10 subtle signs you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship

by Tina Fey | February 13, 2024, 1:37 pm

Relationships are a complex web of emotions, interactions and shared experiences. They are meant to enrich our lives, offering growth, companionship and love.

But what happens when everything goes wrong, leaving you feeling unseen, unheard, and unloved?

That’s why it’s important to understand whether or not you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship, even if it can be a daunting task.

The signals can be subtle, masked behind a veil of ‘normal’ arguments or hidden under the guise of care and concern.

Yet these harmful patterns can erode your self-worth over time, leaving you questioning your own reality.

So if you want some insight about the possible signs that you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship, read more below.

Remember — you are not alone in this.

1) Your partner frequently belittles you

A healthy relationship should feel like a sanctuary, a place where you are cherished and celebrated for who you are.

However, if you frequently find yourself on the receiving end of belittling comments from your partner, this could be a subtle sign of emotional abuse.

Belittling can take many forms, from direct insults and derogatory remarks to more subtle jabs about your abilities, appearance or intelligence.

This tactic is often designed to make you feel small, insignificant or inferior. It’s a slow poison that chips away at your self-esteem, leaving you questioning your worth and abilities.

If your partner consistently belittles you, it may be time to consider whether this relationship is truly serving your emotional wellbeing.

2) They control and dictate your life

One of the most insidious signs of an emotionally abusive relationship is when your partner starts to control and dictate your life.

This could manifest in many ways, from telling you what to wear, who to see, where to go, even what to think or feel.

This type of control is often masked as concern or love.

Your partner may convince you that they are only looking out for your best interests, making it difficult for you to recognize it for what it really is – a form of emotional manipulation.

In a healthy relationship, both partners should have the freedom to make their own choices, express their opinions and live their lives as they see fit.

If your partner can’t do that, you’re probably in an emotionally abusive relationship.

3) They constantly invalidate your feelings

This was a hard one for me to recognize in my own past relationship.

I remember countless times when I would express my feelings, only to be met with dismissive comments like “you’re being too sensitive” or “you’re overreacting”.

Sometimes, my partner would even laugh off my concerns, making me feel foolish for even bringing them up.

This constant invalidation of my feelings left me feeling confused and doubting myself.

I started questioning the validity of my own emotions, wondering if I was indeed being ‘too sensitive’ or ‘overreacting’.

It felt like I was walking on eggshells, afraid to express any emotion for fear of being ridiculed or dismissed.

What I ultimately realized is that in a healthy relationship, your feelings should be acknowledged and respected, not invalidated or dismissed.

Your partner should be your safe haven, someone who listens to you and validates your emotions, not someone who makes you doubt your own feelings. 

4) They use “Gaslighting” to confuse you

Gaslighting is a psychological manipulation technique where the abuser causes the victim to question their own perception of reality.

Named after the 1944 film “Gaslight” in which a husband manipulates his wife into believing she’s going insane, gaslighting is a common tool in the arsenal of emotional abusers.

In a relationship, this could mean your partner denying things they’ve said or done, twisting facts and situations to their advantage, or even accusing you of making things up.

Over time, this can lead you to doubt your own memory, perception, and sanity.

If you find yourself frequently questioning your own recollection of events or feeling constantly confused and off-balance in your relationship, you might be experiencing gaslighting.

It’s important to trust your own instincts and seek support if you suspect this is happening to you.

5) They are extremely jealous and possessive

I recall a time in my past when I was in a relationship with someone who was excessively jealous.

At first, I mistook his possessiveness for love and concern. He would question me about who I was talking to, get upset if I spent time with friends, and constantly checked my phone and social media.

As time went on, his jealousy escalated.

He started accusing me of being unfaithful without any basis. The constant accusations and his inability to trust me became suffocating.

What made matters worse was that he blamed his jealousy on his love for me, making it difficult for me to identify it as a form of emotional abuse.

It took some time, but eventually, I realized that this wasn’t love. It was control disguised as love.

In a healthy relationship, trust is paramount. If your partner is excessively jealous or possessive, it’s a red flag of emotional abuse. 

6) They frequently threaten you

Threats, whether overt or covert, are a significant red flag in any relationship.

Your partner might threaten to leave you, to harm themselves, or even use subtle hints about damaging your reputation or relationships.

These threats are manipulative tactics designed to instill fear and maintain control over you.

Look, fear should never be a tool in a loving relationship. If your partner resorts to threats, it’s a clear sign of emotional abuse.

7) You feel trapped

Feeling trapped is a common sentiment among those who are in emotionally abusive relationships.

You might feel like there’s no way out of the situation, that you’re stuck in a cycle of abuse with no end in sight.

You may start believing that you don’t deserve better or that you won’t be able to survive without your partner.

These feelings stem from the power dynamics and manipulation tactics used by your abuser.

Everyone deserves freedom and respect in their relationships. It’s crucial to reach out to supportive friends, family members, or professionals who can help if you feel trapped where you are.

8) They blame you for their actions

An emotionally abusive partner also often refuses to take responsibility for their actions, instead blaming you for their wrongdoings.

They might say things like “you made me do this” or “if only you hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have reacted this way”.

They do this to deflect responsibility and make you feel guilty for their abusive behavior.

Remember, we are only responsible for our own actions; you are not to blame for someone else’s abusive behavior.

9) Your self-esteem has plummeted

If you’ve noticed a significant decline in your self-esteem since entering the relationship, it could be due to emotional abuse.

Abusers often attack their partner’s self-worth to make them feel powerless and dependent, which is why low self-esteem makes it harder for you to stand up for yourself or leave the abusive situation.

Recognizing this can be an important step towards rebuilding your self-confidence and reclaiming your life.

10) You feel like you’re constantly walking on eggshells

Living in constant fear of upsetting your partner, feeling like you have to constantly monitor your behavior to avoid conflict, is another sign of emotional abuse.

This state of perpetual tension is exhausting and can have a serious impact on your mental health.

If you find yourself constantly walking on eggshells around your partner, it’s time to take a hard look at your relationship.

Ultimately, a loving relationship should bring peace and happiness, not constant anxiety and fear.

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