11 Signs You Might Be Emotionally Abusive Without Realizing It

There's no denying relationships are tough. They're difficult on the best of days, but can be even more strained if you're being emotionally abusive without realizing it. I say "without realizing it" because not everyone wakes up with the goal of being horrible to their partner. And yet, if you've been through abuse yourself, or have issues with self-esteem, you may have all sorts of habits that are making both your lives more difficult.

Have things been a bit bumpy between you and your partner? If so, go ahead and own the possibility and look for signs of abuse. "It is important to know whether you are being emotionally abusive if you'd like to have a healthy, positive relationship," says NYC-based therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, in an email to Bustle. Catching it early on can save your relationship before things get truly bad, and before you hurt your partner even more.

If things have taken an ugly turn, it's obviously important that you talk with your SO. But you might also want to consider seeing a therapist to address any underlying issues. "Communication, trust, and commitment are keys to a successful relationship," Hershenson says. Read on for some signs it may be time to have a chat.  

1. Your Partner Has Turned Into A "People Pleaser"

If you often accuse your partner of being a people pleaser, it may be time to think about why they've been acting that way. "Some people are 'people pleasers' and these tend to be the partners of an emotionally abusive person," says clinical therapist Lynn R. Zakeri, LCSW. Since abused people have lowered self-esteem, their desire to please may be an attempt to feel more secure.

2. You're Often Accused Of Being "Selfish" In Bed

It's OK if things aren't always 50/50 in the bedroom, but you should both try to make it that way. As Hershenson tells me, not meeting your partner's needs sexually — either by guilting them into having sex or ignoring their needs — is emotionally abusive.

3. You're All About The "Silent Treatment"

The silent treatment may not feel bad. (I mean, you're not yelling, right?) But it can be just as damaging as a big loud fight. "The silent treatment functions to keep the receiver in suspense of what will happen, and unsure of 'what they did wrong' and 'how bad it is,'" says Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist Dr. Fran Walfish. "It is a way of controlling the other person as a precursor to abuse."

4. You Have Trouble Accepting Your Role In Arguments

It's always tough to apologize and/or own your side of a big argument. And that's OK. But it's important to eventually admit how you may have helped things go wrong. If you can't, Walfish tells me it may be a sign you're an abusive partner.

5. You're More Than A Little Bit Blunt

While there's nothing wrong with speaking your mind, take note if you've made a habit of being more than a little bit blunt. "Often people who pride themselves on being 'blunt' are actually being emotionally abusive," psychologist Dr. Nikki Martinez tells Bustle. Being honest is one thing, but saying whatever the heck you want without worrying about consequences? Definitely not cool.

6. You Minimize Ongoing Issues

If things feel unhealthy in your relationship, be wary of any desire on your part to downplay what's going on. "Because it can be painful to see oneself clearly, there may be temptations to make excuses or minimize things," says clinical psychologist Leslie Carr. Acting like everything is fine when it's not — especially if you're the one making things difficult — can be kinda creepy. And definitely a little abusive.

7. You Really Go For It When Arguing

We all know secrets that, if said out loud, could really hurt the ones we love. Healthy couples make a point of avoiding these no-go topics when arguing, so take note if you bring them up intentionally to hurt your partner. As Carr tells me, you may catch yourself saying things that are deliberately hurtful and/or condescending. And that's not OK.

8. You've Tried To "Gaslight" Your Partner

When gaslighting someone, you might say and do things to make them feel like what they're experiencing isn't real. As Carr tells me, this is a mind trick that allows you to control someone. While we've all played games and tried to win arguments, truly messing with someone's sense of reality is pretty darn abusive.

9. You Cut Them Down In Order To Feel Better

If things have become unhealthy in your relationship, Carr says you might "try to make someone feel or look bad in an effort to make yourself feel or look better by comparison." This is a sign of your own issues with self-esteem, and should obviously never be taken out on your partner.

10. You Don't Build Up Their Self-Esteem

While it's not necessarily your job to build your partner's self-esteem, it certainly ins't OK to tear it down, either. As part of a healthy couple, Martinez tells me you both should be contributing to each other's wellbeing. If that's not going on, then one or both of you may be acting a little bit abusive.  

11. You've Been Called "Controlling" More Than Once

As Martinez tells me, the one thing all of these emotionally abusive habits have in common is a desire for control. The gaslighting, the minimizing, the rude remarks — it's all a subtle attempt to knock your partner down so you can feel better about yourself. If this sounds familiar, take a good hard look at your motivation to be in a relationship.

A tendency towards emotional abuse may be a sign of an underlying issue within yourself. If you feel like you've been emotionally abusive, don't beat yourself up. Talk with your partner, speak with a therapist, and work on your own self-esteem. All of these things will lead to healthier relationships in the future.

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