How To Recognize Signs of Mental and Emotional Abuse

By: Stacey Rachal

You probably know many of the more obvious signs of mental and emotional abuse.  But when you’re in the midst of it, it can be east to miss the persistent undercurrent of abusive behavior.

Psychological abuse involves a person’s attempts to frighten, control, or isolate you.  It’s in the abuser’s words and actions, as well as their persistence in these behaviors.

The abuser could be your spouse or other romantic partner.  They could be your business partner, parent, or caretaker.  No matter who it is, you don’t deserve it and it’s not your fault.

Humiliating, negating, and criticizing are all tactics meant to undermine your self-esteem.  The abuse is harsh and unrelenting in matters big and small. 

Here are some examples:

  • Name calling. They will blatantly call you “stupid,” “a loser,” or words other derogatory words.
  • Character assassination. This usually involves the word “always”.  You’re always late, wrong, screwing up, disagreeable, and so on.  Basically, they are saying you are not a good person.
  • Yelling, screaming, and swearing are meant to intimidate and make you feel small and inconsequential.  It might be accompanied by fist-pounding or throwing things.
  • “Aw, sweetie, I know you try, but this is just beyond your understanding.”
  • Public embarrassment. They pick fights, expose your secrets, or make fun of your shortcomings in public.
  • You tell them about something that’s important to you and they say it’s nothing.  Body language like eye-rolling, smirking, headshaking, and sighing help convey the message.
  • “Joking.” The jokes might have a grain of truth to them or be a complete fabrication.  Either way, they make you look foolish.
  • Often just a dig in disguise.  When you object, they claim to have been teasing and tell you to stop taking everything so seriously.

Trying to make you feel ashamed of your inadequacies is another path to power. 

Tools of shame and control include:

  • Telling you they’ll take the kids and disappear, or saying “There’s no telling what I might do.”
  • Monitoring your whereabouts. They want to know where you are all the time and insist that you respond to calls or texts immediately.  They might show up just to see if you’re where you’re supposed to be.
  • Digital spying. They might check your internet history, emails, texts, and call log.  They might even demand your passwords.
  • Unilateral decision-making. They might close a joint bank account, cancel your doctor’s appointment, or speak with your boss without asking.
  • Financial control. They might keep bank accounts in their name only and make you ask for money.  You might be expected to account for every penny you spend.

Accusing, blaming, and denial comes from an abuser’s insecurities.  They want to create a hierarchy in which they’re at the top and you’re at the bottom.

Here are some examples:

  • They accuse you of flirting or cheating on them.
  • Turning the tables. They say you cause their rage and control issues by being such a pain.
  • Denying something you know is true. An abuser will deny that an argument or even an agreement took place.  This is called gaslighting.  It’s meant to make you question your own memory or sanity.
  • Using guilt. They might say something like, “You owe me this.  Look at all I’ve done for you,” in an attempt to get their way.
  • Denying their abuse. When you complain about their attacks, abusers will deny it, seemingly bewildered at the very thought of it.

Abusers tend to place their own emotional needs ahead of yours.  Many abusers will try to come between you and people who are supportive of you to make you more dependent on them.

They do this by:

  • Demanding respect. No perceived slight will go unpunished, and you’re expected to defer to them.  But it’s a one-way street.
  • Shutting down communication. They’ll ignore your attempts at conversation in person, by text, or by phone.
  • Dehumanizing you. They’ll look away when you’re talking or stare at something else when they speak to you.
  • Keeping you from socializing. Whenever you have plans to go out, they come up with a distraction or beg you not to go.
  • Trying to come between you and your family. They’ll tell family members that you don’t want to see them or make excuses why you can’t attend family functions.

A codependent relationship is when everything you do is in reaction to your abuser’s behavior. 

You might be codependent if you:

  • are unhappy in the relationship but fear alternatives
  • consistently neglect your own needs for sake of theirs
  • ditch friends and sideling your family to please your partner
  • critique yourself through your partners eyes, ignoring your own instincts
  • defend your abuser when others point out what is happening.
  • feel guilty when you stand up for yourself

If you are being mentally and emotionally abused, trust your instincts.  Know that it isn’t right and you don’t have to live this way.  If you fear physical violence, call 911. 

If you are in immediate danger and you need to talk or find a safe place to go, call 1-888-411-1333/318-251-2255.  This is DART’s 24/7 hotline.  Our local number is 648-0559 and our office is located at 301 W Main St.  here in Winnfield. 

All of our services are free and confidential. 


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