Two subtlest forms of abuse in relationships are emotional abuse and mental abuse. Contrary to physical abuse, which is more easily seen and defined, signs of emotional abuse and mental abuse in marriage or relationships can be hard to recognize for both the victim and those around them.
Read on if you think you are suffering from mental and emotional abuse in your relationship but aren’t quite sure.
What is emotional abuse?
According to Healthdirect, emotional abuse definition is as follows:
Emotional abuse is a common form of abuse that occurs in close relationships. It is also known as psychological abuse and includes verbal abuse. Emotional abuse is about one person maintaining power or control over another person. It usually takes place between intimate partners or comes from a parent to a child. It can also happen in situations such as schools or workplaces.
Mental abuse definition in the general sense can be characterized as exposure to behavior that may cause psychological trauma, including severe anxiety, chronic depression, or PTSD. In relationships, emotional or mental abuse includes confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, and intimidation.
To understand more about how emotional abuse can affect you, watch this video.
50 signs of emotional and mental abuse
How to recognize emotional abuse?
If you think you are being emotionally, or mentally abused by your partner, here are 50 signs of an abusive relationship.
1. Your partner humiliates you every chance they get
Abusers tend to offend and insult their partners by making mean jokes and judging negatively.
Mental abuse signs include being talked down to, receiving back-handed compliments, and blurred lines between insults and compliments.
One of the signs of a mentally abusive relationship is that the abusive partner would also refuse to acknowledge your strengths and belittle your accomplishments.
They don’t care if it is done in private or in a group of people. They will do it in the hopes of crushing your self-esteem so that you are more dependent upon them.
It is also commonly seen that when called out for such behavior, they will claim it to be mere ‘jokes’ and tell you that you are simply too sensitive or don’t have a sense of humor.
2. They require constant check-ins and invade personal space
One of the most confusing traits about abusive partners is that they shut you down in person but want to keep a close check on you when you are away.
Verbal and mental abuse is often confused with care or jealousy driven by care. They are constantly texting you to know about your whereabouts or who you are with and tend to get upset when you don’t answer.
When you are mentally abused, the abusive partner wants constant updates and tries to limit who you hang out with or where you go.
Such people even keep an eye on what you do on your phone or computer, never leaving any hint of privacy in your life. They may be triggered by seeing you talk to others, particularly the opposite sex, and make you feel guilty for doing something as simple as interacting with others.
3. You are always in a state of guilt, doubt, or anxiety
This is one of the most significant signs of mental abuse.
If going through emotional abuse, you will eventually begin to be always in a state of anxiety, discomfort, and afraid of doing anything that may offend, upset, or disappoint your partner solely for fear of being criticized and yelled at.
One of the signs of an abusive relationship is that you will find yourself in a feeling of ‘walking on eggshells, ’ which means always being careful about trivial matters. The abuser will always make you feel guilty for their wrong behavior and blame you for whatever they do.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse that leads you to mistrust and doubt your interpretations and experiences of reality.
You may get the feeling that their statements contradict their previous ones, or they may deny something that you clearly remember, but they do it with such confidence that you begin to question yourself.
This form of lying, arguing, or confusing will eventually lead you to a destabilized sense of solidity and competence until you no longer trust what you know is the truth.
They may use this to manipulate you into getting their way. They may also threaten you to further manipulate you, such as hurting themselves, tell you that they will leave, and blaming you as the cause of their pain.
Spousal mental abuse is all about gaining control in the relationship.
The abuser will want to keep you on a leash that will get shorter and shorter as long as you allow it.
Constant psychological or emotional abuse raises insecurity and self-doubt in the victim.
5. Your abuser has a confusing behavior
Your abuser may have moments of being loving and kind to you, confusing you when he is abusive, so you may tend to forgive the abusive behavior because “other than that, he is a great guy!”
Confusion and lack of clarity are one of the most common emotionally abusive signs.
6. Most mental and emotional abuse takes place in the home
Your friends and family aren’t there to validate that you are experiencing abusive treatment from your partner.
If they do abuse you in public, such as making a derogatory remark about you in front of friends, they’ll always say they were “just kidding” or tell everyone that you have “no sense of humor” when you voice that you are hurt by what they said.
They may even follow that with a quick hug or kiss in front of everyone, so people don’t realize how abusive the behavior is.
7. Your abuser blames you for being the source of their abuse
They have shaped your mental state to believe that what they are saying is true, and he blames you as a reason for their angry bouts. The abuser blames the victim for emotional abuse. This is one of the primary signs of emotional abuse.
8. Abusers seek to control and dominate their partners
Another sign of emotional and mental abuse is taking all control away from the victim and dominating their decisions. One of the critical emotional abuse behaviors is not letting someone make even the tiniest decisions of their life – such as what they want to eat or wear.
9. The mental and emotional abuser is a narcissist
The world revolves around them. They have no patience, make unreasonable demands, are insensitive, and seek always to blame others even when they are the one who is at fault.
They lack empathy and cannot imagine, nor do they care, what another person may be feeling.
10. They want to shape your mental state to become dependable
They will attempt to isolate you from your friends and family, convincing you that these “outsiders” do not have your best interests at heart.
In reality, they are jealous of your love for anyone but themselves and do not want outsiders to notice that you are being abused, lest they try and get you to break off the relationship.
11. Your partner is excessively moody
They have vast mood swings that go from excited highs, with outpourings of love and affection for you, to deep lows that include anger, yelling, giving you the silent treatment, and verbal abuse (name-calling, vulgar language).
You will begin to sense these moods and recognize when it is going to be a “good day” (when they are laughing, outgoing, and manic in their love for you and the world) and a “bad day” (when all you want to do is stay out of their way.)
You will try and keep them “up,” distracting them in an attempt to mitigate the bad mood that you know is on the horizon.
People with abusive behavior love the passive-aggressive game. When a person is passive-aggressive, it means that you will never get a confrontation. No constructive arguments, and you will never fight, but, at the same time, you will always have trouble getting things done.
If it is about work, some papers will always be missing, and you will be responsible for losing them when the boss calls the meeting, and at home, your favorite activity will never be possible for some reason.
Jealousy shouldn’t be taken just as a couple’s problem. It is one of the very common signs of mental abuse in work, offices, schools, family members, and in a mentally abusive relationship.
When people feel jealous, they can portray their feelings in many ways. Looking down upon your work, acting possessive, humiliating you, and similar behavior can be expected.
Feeling some jealousy now and then is not something to be concerned about. But when it gets out of hand and the person feeling it does something too extreme to sabotage the person they are jealous of, it’s a sign to be concerned about.
Extreme jealousy is a severe mental and emotional abuse symptom.
If you have a problem with a person who is always trying to control you, these are the signs of a mentally abusive relationship. They will always try to tell you what to do, which doesn’t even make sense sometimes, and this is one of the mental abuse symptoms.
Things must be done the way they want, and all your actions must be by their needs and plans. Being controlled is exhausting and should be stopped right away, as controlling is one of the signs of mental abuse.
Some people are very hard to please. We say they are bad-tempered when they get angry very fast, and it’s tough to find a way to make them feel satisfied.
If you live with such a person or have to spend a lot of time during the day, you will become frustrated and exhausted from constantly trying to meet their never-ending demands.
If the behavior is accompanied by arguing, yelling, and obsessive need to make things right even though nothing’s wrong, these are the signs of mental abuse.
Sometimes, people have an unpredictable way of acting and communicating with you. Once they are sweet, kind, and friendly, they can quickly turn into demanding, hostile, and unreasonable.
For people you meet for the first time, but if you have to live with this kind of person, then it’s a real hell.
Acting out of character very frequently is a characteristic trait of a mental abuser or an abusive relationship. If your partner is unpredictable to a great extent, this can be called one of the signs of mental abuse.
17. Verbal abuse
Maybe the most common signs of emotional abuse, and the worst of them all, would be verbal abuse.
Verbal abuse is something no person should tolerate, whether it’s marriage or any kind of relationship in question.
The abuse might be blatant when a person swears, makes threats, orders, judges, criticizes, but it can also be in a more subtle form such as sarcasm, joking, or playing abusive games.
This is why some people are not even aware that this is one of the signs of mental abuse.
18. Love and acceptance appear to be based on performance
No matter how hard you work at doing everything right, it is never enough or done right or done at the right time, etc. Then you begin to feel that you don’t measure up and cannot possibly be loved by your spouse or even be acceptable to them.
19. Withholding affection, especially sexual intimacy
Why should your spouse be affectionate toward someone who doesn’t measure up to his standards? He may state that his expectations are not being met and that you are not worthy of his affection unless you shape up.
You are too fat, too skinny, too ugly, and on and on. Your spouse may say you don’t have anything worthwhile to say, so you need to keep your mouth shut. Your spouse may say you don’t take care of them the way they want you to. This is a sign of mentally abusive partners.
You are called degrading names such as stupid, brainless, ignorant, loser, and much worse names. They may even indicate that you are the selfish one who doesn’t care about thier needs.
22. In arguments, your spouse is always right
They always have to have the last word. You never have anything worth saying, and you are always wrong. Your spouse will let you know that they know best. This is one of the signs of emotional abuse.
23. Your spouse gives you the silent treatment
They give you the silent treatment, making you guess what is wrong and try to fix it. This makes you second guess yourself. It is almost impossible to fix something that you don’t know is broken.
24. They are disrespectful
The way your spouse addresses you in conversation is disrespectful most of the time. They are sarcastic and demeaning whenever they talk to you.
25. They say you are lucky they chose you
Your spouse reminds you frequently how fortunate you are to be in this relationship because “look how well he provides for you, and no one else would ever want you!” Making someone feel like they are unworthy of love can be mental and emotional abuse.
Your spouse uses keywords or phrases to manipulate you and your behavior, such as the “D” word (divorce). They may threaten you repeatedly with divorce or a breakup if you don’t do what they want. Manipulative language is one of the emotional abuse examples.
27. Your partner denigrates your self-improvement efforts
If you attempt self-care, such as a new exercise program or a healthy diet, they will tell you that you will never succeed, saying things like “Why bother? You’ll only gain the weight back”, or “You give it one month, and you’ll quit the gym like you always do.”
The mental abuser never offers encouragement to you or others but insists on your complete devotion and belief in them.
28. Your partner is threatened by outside support systems
A mentally abusive person doesn’t like their victim to have outside friends and family support. In a mentally abusive relationship, they might tell you that they are a liability and try to get you to leave them.
A mentally abusive husband or wife will find something wrong with your friends, saying they are only using you or that they don’t like you. As for your family, they think they are toxic, and you should cut them out of your life.
One of the signs of a mentally abusive relationship is that if you tell your abuser that you are going to therapy, they will tell you that all therapists are quacks and a waste of money. Only they know what you need.
29. You feel a constant sense of anxiety
Just the idea of even talking to your mentally abusive partner makes you anxious, as you know they are going to find a reason to say something terrible to you or control you.
One of the abusive relationship signs is that you live your days in a state of fear and apprehensiveness, as they have made you think you need their approval for every move you make.
30. Your partner has no sense of humor
You will never see your mentally abusive boyfriend or girlfriend laugh off a mistake they might make. Instead, they are quick to get angry. If they think anyone is laughing at them, even in a light-hearted way, they will become enraged.
You have just a few moments of fun in your relationship if any at all.
31. Your partner never takes responsibility for any mistakes
One of the signs of an abusive spouse is that it is always your or someone else’s fault.
They never apologize.
Did they forget to pick you up from work? It was your fault for not reminding them.
If they yell at you during an argument, they won’t say they are sorry once they calm down.
You made them “so” angry that they lost control.
As part of the abuse, degradation is when someone puts their partner down, constantly belittling and making jokes at the other’s expense. This can occur in public or private and can encompass assignation of vague traits such as telling the victim “you smell,” “you are stupid,” or “you are ugly.”
This can make the abused second-guess their feelings, experience, and reality.
If you have to plan your whole day around what another person wants and desires, it may not be a completely healthy situation. Loving relationships work by give and take and mutual respect, not by one partner’s dominance and control.
If a partner comes home from work and demands obedience, particular behaviors (“have my drink and dinner ready”), and respond with anger to even simple situations (“Why isn’t there any toilet paper?”), they are exhibiting controlling behaviors.
Slated to this position, the submissive partner may be forced to act apologetic, sympathetic, and perhaps a little pathetic, especially if their struggle with their abusive partner has been going on for a long time.
An abusive partner will never be wrong. They blame any issues they have on everyone else in their life and find every reason to excuse something except their behavior.
They are also intensely sensitive to any personal criticism. This will leave the abused in a situation where they receive attacks and likely have no recourse to defend themselves. Acceptance of the blame for everything that goes wrong is a very heavy burden to bear.
Neglect may involve withholding activity in the bedroom and other relatively passive behaviors that keep the abused walking on eggshells. This could be a sign of spousal emotional abuse.
Usually, a product of longer-term abuse, isolation is a powerful means for the abuser to control the abused.
Separation from family, friends and even isolation within the home (“Go watch your TV program in the bedroom [or office]”) can make the abused more strongly emotionally dependent on the abuser, even if that emotional dependence is not very pleasant.
Emotional isolation from family and friends is also one of the signs of emotional abuse.
The ability to cultivate fear is empowering for the abusive partner. Fear can come in various flavors, from the abusive partner threatening harm to themselves and/or others. The abusive person will use this as a means of manipulation, often to keep the abused in the tumultuous relationship.
Another sign of emotional or mental abuse can be denial from the side of the abuser. If you ever recognize signs of abuse and confront them, they can completely deny the possibility of it and make you question your sanity. Denial is one of the most common signs of emotional abuse.
Codependence is when all your actions are a reaction to your abuser. This also helps the abuser gain confidence and gives them an ego boost. If you find yourself highly dependent on your partner for your emotional and mental needs, it could be a sign of abuse.
40. You find yourself apologizing all the time
When you are emotionally or mentally abused, you may find yourself apologizing to your partner all the time and even feel the need to. However, the chances are that it isn’t even your fault, and you have been made to believe so.
41. Your partner is hot and cold
Mixed signals, acting absolutely normal one day and distant and cold the other, can be a sign of mental or emotional abuse. It keeps you on your toes and can trigger insecurities about your partner wanting you or not.
42. Your partner withholds necessities
If you rely on your partner for any necessities, they might withhold them to control you. For instance, if you depend on them for finances, they may not give you money.
If they are the one who is responsible for the cooking between the two of you, they may not make food for you. If they start holding back on necessities to manipulate you, it is a sign of emotional abuse.
Even when you know they did you wrong and are abusing you mentally or emotionally, you feel sorry for them and sympathize with them. This is because they have made you look at the situation in a way where it isn’t their fault, but that of circumstances, or even you.
Making you feel bad for them while they abuse you is a sign of emotional abuse.
44. You seem to have lost any sexual desire for them
Physical intimacy is often a by-product of emotional intimacy. When your partner constantly hurts you emotionally or mentally, you may not feel open and safe around them. When you do not trust them, you may feel like you have lost all sexual desire for them.
Contempt is the feeling that the other person does not deserve value or respect. If your partner treats you with contempt, they will neglect everything you say and even disrespect you with their actions.
If your partner gets defensive at almost anything and everything and makes you feel like you are blaming them, even when you are just trying to have a regular conversation, it could be a sign of abuse.
If your partner threatens to harm you in any way, if you do not let them have control over your actions, it could be a sign of emotional and mental abuse.
Stonewalling is when a partner refuses to listen or communicate with you. Stonewalling leaves the person being stonewalled, feeling lonely and lost.
Suppose your relationship and your partner’s behavior are immediately affected by any actions or words, to the point where it interrupts even the good times. In that case, it could be a sign of emotional and mental abuse.
If you find your partner being cruel to you, with absolutely no regard for your well-being, it could be a sign of emotional and mental abuse.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Sylvia Smith loves to share insights on how couples can revitalize their love lives in and out of the bedroom. As a writer at Marriage.com, she is a big believer in living consciously and encourages couples to adopt this principle in their lives too. Sylvia believes that every couple can transform their relationship into a happier, healthier one by taking purposeful and wholehearted action.