Am I emotionally abusive?

Recognising that your behaviour may be emotionally abusive can be tough. Emotional abusers may not be actively aware that they are being abusive, however, it is possible to pick up habits, fall into negative patterns, or to even be influenced by the relationships and behaviours we have seen around us that may not be healthy. But how do you recognise these behaviours? And what can you do to change if you are emotionally abusive?

What is emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse can happen in any type of relationship. This includes with someone you are dating or married to, with a family member, or even a colleague.

If you find yourself using emotions to embarrass, blame, guilt, criticise, shame, or otherwise manipulate someone to try and feel in control, these can all be types of emotional abuse. If you find yourself name-calling, withholding affection, trying to get your partner to spend all of their time with you, or have difficulty accepting that you may have differing opinions on some things, these can all be signs of emotional abuse.

These kinds of behaviours can make others feel uncomfortable, anxious, upset, or scared. Over time, it can lead to them second-guessing themselves, lower self-esteem, and developing poor mental health. Making people feel this way is not OK.

Signs you might be emotionally abusive

Signs of emotional abuse can be tough to recognise as they leave no physical marks. However, there are certain behaviours you can look out for in yourself and your partner. These can include:

You have trouble accepting that there are two sides to an argument

Apologising or recognising that you may have been wrong or have overreacted can be tough, but in healthy relationships, couples apologise and look at ways to improve and move forward together. If you struggle to accept your role or contribution in an argument, it can be a warning sign.

Your partner becomes a people pleaser

If their behaviour has changed, it could be worth considering why they are now acting this way, and if there is anything in your relationship that may be contributing to this. Some people who have experienced emotional abuse may try to please others in an attempt to feel more secure, as their self-esteem may have been impacted. 

You use ‘silent treatment’ frequently

Trying to control others and get your own way doesn’t just mean screaming, shouting, or saying cruel or hurtful things. Refusing to talk about what has upset you and keeping your partner in suspense of what will happen can be ways of controlling others.

Taking a step back and returning to the conversation can be a good way to avoid heated arguments or saying things you may regret, but if you are shutting down the conversation or refusing to discuss things, these can be warning signs. 

You minimise or ignore ongoing issues

It can be tempting to downplay things when they are going wrong, but repeatedly brushing them off, refusing to face them, or denying that anything is wrong can create a sense of frustration, may leave your partner feeling unable to speak with you, or could border on gaslighting behaviour. 

You put them down, instead of helping build them up

Making someone else feel or look bad to put yourself in a better light, or to make yourself feel better is never OK. This can be a sign that you have self-esteem issues. 

Finding help and support

Part of being in a healthy partnership is supporting and contributing towards each other’s well-being. This could be by offering help and supportive words through new projects or hobbies, career moves, or acknowledging each other’s skills or successes. Being kind, rather than looking good, as well as listening and behaving in a way that shows love and care are all key ways of helping to build up self-esteem. 

If you are worried about your relationship, or are concerned that you may need help and support learning new ways to cope with stress, anger, anxiety, or unhealthy behaviours, working with a counsellor or therapist could help.

It’s important that you want to genuinely change and develop healthier methods of coping with how you feel, and communicating with others. Accepting your past actions and how they affect others, identifying negative patterns, attitudes and behaviours, and recognising that abuse is a choice are important steps towards finding help and making positive, lasting changes.

Ready to make a change? To find the right counsellor or therapist for you, use our advanced search to connect with experienced, qualified experts in person, online, or by telephone.

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Written by Bonnie Evie Gifford
Bonnie Evie Gifford is a Senior Writer at Happiful.
Written by Bonnie Evie Gifford
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