Know the signs of Emotional/ Psychological abuse

Do you know the signs of Emotional/ Psychological Abuse?

Grey scale photo of person tugging at their hair and mouth open, looks like silent screaming
This what psychological/
emotional abuse feels like

Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, this article might mention trauma-related topics which could potentially be triggering. While either word can be used, for ease I’ll try not to use the term Psychological and stick to Emotional Abuse throughout this article.

“I used to tiptoe around, hardly daring to breathe, while trying to keep the boys quiet in case he woke up in a bad mood.”

Do you ever feel like you’re walking on eggshells around your partner? Do you have constant doubts about what you’ve said or done because your partner skews your reality?

Does your partner deny abusing you, and tell you that you’re “going mad” or “it’s all in your head?” If so, you may start believing that your feelings are invalid – that’s a rotten feeling, and it’s not true.

Does your partner try to control your behaviour by undermining you or blaming you for their problems, making you feel worthless, ashamed and unworthy of their affections?

These are all signs of emotional manipulation. And guess what? You do matter, even if your partner tells you that you don’t. Emotional abuse in couple relationships is common and cruel. But don’t worry, you can get through this!

Does your partner control you psychologically/ emotionally through:

Man with bald head and s beard, wearing a black t-shirt shouting into his mobile phone
abuse is difficult to spot
  • Name calling, criticising or insulting you
  • Demanding to know your every movement: where you’ve been, who you saw, who you spoke to
  • Keeping you in your home; to stop you visiting family or friends or stopping you from leaving them
  • Trying to isolate you from your family or friends, not allowing them to visit you or staying in the room when they do visit, listening to your conversations
  • Being jealous or possessive or refusing to trust you, calling your workplace to see if you’re there, to find out who you’re with and what you’re talking about
  • Checking your phone to see who you call and where you go, checking who you spend time with
  • Trying to control what you wear, how much makeup you wear — subtle comments such as “Hhhmm, the dress is nice, maybe a bit too young for you tho”, just as your arrive at a party, so it’s too late for you to change and you’re left feeling uncomfortable throughout the party
  • Accusing you of cheating and being jealous of your other friendships, relationships, sometimes work colleagues. I was constantly asked whether I was sleeping with various men at work and even once, was I cheating with a female friend and how long had it been going on for
  • Blaming you for any abuse “You made me do it.” or “I wouldn’t do it if you didn’t wind me up.”
  • Punishing you by withholding their affections, keeping you at a distance
  • Telling you how lucky you are to be with them and you won’t find anyone better or saying who’d want you anyway
  • Humiliating you in any way, particularly in front of people
  • Threatening to hurt you or those close to you; children, your family, your friends or even your pets
  • Regularly cheating on you then blaming you for their behavior; “If you weren’t so frigid, I wouldn’t have to go elsewhere.” Never understanding that it’s their cruel words or behaviours that makes you withdraw and withhold sexual intimacy
  • Cheating on you just to hurt you and telling you they’ll do it again if you don’t do such and such
  • Damaging your home, property or car when they’re angry like punching walls, kicking doors, or throwing things – your favourite photo, breaking or hiding a piece of your jewellery
  • Gaslighting — a form of psychological manipulation in which a person covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes such as low self-esteem, Wikipedia. Basically meaning that you question your mental health and wonder if you are “going insane
  • Threatening to use weapons to hurt you or threatening to put petrol through your letterbox! Yes, I’ve had that and let me tell you, it’s terrifying! I called a friend and we sat in the dark on the floor by the front door, waiting for more than an hour before we realised he wasn’t coming to carry out his threat. But he did get the desired effect — terror and anxiety!
Greyscale lady sitting by bed crying
Are you Living with Psychological/
Emotional Abuse?

Of course, the above isn’t a complete list of the signs of an emotionally abusive relationship, but it offers up some of the main indicators.

There’s many more signs and you can find huge amounts of information from available services, such as Relate, Living with Abuse (LWA) and Gov.UK who all offer advice and support both online and by telephone.

For any other help or support services, you might find what you’re looking for in this Useful Mental Health Contact List here

Should I stay in an emotionally abusive relationship?

Abusers won’t stop their abusive behaviour on their own, which means you have to end to the cycle. You can’t stop them alone; all you can do is find the courage to stop accepting the abuse. Walking away won’t be the easiest option but it’s always the best option. Remember: abuse is not your fault and you are not alone.

One of the most helpful first steps if you feel you’re in an emotionally (or other) abusive relationship is to speak to someone outside of it.

I’m not in an emotionally abusive relationship but I know someone who is

Side of face showing an ear with hand cupped towards it, actively listening
Effective listening helps validate
the victims experience of
Psychological/Emotional Abuse

Psychological/Emotional Abuse is often quite difficult to spot as it’s mostly done in private and there are no visible physical effects. But if you do see any of the above signs, ask your friend/family member if they are being abused and ask “How can I help?”

They might deny any abuse or refuse to talk about it, this time. Don’t give up, keep trying. Tell them often, that you are there for them and if they do want to talk, just to call you, if they can. Tell them you will be there just to listen, if that’s what they want, and do exactly that, just listen.

Don’t interrupt, as this might be the first time they’ve been able to talk about the abuse. Remember, they’re probably feeling a little (or a lot) embarrassed too.

Don’t tell them they’re mad for staying and don’t say things like “If it was that bad, you’d leave.” If you’ve never experienced any form of abuse (or, even if you have), don’t expect to understand why they won’t leave.

Don’t expect that person to leave immediately, just because that’s what you would do. If a person’s not ready to leave an abusive relationship — yet, perhaps you can help them work an escape plan for when they are ready.

Download some information on abuse to give to your friend or pick up leaflets from your local Relate. Find out local numbers of refuge and support services.

Clipart picture of large red question mark and man leaning against it

Do you know someone who’s experiencing Emotional or Psychological abuse? Would you know what to look for and be able to help somebody now? I’d appreciate your thoughts and I’m happy to answer any questions. Let’s talk about Emotional Abuse.

This article is the third of a series, looking at the various forms of abuse, which I hope you’ll find interesting and useful. You can find the first article here, which covers “All forms of Abuse”, and the second here, which is about “Domestic Abuse”.


Mum to two amazing sons. Following recovery from a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I decided to train as a Mental Health Nurse and worked successfully in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager. I am a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor. Just started my mental health from the other side blog.

24 thoughts on “Know the signs of Emotional/ Psychological abuse”

  1. This is so informative, and I hope someone who needs it reads it!

    I dated a guy once… maybe five years ago? … and he was a total abuser. I’m sort of glad I got away from him after a handful of dates! During one getting-to-know-you talk, he told me he thinks it’s wrong to lie. That sounds sensible, doesn’t it? A totally normal response would be, “I agree. Lying is wrong.” And that’s what he wanted me to say, so that he could then proceed to catch me in a minor lie and hurl accusations.

    But I think this is why we parted on mutual terms (with him rejecting me as much as I rejected him): I didn’t give that answer. I gave the Meg answer and said, “I believe in lying. It can be tactful, self-protective, other-protective, and/or otherwise useful.” Like, you know, if someone asks you a question that’s none of their business, and if you were to say, “That’s none of your business,” a certain answer would be implied; or if your best friend’s about to walk down the wedding aisle and choses THAT FREAKIN’ MOMENT to ask you if her wedding dress makes her look fat.

    He didn’t like how I was thinking for myself instead of just playing into his hands. “Oh, yeah, yeah, lying is wrong!!” 😮 Then I discovered that he was also extremely racist and high on heroin. Sorta glad that relationship fell through. My only regret is that we didn’t get married so I could hyphenate his last name with mine. My last name’s Kimball, and his was O’Hair. I looked forward to becoming Meg O’Hairball, but it was not to be.

    1. Oh my word – racist!! drugs!! aarrgghh. Glad you got out when you did. I don’t know why but I still walked into abuse relationships – you’d think I owuld learn. But often, abusers don’t show their bad side immediately. It takes a while and by that time, you’re bang in love and it’s difficult to leave — again. Thankfully, the last ten years, I have an amazing man in my life and he doesn’t shout, let alone raise his hands to me. I think this is a post actually – what do you think? Writing about me being serial dater with abusive ment? x Thaks for your comments, as always Meg x

      1. That would be a great post!! I hate it the way we follow these subconscious relationship patterns!! So I’m thrilled that you’ve got a great man in your life!! Wow, rock on!! 🙂

      2. Bless him, he had to go through the “do you yell or scream in a relationship?”, “do you not talk for days, weeks, months when you have a row with your partner?” “Do you hit women?” “Do you drink? and how much?” Do you use drugs?” lol

  2. This is amazing Caz👍🙂
    You wrote a great peice of information which is highly needed today. Great work.

    Infact after reading this….I realized this emotional abuse is so devastating, it pushes you away from yourself….

  3. Good Article Caz.
    Thank you for this.
    It helps me to see what more of the terms mean.
    I have heard and am familiar with the terms, but grasping their actual meaning, and remembering takes some time, because I’m always feeling and processing so much other stuff I guess.

    I’ve been having ptsd flashbacks and memories becoming more clearer lately.

    Being able to understand and workout what the child or adolescent in me was actually feeling at certain times.
    Over the years, it’s just been like a blob of anger and hurt, which I can never fully or accurately describe.

    It’s taken me over 25 years for some of these memories to become clear enough for me to actually realise what I felt and what was going on. My life was built of lies, deceit, betrayal, abuse.

    It’s like just suddenly things click one day, and a piece of it comes together and you never know when it will happen.

    Like I never knew why he told me what to wear or suggested things for me to wear. Just little things like that. Now I realise it was all control. He played mind games with me, stalked me, and I was his main toy. He loved it. Through me he got to abuse one of my best friends also whom I lost forever.

    The fact that it’s taken me 25 years, will give others perhaps who have not experienced this type of abuse, some idea of the DAMAGE that psychological and emotional abuse can do. It is the worst type of abuse. And it was what I endured most of.

    Just about every one of those you’ve listed I have experienced throughout my time living at home. And I cannot fully process it all still.

    My father was a very accomplished manipulator, who had to always have control. He was cunning, scheming, and dangerous. He used charm, and coercive control and persuasive ness, and he also had control of the rest of the family. He was possessive, jealous, would use all kinds of threats, humiliation, pity, absolutely just about everything. He was successful at taking the ground from beneath my feet.

    It is only now that I realise how much of a complete hold he had over me. Breaking away from it all was very difficult. I tried many times to get away, and I lived with different people, in different places, in different relationships, and he got me back every time only to abuse me more.

    Throughout the years, I have been diagnosed with many disorders, had lots of therapy, and since 17 been on a variety of medications.
    He thought he had ruined my life, and yes to a large extent he has.
    He has severely crippled, devastated, and debilitated me.

    He poisoned my entire system to such an extent, I didnt know what was what or who I was. I am still in the process of learning.

    But he also educated me.

    And no education is stronger than abuse.

    I chose the more difficult route, in letting it make me into a person that has and can continue to help others where I can.

    I just hope I don’t give in under the huge weight of it all.

    1. Glad to know you fine this post useful, but sorry you had to go through awful things to undrstand some of them
      Perhaps writing down some of your flashbacks and seeing them on paper – might help you make sense of it all.

      I understand how difficult it might be to realise you’re in or have been in an abusive relationship. Ihad 3 or four abusive relationships – what does that say about me huh?
      Oh my word, I really feel for you my lovely, having a father do that to you! I think if my mum had stayed with my dad, he’d have been like your dad. Instead, I’ve got a wonderful stepdad 🙂

      Your Dad appears to have put you through sheer hell and I can’t begin to understand how that must feel 🙁 but I can feel the strength in your words and know you’ll go on to do bigger and better things for yourself. Everything you deserve.
      And you won’t give in, you’ve started to talk about it, outside the environment where it was happening. You have our lovely blogging community who accept everyone for who they are now and you’ll always find support in our little blogosphere – I’m here for you 🙂

  4. You know what’s the cherry on the pie? When you’ve (me) been gaslighted trough childhood but certainly during the teenage and formative years and you end up being diagnosed with mental illness. Emotional abuse and neglect are hard to deal with. For me the things that stood out in your post are: stop, get out and talk to someone outside the situation. The most important is to see that it is not your fault and it’s not a result of your wrongdoing and that you can’t make it right. I tried to do that but it didn’t work out.

    1. It’s horrible to read what you went through Kacha, truly. It’s incredible, the amount of damage caused by some parents and of course, it’s difficult for youngsters to understand. Our brains haven’t even fully deveoped yet and we’re already subjected to the abuse!.
      It’s also difficult to understand that it’s not your fault – if you’re being punished, then surely you think it’s your fault!. Yes, we all might make it out, but the damage is still done 🙁 xx

      1. Still we carry on, don’t we? I’m so glad I found this supportive community. Being able to share my story in little pieces (still difficult though) makes it easier in a way? It makes me happy that there a kind people and I feel heard 🙂 Thank you for being such a good friend! 🤗🤍

  5. It’s very important to know these signs because emotional abuse is often ignored despite being just as damaging. I watched someone go through an emotionally but not physically abusive relationship recently, and I didn’t even know how far things went until after that person managed to break away. There were so many mind tricks this guy played on her that encouraged her to keep things hidden away.

  6. Emotional abuse can be so subtle… Even something as innocent-sounding as compliments can be used to hook and manipulate you.
    I’ve been on the receiving end where the other person would praise me excessively, and then suddenly withdraw or ignore… Rinse and repeat. There was gaslighting and so forth as well, and it can really make you feel extremely confused and be so damaging to your mental health. It took me a very long time after the relationship was over to realize that it wasn’t all my fault. I guess that is what is so hard…the needless self-blame and self-doubt.

    1. Of course, it’s all quite subtle initially. The snide comments etc. But if someone gets away with that, they’ll go one step further – and so on. That’s awful what you went through – rinse and repeat made me laugh – if you know what I mean lol. Caz xx

  7. This is such a great and informative post. I feel like some people may not even realise that they are being abused since abusers are so great at manipulation and can be very subtle about their abuse.

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