“It is not the bruises on the body that hurt. It is the wounds of the heart and the scars on the mind.” ~Aisha Mirza
Emotional abuse, which may also be referred to as psychological abuse, is a pervasive and painful form of abuse that is often overlooked by even the victim. As difficult as it can be to detect, it can affect literally every part of a person’s life and can lead to other psychological and physical health issues.
While you might not see physical scars on a victim of emotional abuse, there are lifelong psychological scars that never go away. However, you can heal from emotional abuse if you do so intentionally, and there are a number of ways you can get help if you’re dealing with emotional abuse.
“There are far too many silent sufferers. Not because they don’t yearn to reach out, but because they’ve tried and found no one who cares.” ~Richelle E. Goodrich
What is Emotional Abuse?
Emotional abuse is a form of abuse in which a toxic person subjects or exposes you to repeated behavior that often results in long-term psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder).
Emotional abuse is underestimated by most people, even sometimes its victims. However, it can cause mental and physical health issues that last a lifetime. Emotional abuse is used to control victims and can be inflicted in a variety of ways. Due to its pervasive nature, emotional abuse can be difficult to detect. The abuser’s goal is to slowly wear down the victim’s self-esteem in order to cause the victim to depend on them. This causes the victim to be vulnerable to being abused and controlled. It leads to the victim feeling like they’ll have nothing without the abuser, or they may simply feel trapped and unable to get away from the abuser.
This leads the abuser to develop a sort of power over the victim that leads to the victim developing a sort of “learned helplessness.” This might mean the victim is afraid to make some (or all) decisions without checking in with the abuser, or it could mean that they feel unable to do certain things themselves due to restrictions imposed on them by the abuser. For example, a victim might not go to the grocery store without getting a list or a budget from the abuser first, even if they run out of something important, for fear that the abuser will verbally attack them for doing so.
What are the signs of emotional abuse?
- Read: How to Recognize Signs of Emotional Abuse
- Read: 44 Warning Signs You’re Being Emotionally Abused
- Related: Top 10 Warning Signs You’re Being Gaslighted
You might need support for healing from emotional abuse if you can identify with some or all of the following signs of emotional abuse.
- They accuse you of being jealous all the time.
- They accuse you of cheating
- They are possessive of your time and get angry when you’re not available at the exact moment they want you.
- They cheat on you and then say it’s your fault they did it.
- They control you with sex, by either withholding/denying or coercing you into doing things you aren’t really comfortable doing, and/or by forcing or pressuring you to have sex when you don’t want to
- They control your social life, who your friends are and who you spend tie with and/or what you do
- They cut you down by saying things like you’re worthless or that you can never do anything right
- They destroy your stuff
- They do things and say things that make you cry or feel extreme anxiety
- They give you the silent treatment
- They have a certain look that scares you
- They insult you and/or call you names
- They isolate you and keep you from spending time with friends and/or other family members
- They make you feel like you’re not allowed to leave your home alone, or at all.
- They may threaten you with weapons.
- They may verbally threaten to hurt you or your kids.
- They might be jealous of your friendships or even relationships with your kids or other family members.
- They might break stuff when they’re angry at you without regard for who it belongs to (and sometimes, it’s your stuff).
- They might make all of your decisions for you and/or make you feel incapable of making a decision on your own
- They might prevent you from going to work or school
- They might try to make you drink alcohol or do drugs when you don’t want to.
- They minimize any accomplishments you have, or they take credit for them
- They monitor your location and need to know where you are every minute of every day.
- They say you’re a bad parent and/or threaten to take your kids away from you if you don’t do what they want or behave how they require you to behave.
- They seem to intentionally do things to incite jealousy in you.
- They tear you down emotionally and seem to want you to feel bad about yourself
- They tell you that you’re lucky to have them and that you’ll be alone and/or that no one else will ever love you if they leave you. And then threaten to do exactly that – directly or indirectly.
- They tell you what to wear or how to look, or attempt to control your appearance in some way
- They threaten (or actually) hurt your pets
- They threaten you with violence, either directly or by implying it
- They use gaslighting to manipulate you and control you
- They will humiliate you in some way (publicly or otherwise)
- They will take your money and/or refuse to give you money for things you need, like groceries and personal care items. They are controlling all of the household money.
- They withhold affection and/or give you the silent treatment as punishment for breaking (often unspoken) rules.
How do you get help with healing from emotional abuse?
- Read: 10 Things You Need to Know About Healing from Emotional Abuse
- Get peer support with one of our free online support groups
- Sign up for a coaching session
- Get a therapist who is qualified to help you
What are the steps you need to take to heal from emotional abuse?
The stages of healing from emotional abuse are as simple as they are overwhelming. You need to understand how to identify toxic people, and what abuse looks like. Plus, you need to work on building your self-confidence and release your codependence on the abuser. There are three primary stages in recovery. And don’t forget self-care.
- Read: How to Heal From a Toxic Relationship
- Read our full guide on the stages of healing from an emotionally abusive relationship.
- Read: My Most Magical Healing Tips for Recovering from an Emotional Abuser
How do you help someone you love who is being emotionally abused?
What if it isn’t YOU? Are you worried that someone you care about might be dealing with physical or emotional abuse at home? What can you do to help them, and how do you know for sure if they’re being abused? Read More: How do you help someone in an abusive relationship?
More Resources for Victims of Emotional Abuse
Visit the QueenBeeing Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Resources & Support Page
If you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship, you might want to read one of these books.
- Take Back Your Power: How to End People Pleasing, Stop Letting Life Happen to You and Start Getting What You Want
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.