Your boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse may not attack you physically, but that doesn’t mean you are never at risk for an abusive relationship. Emotional abuse, also known as psychological abuse, often lurks below the surface of a relationship. It is just as harmful and serious as physical abuse. Because of this, it is important to know the signs of emotional abuse, to understand how it differs from anger, and to know where to get support when you need it.

Emotional Abuse: Anger vs. Control

Emotional abuse goes beyond anger, arguments, and yelling at your partner. While anger issues should certainly be addressed, it’s important to look for the distinctions between anger and abuse.

Anger is a natural emotion, rooted in hurt or injustice. Expressing anger is appropriate, as long as we don’t do it in a way that tears down people we love and treats them with deliberate cruelty.

Licensed Professional Counselor Andrea Matthews explains the difference:

“First, let’s talk about what emotional abuse is not. It is not emotionally abusive to break up with a partner. It is not emotionally abusive to argue with your partner. It is not emotionally abusive when someone reacts to what you have done with hurt. Emotional abuse is an attempt to control, in just the same way that physical abuse is an attempt to control another person. The only difference is that the emotional abuser does not use physical hitting, kicking, pinching, grabbing, pushing, or other physical forms of harm. Rather the perpetrator of emotional abuse uses emotion as his/her weapon.”

While we see many cases of emotional abuse in marriages and dating relationships, it can occur in any close relationship with a friend or family member, too. Often that closeness is what leads to a distorted need for control on the part of the abuser.

Examples of Emotional Abuse

In general, be on the lookout for overly suspicious or possessive behavior. Some of the most common examples are:

  • Manipulation: Your partner or family member who is emotionally abusive may withhold affection, attention, or care until or unless you do what they want.
  • Gaslighting: When you try to raise concerns or objections, they convince you that you’re crazy, that the problems you’re having or the emotions you’re feeling are “all in your head”.
  • Over-Monitoring: You feel like they are right over your shoulder. They may try to read your emails, texts, or mail. They may ask you lots of questions about where you’re going and what you’re doing, even if it’s a familiar routine.
  • Accusations: If in a romantic relationship, your partner may seem to constantly think you are cheating on them, even if you are always together. In other relationships, an abuser may accuse you of being a terrible friend, son, daughter, etc. no matter how many efforts you take to make it right. There is a general lack of awareness on the part of the abuser, and they often refuse responsibility for their own behavior.
  • Verbal Abuse: Since it does not use physical harm, emotional abuse often goes hand in hand with cruel words and other verbally abusive behavior.

Some emotional abusers have the goal of wearing someone down over time so that it will be easier to get what they want. In the process, the abused person often develops severe depression and a very low sense of self-worth.

Get Help After Emotional Abuse

Your partner, friend, or family member may not realize they are being controlling, or they may be doing it deliberately out of an intense sense of jealousy. Either way, they are putting your emotional and mental health at risk, and you need to take action.

You are not to blame for the emotionally abusive behavior of your romantic partner, friend, or family member.

You are worthy of care. Reaching out for help is a crucial step when it comes to freeing yourself from an emotionally abusive relationship.

Emailing a mentor or live chatting with TheHopeLine is a confidential way to get help with healing from emotional abuse. We are here for you. Reach out to us today.

Want to learn more? Research our library of blogs, podcasts, ebooks and more with your questions about emotional abuse:

  • Can the person who emotionally abuses me ever change?
  • How do I leave an abusive relationship?
  • How do I rebuild my self-worth after being abused?

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