Abuse can take many forms, including physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional. Emotional abuse is defined as a pattern of behavior that exhorts control and manipulation without the use of physical force, according to the American Psychological Association. Unfortunately, emotional abuse can be subtle. You may not realize you are being manipulated or that someone is demeaning you. Knowing the signs of emotional abuse can help you identify the pattern of behavior and seek help.

Common signs of emotional abuse

As you read through the following list of signs, you may be surprised that some of these are not overt. For example, receiving the silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse. The silent treatment is a tactic to make you feel bad or ashamed for a behavior or to make you more attentive toward the abuser to get them to talk to you. The abuser is not saying anything mean to you but exerting control, nonetheless.

If you recognize any of the signs below, contact our office at Westlake Christian Counseling to speak to a counselor.

The silent treatment

Although words can sting and affect others years into the future, the silent treatment, not speaking to someone to make them feel bad, is a common emotional abuse tactic. It gives the abuser power and control over the other person by making them feel guilty or ashamed, begging for attention or affection.


The humiliation tactic occurs publicly or privately. The abuser may say mean things about your appearance or intelligence in front of others to make you doubt yourself or rob you of confidence. You may experience this in private so as to lower your self-esteem before leaving the house, making you less likely to socialize with others.

Name calling

Name-calling is a more overt emotional abuse tactic. The abuser calls you demeaning names, which eventually breaks down your confidence and self-esteem. Even after you have left the toxic relationship, the words may still echo in your mind and lead to body image issues, anxiety, and depression.


Emotional abusers can hurl accusations at their victims, charging them with infidelity or neglect. This makes the victim hyperaware of their actions. For example, a woman whose husband accuses her of cheating may be afraid to answer the phone to unknown numbers or arrive home late from work. She will go out of her way to put the abuser’s mind at ease. This behavior gives the abuser a sense of control.


Neglect can show in the form of physical or emotional neglect. Physical neglect can include not providing for your basic needs like food, running water, or heat in the winter. Emotional neglect can include using the silent treatment, or the person distancing themselves from you, not wanting to engage in communication. Abandonment is another way that the abuser breaks down the person they are abusing.

The monitor.

Often, monitoring and accusations go hand in hand. The abuser may give themselves full access to your phone or social media. They may insist that you allow them to scroll through your contacts and messages. They may listen to your phone calls and tag along when you meet with friends or take a work trip. Many times, the abuser does not want their victim to do the same to them and react when pressed, telling people that the victim is “crazy.”

Loss of identity

When you experience emotional abuse, especially over a period of time, you may lose your sense of identity. You people-please and stop doing the activities that bring you fulfillment. You may start doing what the abuser wants, and they may make comments about the hobbies and interests that you enjoy. After you break from the relationship, you may feel lost until you rediscover those activities again and resume your identity.


Victims of emotional abuse tend to withdraw from social situations. They may isolate themselves as they have lost their identity and confidence. They second guess themselves, their intelligence, or their appearance.

The words from the abuser are hard to move past and become entrenched in their own thoughts. These thoughts play often enough that they become a belief. Our beliefs drive our thoughts and behaviors. Counseling can help you identify the abuser’s words and untrue beliefs and replace them with truth and positive reinforcement.

Coping methods

If you or someone you love has experienced emotional abuse, contact our center today to schedule a call with a counselor. Your counselor will take an assessment and recommend a plan that might include effective coping techniques and new skills, such as setting boundaries. You can meet with your counselor face-to-face or virtually on a schedule that works for you.

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