By Dr. Divya Babbar

“Are you sure you want to wear that? You look kind of big in it and not that attractive.”

“You think you’re so smart, but you would be nothing without me. You should feel lucky that I even give you the time of day. Everybody told me that I shouldn’t pay attention to you, but I still do.”

“I’m not the problem. You’re just always whining and so needy. If you weren’t so emotional, we wouldn’t have this many arguments.” 

“Why do you chew like that? It’s gross.”

 “I just can’t believe you’re bringing this up right now. You know how stressed I’ve been at work. I can’t deal with this shit on top of that. Can’t you be more considerate?”

“I never said that. I think this is just coming from your insecurities. You should talk about those insecurities with your therapist instead of complaining about me to them.”

Do any of those quotes sound familiar? If so, you or someone you know may be dealing with emotional abuse.

What is emotional abuse?

When people think of abuse in relationships, physical and sexual abuse are what readily come to mind. This might be because emotional abuse can be sneakier and, therefore, less easy to identify. That is why we are here today – to expose the subtle ways that emotional abuse can show up in relationships with our colleagues, friends, partners, and parents.

Emotional abuse is characterized by any set of non-physical behaviors that results in a pattern of mistreatment of another person. These behaviors are often used by the abuser to control and manipulate the person being abused. Simultaneously, being on the receiving end of this abuse chips away at the abused individual’s self-worth, self-esteem, and self-confidence – all of which can be incredibly damaging to mental health.

How to recognize emotional abuse in relationships:

 As emotional abuse is not always obvious and can take various forms, it is important to examine how behaviors make you feel within a relationship. Here are some examples of what emotional abuse in a relationship can look like:

  • Criticism

Some forms of criticism from others can be healthy and reasonable in relationships. For instance, constructive criticism from others often helps us with self-growth. Alternatively, abusive criticism leads to feelings of worthlessness. If you are experiencing criticism that is exceedingly harsh and out of proportion to the situation, this is a sign of emotional abuse.

  • Gaslighting

Have you ever left an interaction feeling confused and distrusting your perspective? You have probably just experienced gaslighting – a form of abuse that makes you question your reality and even your sanity, at times. Gaslighting can look like someone denying events that took place, someone questioning your legitimacy, someone pretending not to know what you are referring to, or someone discrediting your feelings by claiming that you are “emotionally unstable.”

  • Invalidating Emotions

None of us are perfect when it comes to validating each other’s feelings in our relationships. Having said that, when our feelings are repeatedly dismissed and minimized instead of being acknowledged – we may be on the receiving end of abuse. Often, this looks like the aggrieved individual being called overly sensitive or needy when they bring up concerns.

  • Blaming

Take note of how someone reacts when being told that they have done something to hurt you. Do they take responsibility for their behavior by apologizing and taking action to change their behavior/minimize the harm their actions caused? Or do they blame you for your feelings of hurt and deflect responsibility? Emotional abusers often fall into the latter category and turn the blame back onto you. They might even distract from your feelings by accusing you of bringing harm to them just by disclosing your feelings.

  • Withdrawing Affection

Do you hold back from bringing up concerns or your feelings in a relationship for fear of retaliation? If so, this is another indication that you are facing emotional abuser. Emotional abusers withdraw affection by giving you the silent treatment, yelling at you, and neglecting your needs when you have done something that they are displeased with.

Each experience of emotional abuse is unique and acutely painful, but there are signs to look for. It is important to look for help and support. Working with a therapist at Georgetown Psychology to overcome emotional abuse can be a transformative and healing experience. Clients are met with empathy, understanding, and professional expertise in this supportive environment. Our therapists specialize in addressing the complex layers of emotional abuse, using evidence-based approaches tailored to each individual’s unique experiences and needs. Through this therapeutic journey, clients learn to recognize and understand the impact of emotional abuse, develop coping strategies to manage its effects and rebuild their sense of self-worth and confidence. The goal is to empower clients, providing them with tools and insights to foster resilience and pave the way for a healthier, more positive future.