How to See Signs of Emotional Abuse in a Relationship

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Abuse of any kind is used against another person to control, dehumanize and dominate the individual through coercion, fear, guilt, humiliation, intimidation and manipulation. Emotional abuse is a type of brain-washing process that eventually erodes the victim's self-concept, self-confidence and trust in their perception of situations. The techniques typically affect the victim deeply and leave emotional scars that may be harder to overcome compared to physical pain. Over time, victims feel less and less worthy. They are convinced that unless they stay with their abuser, they are destined to a life alone. Emotional abuse happens to women or men in relationships or among family members. Recognizing the signs is the first step in seeking help.

Unrealistic Expectations

The abuser has no respect for the needs or time of the victim and often demands that they bring their life to a standstill in order to satisfy their needs. They might expect continual attention. Abusers may also require the victim to perform a specific task. However, regardless of the effort put into pleasing the individual, they are never satisfied. They also often become angry, berate or criticize when their demands or needs are not met.

Verbal Aggression

This type of behavior is directed at the victim and obviously degrading. Verbal abuse includes accusations, blaming, name-calling and threatening. The guilty party is also seemingly addicted to chaos and may frequently find a reason to initiate an argument. Emotional abusers also tend to exhibit strange outbursts or mood changes for no apparent reason. Something they feel appreciative for one day may be met with disdain and disapproval on another.

Acts of Denial

This form of abuse involves ignoring the other individual's emotional needs and is designed to inflict pain, act as a punishment or cause humiliation. When the victim confronts the abuser concerning actions or behaviors, the person denies that the situation occurred or causes the victim to question their perception of the event. The perpetrator may also deny the individual the right to defend themselves or to have a conversation by applying the silent treatment.


The more subtle form of denying involves the abuser making light of the other person's emotions, thoughts or needs. They may accuse their partner of being too sensitive, blowing situations out of proportion or having a vivid imagination. The person also often makes a habit of letting the recipient know that their accomplishments are unimportant and communicating with them is a wasted effort. In various scenarios, the abuse may take the form of one-up-manship. The perpetrator continually invalidates the efforts of the victim by declaring their superior ability to accomplish the same task. On the other hand, if the individual suffers any type of physical injury or illness, the abuser either makes light of the situation or feels worse and requires more sympathy.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "How to See Signs of Emotional Abuse in a Relationship," in, February 21, 2016, (accessed August 17, 2022).