Emotionally Abusive Relationships

Are You In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship?


Emotional abuse is a pattern of behaviour by a perpetrator that slowly destroys the self confidence of the victim. It is a way of controlling, manipulating and dominating the victim.

Victims often feel embarrassed and are reluctant to reveal the true situation they are in to others.

Emotional abuse can happen in a romantic partner relationship, within your family or friend group or even at work.

It can be complicated to detect, which is partly why it is so effective.

Emotional abuse leaves you doubting yourself and even your own sanity. Yet it’s real, and importantly it’s extremely damaging. The impact of emotional abuse leaves invisible wounds that eat away at your self esteem, sense of safety, efficacy and happiness.

Examples of Emotionally Abusive Relationships

I frequently see victims of emotional abuse in my private practice.

No one deliberately chooses to become involved in an emotionally abusive relationship, but it's surprising how easy it is to get hooked into one.

Today, I’ll explore the signs of emotional abuse, the symptoms you might be feeling, and the steps you can take to protect yourself and heal from emotional abuse.

The following story is an amalgamation of several real life experiences that are commonly experienced by victims of emotional abuse by a romantic partner.

Although the example below, depicts a hetero romantic relationship, and in this case a woman is the victim, it is important to know that any gender can and are victims of emotional abuse, and any gender can be the perpetuator of emotional abuse in a relationship. And of course, emotional abuse can also occurs in LGBTQIA2S+ relationships.

Suzanne & Justin

Suzanne met Justin at a professional conference in Toronto.

"It was like we connected immediately the moment we met” says Suzanne.

“It felt almost magical, the chemistry and the way we just seemed to click. I couldn’t believe I had finally met a great guy. After dating so many men that were not into serious relationships , didn’t have a job, or were already taken. Justin seemed like a miracle, a fairy tale , the dream come true.”

"I feel weird saying this now. I’m a serious professional career woman but something about him just hooked me “

Yes, they clicked and almost immediately began a serious relationship. He was older and had an air of confidence about him. He was polite, talked about how much he valued relationships, how much he wanted to find the right woman and settle down.

He shared his feelings, seemed to have this amazing mix of vulnerability and charisma.

Suzanne was hooked!

It wasn’t long and they moved in together. It just made sense. He was the first one to say “I love you”.

He was successful, kind, romantic and full of compliments. Suzanne felt like she had finally met her soul mate.

Looking back now Suzanne speculates that the whole experience was “love-bombing”.

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But back then she just thought he was a great guy who cared about her.

"To be completely honest, she says, there’s a part of me that still long for those days and wonders how I messed up and if I could get that same feeling back, if only I could do something”


Then everything changed

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It started with him distancing, seeming distracted, then harsh criticism. Suzanne put that down to the end of the “honeymoon phase”, something surely all couples go through.

She thought it must be her fault. She tried to be understanding and supportive of Justin, practiced empathy and compromise. Things would improve for awhile and then explode into something else.

He insisted on knowing where she was at all times and would grill her about who she talked to and where she had been. He wanted to see all the text messages on her phone, and demanded she delete any male contacts.

He expressed dislike for her friends and family. When she insisted on seeing them, he told her to go without him and complained she was “choosing them over him”.

Then there was the time when he organized an elaborate romantic dinner on the same day she was being honoured at an awards dinner to receive an achievement award at a workplace professional ceremony.

He claimed he forgot about it, then he blamed her and shamed her for “not telling him about the event” (not true), “you never communicate with me, you never told me that” and then “well I guess that shows me where I stand – you choosing work once again over our special couple time”

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Suzanne was hurt, devastated. Is this gaslighting? she wondered.

She knew she had told him, there were the event tickets on the fridge, she had the text messages she had sent to him proudly proclaiming that she was going to be honoured at this event.

She felt angry, hurt, betrayed and confused, and torn. Of course her work was important to her but relationships are the most important thing in our lives , right?

Looking back Suzanne remembers that Justin had minimized her good news text with “haha is that like a fast food Employee of the Month lol”

Now she wonders – “was he actually trying to belittle me and even sabotage my career? It just seems so unbelievable and so different from the Justin I first met and the Justin I thought knew.”

“I just thought it was my fault and kept trying to rescue the relationship – to get it back to where it was in the beginning , to get the magic back.”

But soon it seemed like everything she did was wrong.

Justin was mean spirited, cruel and disrespectful towards Suzanne, on a regular basis. She began to feel insecure, unconfident and tried her best to please him. But any pleasing was short lived.

Her emotions were all over the place. She never knew when he would lash out with a mean comment or explode in a tirade.

The story of Suzanne and Justin is an example of emotional abuse in a romantic partnership.

But emotional abuse can occur in all types of relationships, including with friends, in the family and at work.

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Signs of Emotional Abuse

Emotionally abusive relationships don’t usually start out that way, they often start out great.

This can make an emotionally abusive relationship even harder to recognize.

The victim will often blame themselves, long for the days when the relationship was so fantastic and strive to change themselves to get back the good times.

How to Know if You are Experiencing Emotional Abuse

1. You Are Disrespected, Criticized, Belittled ( and Blamed)

Emotional abusers disrespect, criticize and belittle. They make mean comments about your character, the way you look, dress, your intelligence, and abilities.

They may indirectly belittle you by making a point of excessively praising others, but saying nothing about you. They may criticize your age, your job, your family and your interests.

It usually starts out subtly and easily deniable and smoothly justified.

It gets worse as time goes by and as you accept and tolerate. This gradually erodes your self-esteem and confidence. Where you were once the receiver of over-the-top compliments from them, you now seem to have developed serious flaws.

If you object or try to set a boundary they may claim it was “just a joke” and you ae “being too sensitive” or complain how they need to be so careful around you.

Example: "Some days I wonder if you weren’t really born in a barn – you are so unsophisticated."

Example: “John is so hot and he makes so much money too. Much more than you make, that's for sure! Must be nice to be married to someone like him!”

Example: “I can’t believe they actually let you graduate from Engineering school! You are an idiot"

Example: “I don’t’ want my friends to know that we hang out together. It would be too embarrassing. Let’s just keep it a secret.”

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To be continued....... more signs that indicate you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship......