7 Things That Only Happen When You’re In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

by Kristine Fellizar
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Emotional abuse in a relationship can be hard to spot at first. Unlike physical abuse, it's easier to mask emotional abuse behind seemingly innocent and "loving" words or gestures. That's why experts say it's important to be aware of the things that happen when you're in an emotionally abusive relationship.

According to Beverly Engel, licensed therapist and author of the upcoming book, “I’m Saying No!” Standing Up Against Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment and Sexual Pressure, "Emotional abuse can be defined as any non-physical behavior designed to control, intimidate, subjugate, demean, punish, or isolate another person through the use of degradation, humiliation or fear."

The typical abuser will have "an entire repertoire of tools" they use to manipulate and control their partner such as verbal assault, constant criticism and blaming, emotional blackmail, and gaslighting, among others.

"People may emotionally abuse without intending to do so if it’s a pattern that they grew up thinking was normal," Katie Ziskind, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "For example, if a parent emotionally abused them, it may be the only thing they know. However, it does not make it right or OK." So it's important for you to recognize the signs as soon as possible. That way, you won't stay stuck in an unhealthy situation for too much longer.

Sometimes people don't even realize they're being emotionally abused until it's too late. So here some things that only happen when you're is in an emotionally abusive relationship, according to experts.


You'll Feel Ashamed For Being You

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The victim of emotional abuse can experience "horrendous shame" as a result of being constantly criticized, humiliated, and demeaned. It may even start innocently enough. Your partner may mask their criticism behind "jokes." But if they keep pointing out your flaws, whether jokingly or "out of love," you will start to believe it. According to Engel, "This shame erodes their self-esteem, self-confidence and sense of self-worth to such an extent that they come to believe they are inadequate, unworthy, and so unlovable that no one else would ever want them."

Furthermore, you'll stop sharing your feelings because your partner won't seem to care. "They may even call you [out for] fake crying or crocodile tears," Ziskind says. Instead of being empathetic, they may shame you for having your feelings and invalidate you.


You Start Questioning Your Sanity

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Gaslighting is a major sign of emotional abuse. When you're being gaslighted, you'll start to question your perception of reality and sometimes even your sanity. Your partner will say things that will make you you lose your trust in yourself. "This creates even more shame and can cause victims to lose any strength or motivation to leave," Engel says.


Your Partner Will Want You All To Themselves

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One of the early signs of abuse is a slow isolation of the victim. "This isolation is particularly important," psychologist Kelsey M. Latimer, PhD, CEDS-S, founder of Hello Goodlife, tells Bustle. "When a person is isolated, they lack the support system that would help them question what is going on." At first, your partner may plan dates for every weekend or find ways to spend more and more time together. But if they start questioning why you need to spend time with other people or they get angry, that's not a good sign. According to Latimer, this tactic is meant to make the victim more vulnerable to abuse. "For that reason alone, isolation is the most important thing to watch out for in an abusive relationship," she says.


You Won't Feel In Control Of Your Own Life

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Your partner may start small by questioning your choice of clothing or food. After that, it may extend to what you're doing this weekend and who you're going to be spending time with. If this is a constant thing, Latimer says this controlling behavior can lead you to believe that you can't make any decisions on your own. You may worry that your choices won't please your partner, so you're much more likely to do things you're uncomfortable with. At the end of the day, you won't feel in control of your own life. You'll always feel the need to run things by your partner first.


Your Partner Will Say They're The Only One Who Gets You

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It's one thing for you to feel it on your own. But it's another if your partner explicitly states they're the only one who will ever get you, put up with you, or love you. "By conveying this message to you, they keep you ensnared because you eventually start believing that no one else would ever want you," licensed psychologist Nicole Issa, Psy.D., tells Bustle. There's also an inherent assumption here that there's something wrong with you and you "lucked out" because your partner can see past that. Again, this puts the abuser in control and will make you less likely to leave.


You Never Know Which Version Of Your Partner You're Going To Get

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One day they're sweet and romantic, and the next, they're in a bad mood. "Typically in an emotionally abusive relationship, there's a lack of predictability in how the emotionally abusive partner behaves," Rachel Ann Dine, licensed professional counselor and owner of Humanitas Counseling and Consulting, tells Bustle. "The term Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde comes to mind here." Basically, you'll never feel truly relaxed around your partner because you'll never know which person you're going to get. It's just not a healthy situation to be a part of.


You May Be Angry With Yourself For Not Fighting Back

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"As time goes by, a victim of emotional abuse eventually becomes so weakened by the constant onslaughts that [they] cannot maintain their equilibrium," Engel says. If you're being gaslighted, you may be too confused to fight back, so you eventually give up. According to Engel, you may even start hating yourself for being "weak" and proving that your abuser has been right about you all along.

According to Engel, most victims of emotional abuse don't realize it's happening until it's too late. So it's just important to be aware of the signs.

If you are a victim of emotional abuse, know that there are resources out there available to you. "Many domestic violence organizations offer free or low-cost counseling and some offer shelter," Engel says. "They can help you by letting you know what you'll need to do in preparation for leaving."

If it's possible, seeking professional counseling can also be helpful. Emotional abuse will do a number on your self-esteem. A counselor can help you rebuild your self-confidence as you heal from that relationship. Always remember that you are deserving of love no matter what anyone says.

Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit