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13 Signs Of Emotional Abuse And What To Do

Emotional abuse

Do you regularly feel the need to do other’s bidding?

Do you feel afraid to stand up for yourself?

Do you experience any of these: negation, humiliation, shame, control, intimidation or harassment?

Do you have an inclination to hating yourself?

Emotional abuse takes a ‘subtle’ form and yet has a malignant and destructive effect on the victim. However, because there is no physical evidence as one from physical abuse, the victim is more likely to suffer in silence.

Questions people ask:

  • What is emotional abuse?
  • What are the signs and symptoms of emotional abuse?
  • What are the effects of emotional abuse?
  • What causes emotional abuse?
  • How do you deal with emotional abuse?

All these and many others will be covered in this article.

Definition of Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is any persistent or recurrent attack on a person’s sense of value, which leads to a fundamental distortions on their sense of self and life.

This is seen in manipulation, intimidation, bullying, humiliation, verbal abuse, gaslighting, criticism, shaming and blaming.

Emotional abuse is the ‘central nervous system’  from whence other forms of abuse spring and extend. It is often perpetrated under the auspices of culture and religion in various climes.

As I already mentioned, emotional abuse takes a very subtle form; yet has the capacity to destroy not just the life of the victim, but also the lives of the people around him or her.

What is the cause of emotional abuse

Emotional abuse and neglect are the same thing. It stems from childhood neglect when a child’s authentic feeling is diminished, rejected, ignored and dismissed.

This leads the child to learn helplessness and powerlessness over the adverse situation. However, it also creates anxiety in them which leads them to heavily dread rejection, deprivation, neglect or harm, as though it is targeted at them.

They thus learn to control other people as a way to ‘calm’ their own fear and make them feel in control. E.g. Bullying.

Emotional abuse occurs in a progressive style:

Negation, control and denial

Negation. An abuser begins with negating or dismissing your feeling, self-worth and identity.

Control. He or she then attempts to control your every decision, choices and the entirety of your being. Thereby, diminishing your personal voice.

Denial. Once that is done, they deny any form of responsibility and tell you it is your fault or that you are the one creating the problems. This creates dissonance in your memory and lead you to doubt your truth.

Denial can also come in the ‘subtle’ form of buying of gifts or telling you they were joking. Thereby, accusing you of not being able to take a joke. Eg “Loosen up, you take things too seriously.”

Sources and signs of emotional abuse

Emotional abuse manifests through various means.

It can manifest through parents, siblings, co-workers or anyone you can ever have any relationship with; be it in a formal or informal setting.

Emotional abuse from parents

Some parents who themselves have learnt the pattern of aggressive or passive aggressive form or communication are most likely to inflict emotional abuse on their children.

This occurs through shaming, gaslighting, intimidation or bullying, verbal abuse and criticism.

Emotional abuse in the family can come from mother, father or even siblings. It is often unrecognized  because of its confusion for the ‘authority’ parents’ duly exercise over their children or the seemingly unbreakable ‘bond’ that should exist between siblings.

In such cases, the children are most likely to confuse these behaviors for discipline or worse still, love. Also, because they live through this pattern all through their lives, they create their own family, and transfer the same pattern (behavior) to the generation after them.

Hence, emotional abuse becomes a cycle or a trans-generational affliction.

Emotional abuse by spouse

The pattern or behavior of emotional abuse can also come from a spouse (either husband or wife).

This manifests through the means of shaming and control.

The tools for shaming and control include:

Preying on a spouse’s past or weakness- They remind you of a wrong you did long ago and hang it around your head as long as possible. This is in order to create a control hierarchy that says, “I have you in my palm.”

Monitoring their whereabouts- This reveals the person’s insecurities. They always believe they are a target. Therefore, they set up a ‘spy team’ against you in order to keep you within their control or have something to use against you.

Controlling their spouse’s finance- This could mean stripping you of your finance and getting you to account for any money you spend. They do this solely to dominate you.

Undermining the spouse’s decision making capacity- They might treat you like a child.

Eg. They  tell you where to go or what time to return, select the friends you keep or prevent you from keeping any at all.

Ordering the spouse around- Respect seem to be lacking here. They order you around without any consideration of your own self worth or right to say no.

Telling them how to act- They practically dictate how you should behave or the choice of mood you should put up.

This is usually to satisfy their urge to ease their own anxiety.

How to identify emotional abuse

To identify emotional abuse, you need to look out for the recurrence of these signs in the abuser’s pattern of behavior.

The signs are probably obvious. However, when you are in such situations, you are most likely unable to identify them for what they are.

This is often because of the amount of manipulation that goes with it.

Emotional abuse is in the abuser’s attempt to:

  • Frighten or instill fear
  • Humiliate or harass
  • Shame

A person who is constantly shamed will overtime begin to view themselves as inadequate.

The abuser often uses this as a tool to make you feel inadequate by always belittling you.

  • Control

Tools for control would often include:

  • Debasement. The goal of control is to make you beneath the abuser. Therefore, to achieve that without hitches, they make you feel small so as not to stand up against them.
  • Gaslighting. Your abuser makes you believe you are remembering wrongly. He or she ensures that you question your own memory, even when you know that you are telling the truth.
  • Silent treatment. Your abuser knows how to get you through silent treatment.  This is a way to get you crawling back to them, in order for them to ‘repair’ their broken self and feed their broken ego.
  • Accusation and Denial

An abuser will likely hold you responsible for the wrong going on in his or her life (unless otherwise you are directly involved).

They lay guilt-trips even over things you are not responsible for.

They are never accountable for their own misdeeds. It always has to be the other person.

Even when they do accept responsibility, they trivialize it and make it seem like you are exaggerating or over-reacting.

The one who seeks control over another is powerless. The one who controls himself or herself is powerful and free.

Gabrielle Okoli

Effects of Emotional abuse

There effects of emotional abuse are damaging on both  long and short terms. It is a silent and destructive form of violence.

The effects include:

This is a common effect of emotional abuse. The victim overtime picks up different identities in order to gain acceptance in different situations.

  • Stunted or delayed emotional growth
  • Withdrawal from social settings
  • Desperately seeking affection or validation
  • Depression
  • Learned helplessness
  • Codependency. This is also a common effect of emotional abuse, where a person’s emotional and self-efficacy needs, are tied to the other and vice-versa. In other words, their needs are met in accordance with the will or reaction of another person.

How to deal with emotional abuse

Call out the abuser. Identifying signs of emotional abuse helps you to recognize when it is happening. Once you do, you can call out the abuser right in the middle of it. This will stop them right dead in their tracks and would let them know you are aware of their manipulations.

Use assertive communication. Practice communicating clearly what you want each time an offence is committed against you. Trust your instinct. It is often more right than you think.

Negate their manipulations. Create boundaries for your mental and emotional well-being. This will help you understand when you are being violated or controlled.  It also helps you understand that you do not have to engage with your abuser.

Leave the source of influence. It is always best to leave the source of influence (this can be family, friends or even work-colleague) in order to cut off the influence and focus on working to heal from the damage you already live with.

The longer you try to show sympathy, the more damage they inflict on your sense of worth and dignity, which totally affects the quality of your life.

Be patient with yourself. It is perfectly natural to want normalcy or healing right here and now. However, you must understand that healing takes work and time.

Therefore, be patient and kind to yourself. As long as you are taking the necessary steps, you will surely heal.

The journey of recovery from emotional damage is often a tough one. However, you must begin first.

Do you know that you can be matured in age and stunted in your emotions? This is evident when you always feel small and seek external sources (human being inclusive) to ‘elevate’ yourself.


The most dangerous setting for emotional abuse is the family because you get to spend most of your time with them.

However, it is your responsibility to take charge of your life.

No one is ever responsible for the emotional abuse meted out to him or her, or any type of abuse in reference.

Abusers will always find a way to blame their victim either because they want a way out or desire to continue to exert dominance over their victim. Once you see these signs, speak to a trusted person outside your primary setting.

You can also contact a therapist.

You need to understand that you are neither responsible for their behavior towards you nor what happened to them; no matter how they seek to manipulate you.

It is their responsibility to seek help for themselves.

Lastly, it is worthy of note that emotional abuse moves through generations.

If you are an abuser and you find yourself in any of the above, seek help.

Can you let the pain stop with you?

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