themselves where no one else has access to you.

The moment you start feeling that things are a little too much, have a conversation with them. Make your feelings known and come up with a way that does not leave either of you feeling violated, insecure or uncared for. However, if the perceived behavior persists, then indeed you might be dealing with an emotionally abusive individual.

2. When you explain away their dismissiveness and lack of commitment

Here, you will hear things like; “I am doing this for us babe.” They constantly tell you that “something came up,” or “I am very busy at work,” or “let’s wait another year before we get married. I need to sort out some issues.” But he/she doesn’t talk to you about those issues despite waiting for them for four plus years. When such a person eventually makes time for you, they will not hesitate to make it clear to you that they should have been somewhere else, but instead, they are with you. So you end up feeling special when in actual sense you shouldn’t.

The truth is that to them you’re simply an option. He/she is basically telling you that there are other things on the list of their priorities and unfortunately you are not one of those things. In order for you to get on that list, that person had to momentarily remove something else…which by the way they will put back in that spot the moment they’re done with you.

3. When you dress up their arrogance, rudeness and sense of entitlement as mere pride

Proud people tend to think that the world revolves around them. Women have fallen for the proud pompous guy often because he presents himself as a challenge or prize to be won by those most deserving of him. Unfortunately, you can get so consumed in trying to win this ‘prize’ that you spend the rest of your life trying to earn it while it does nothing to earn your love and commitment to it.

He will take and take and expect more from you but he will never return the favor. This person will degrade and humiliate you when you do not do things according to their standard. They will give you condescending looks, comments and behave in ways that make you feel unworthy of their love.

4. When they emotionally blackmail you

The emotional blackmailer uses subtle emotional abuse devices mostly. This type threatens to commit suicide when you voice your expectations of them. They cry, sulk and pout. They withdraw themselves and certain privileges from you. They will speak to your emotions in order to gain advantage over you.


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