Mental Health


Mandy Kloppers

Examples of emotional abuse in relationships

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Emotional abuse isn’t physical abuse but it is a form of abuse against a person’s spirit and soul. Emotional abuse is far more subtle than physical abuse and causes added anxiety for the victim as there is room for self-doubt. There are many examples of emotional abuse that you won’t find written in a typical article on emotional abuse. The usual examples of emotional abuse are behaviours such as name-calling, criticism, gaslighting, isolating you from friends and family, spying on you, controlling, jealous, and monitoring your mobile phone.

The types of emotional abuse that appear in a relationship can be as varied as relationships themselves. The common feeling for the victim though is a feeling of not being worthy, not feeling a priority, and feeling undermined.

I have put together a list of the more subtle examples of emotional abuse:

Indifference and invalidation

Indifference and invalidation are two of the worst ways to cause damage to a person’s being. An emotional abuser will ignore you, won’t consider your feelings, or take you into consideration when making decisions in the relationship. They don’t think about your happiness and they make you feel worthless without saying a word.

Subtle remarks about your behaviour

This is an example of verbal abuse but it is also emotional abuse. Remarks that tear you down and make you feel bad about yourself. It might be that they compliment others but never send a compliment your way. It could also be that they say something like “Why did you do that?” It’s meant to destabilise you and lead you to question yourself.

Dismissing your opinion

This is another form of invalidation and sends you a message that your opinion doesn’t count. As if they know better. This subtle rejection is an example of emotional abuse. You don’t count, and I am not going to validate you by listening to your opinion.

Making you feel you aren’t a priority

Making plans without consulting you or engaging in exactly what they want to do irrespective of what you would like is another example of emotional abuse. That slow chipping away at your sense of self can lead to a drop in confidence and a reduced sense of self-esteem.


Turning their behaviour into something that you have done to provoke that reaction. Deflection leaves the victim feeling everything is their fault. They are never able to address the upsetting behaviour and this avoidance of ownership by the person who is being emotionally abusive can lead to anxiety and depression and eventual withdrawal.

Lack of empathy

At times, a lack of empathy isn’t definitely emotional abuse. Some individuals naturally struggle with empathy (people on the spectrum for example) and are unable to feel empathy. They find it difficult to put themselves in other people’s shoes. A lack of emotional intelligence does not mean they are emotionally abusive. The problem with emotional abuse is that there are many gray areas and therein lies the problem. The litmus test is deciding whether the intention is to hurt or control.

Blaming and shaming

Blaming someone for the awful dinner they have cooked when they have made a real effort or saying something like, “Aaah can’t you do anything right?” is an example of emotional abuse. it’s meant to make you feel ashamed or humiliated.

Not respecting you as your own person and wanting you to do things their way

When you aren’t considered and your partner has unrealistic expectations, it will leave you feeling less than and alone. Over time you will feel less happy and doubt yourself. A healthy relationship should support and encourage you, not wear you down over time.


There are so many forms of control. Overt control and subtle control. The obvious forms – you can’t do that. I won’t allow it. Wear this, don’t eat that. No TV allowed etc Subtle control: “You don’t want to do that, do you?” This is a leading question subtly telling what they want you to do.

Some emotional abusers are clever and know that being too obvious in their control won’t be accepted, so they will do it in other ways. They want to be liked so they will engage in clever behaviours to get the result they want while simultaneously appearing to keep their hands clean. They will guilt trip you into doing what they want. Emotional blackmail is a good example of emotional abuse.

Hypocritical behaviour- they can do it but you can’t

They can flirt, you can’t. They can be selfish and do things without you but don’t you dare do that. They will throw in your face all they have done for you but never say a word about what you have done for them. They won’t let you forget a past transgression but you had better not bring up any of theirs.

They take little interest in your life

They will expect you to be interested in everything they do but they probably won’t show you the same courtesy.

They will take their frustrations out on you

Emotional punching bag comes to mind. Anger is a normal emotion but when it is aimed at someone else so that the angry person can feel better – it’s not okay.

Angry rages

Yelling and throwing things, even if not aimed at you is another example of emotional abuse. it is designed to intimidate and remind you who is in charge.

It is not up to the victim to have clearer boundaries, it is up to the emotional abuser to stop their abusive behaviour.

It’s important to remember that no one is perfect and that we all make mistakes and might inadvertently cause emotional upset. It’s when the behaviour becomes a pattern over time that it is more likely to be a definite example of emotional abuse.

Trust your instincts and ask yourself whether you feel equal in the relationship. Do you feel loved, listened to, and valued? If you feel put down, belittled, unheard and disregarded, you may need to take a closer look. If you are still unsure, find a counsellor that specialises in emotional abuse to help you.

Mandy X