Emotional Abuse

• Does your partner do or say things that hurt your feelings? Does he ridicule or disregard your opinions and thoughts?

• Does she treat you like you are less than, or inferior to her?

• Does he make fun of you or put you down in front of others?

• Have you stopped seeing friends or family because she is jealous or doesn’t like them?

• Does he punish you by withdrawing, giving you the silent treatment, or withholding affection if you don’t do what he wants?

• Does your partner control all of your money and restrict how much you spend?

If you’re like many of my clients, you’re in a relationship where you care for your partner, but your partner isn’t treating you the way you deserve.

It’s the way your partner speaks to you, or the things that your partner does that are upsetting. Some of your partner’s behaviors are obviously hurtful.

Some of the behaviors may seem almost insignificant and are hard to name–yet they leave you feeling sad, hurt, or angry. You get confused and wonder if the trouble is your fault, or if you are going crazy.

Emotional abuse wears away your self-esteem

Over time emotional abuse damages your self-esteem and causes you to doubt yourself and your ability to determine what’s right and what’s wrong. Granted, most couples argue and sometimes say and do things they regret afterwards. Healthy couples make apologize, express their forgiveness, and improve their behavior in an effort to not hurt their partner again.

What is Emotional Abuse?

According to abuse expert Beverly Engel, emotional abuse is any nonphysical behavior or attitude that is designed to control, intimidate, subjugate, demean, punish, or isolate another person. This type of abuse includes not only verbal attacks, but violent behaviors such as slamming doors, kicking a wall, throwing dishes, driving recklessly while the victim is in the car, and destroying or threatening to destroy objects the victim values. (Engel, 2002) You may be surprised to see the word victim. Yes, you are a victim. I know it is hard to understand, and especially to accept but anyone who does these things to you is an abuser.

Understanding Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse uses negative feelings like fear, guilt, and shame to overpower a person. Common tactics include insults, threats, coercion, and criticism. In some relationships, partners might emotionally abuse each other. In other relationships, the abuse goes one way. Abuse may become more frequent or intense sometimes and less intense during other periods. You are in an unhealthy and toxic relationship. If you want to stay in the relationship you will need to seek marriage counseling or couples therapy to change this damaging relationship. Unfortunately, abusers often refuse to go to therapy. If this is the case, you should schedule an appointment for yourself, soon.

5 Signs You’re in an Abusive Relationship

At some point in life, most of us have experienced being in a toxic relationship, whether we’re aware of it or not. Usually people can identify an unhealthy relationship and end it. People of all ages, nationalities and sexual orientations can find themselves in these toxic relationships, confused as to how they got there, or perhaps even unsure the situation is unhealthy.

Emotional abusers are masterful at their craft. Verbal, mental and emotional abuse can be subtle. It can also be particularly hard to notice things are wrong when you suffer from low self-esteem. Abusers are drawn to people with low self-worth because those people may think they are deserving of poor treatment or would rather be with someone who treats them badly than be alone. Abusive behavior can seem right to those who don’t know their own value. Some people will excuse their abuser’s behavior, blaming it on their partner being in a bad mood or excusing it some other way.

1. You Walk on Eggshells. To avoid upsetting your partner, you are vigilantly careful not to do anything that will trigger a negative emotional reaction. Living in an abusive relationship means that you never know when something that you do, no matter how seemingly trivial, may set of an emotional backlash.

2. Your Partner Can Express Emotions (and Opinions), But You Can’t. Emotionally abusive relationships are imbalanced. It’s ok for your partner to rant and rave, but if you express negative emotions, perhaps even mild ones, you are subject to criticism, or, even worse, a strong emotional backlash.

3. Your Partner Mistrusts You (and Your Emotions). Often, emotionally abusive individuals have low self-esteem, which leads to a lack of trust in the partner, as well as a belief that your expression of displeasure are designed to hurt. Any expression of emotion on your part becomes an attack.

4. You Can’t Discuss Relationship Problems and Issues. Any criticism is viewed as an assault on the emotionally abusive person, and you avoid discussing problems in order to maintain a calm emotional environment.

5. You Feel Constantly Confused and Trapped. Being a victim of an emotionally abusive relationship can leave you constantly emotionally confused and feeling trapped. The emotionally abusive partner may use emotional appeals to keep you in the relationship (“You can’t leave me’ “I can’t live without you!”). Often, as a victim, you feel helpless to do anything about the situation.

Emotional Abuse and Intimate Relationships

In addition to the signs listed above, there are several other behaviors abusers perform. “Surveillance” is a common tactic in emotional abuse among intimate partners. Many abusers look through their partners’ emails and texts without their knowledge. In a 2014 study by NPR, 75% of domestic violence shelters helped individuals whose abusers eavesdropped on them using hidden mobile apps. Some abusers hide their surveillance, using it to make sure the partner is being loyal and compliant. Others use the surveillance as a gaslighting tool, taunting the victim with knowledge of private conversations with doctors and family members.

If an abuser cannot use fear, they may weaponize affection instead. If a couple has children together, one person may guilt-trip their partner into staying “for the kids’ sake.”. Often the recipient feels they must endure abuse to protect the people they love. Your partner may isolate you from friends and family and try to control your behavior becoming angry if you do something they haven’t given their permission to do.

Another aspect of emotional abuse is financial abuse. Financial abuse involves controlling a victim's ability to acquire, use and maintain financial resources. You may be prevented from working. Often the abuser convinces you that you don’t need to work because he or she “can take care of you.” They also may have their own money restricted or stolen by the abuser. Victims rarely have complete access to money and other resources. When they do have money, they often must account for every penny they spend.

People who emotionally abuse others within LGBTQ+ relationships may use societal prejudice to gain more power. Some individuals may threaten to “out” a partner’s LGBTQ+ status to family members and employers. Others may try to isolate a partner from the LGBTQ+ community by questioning their identity. They may claim the partner isn’t truly homosexual because they had a straight relationship in the past, or that they aren’t feminine/masculine enough to “count” as transgender. Since LGBTQ+ individuals often have limited social support, they are vulnerable to such isolation.

Part of you wants to leave your partner, but it’s hard to do.

You love your partner and value the security of being in a relationship, or don’t want to split up your family. You may be concerned about exposing the difficulty in your relationship to friends and family. You might fear damaging your or your partner’s standing in the community. You might be afraid that people won’t believe that your partner treats you badly at home, because your partner is a different person around others.

But you know you deserve better. Or you’re not sure if your partner means to hurt you. You might wonder if you are the problem–if only you were more tolerant or a better person, your relationship would improve.

It’s very confusing at times. You hurt, and you’re tired of being treated this way, but…

You’re not sure what to do.

You keep tolerating your partner’s hurtful behavior. You keep giving your partner another chance. You keep hoping things will change for the better.

BUT, even if the behavior improves, it’s only temporary. Your partner falls back into the same disturbing behavior.

You know it is time to get help:

You want to be happy. You want help in deciding what you need to do. You think you deserve better. You want your life back.

There really are two choices: Seek counseling, both joint and individual; Get out of the abusive relationship. No one should have to endure psychological or physical abuse.

Therapy can help you:
  • release pent-up feelings in a safe, supportive, and confidential place
  • get validation about what is happening
  • gain deeper insight into yourself and your relationship
  • describe the hurtful tactics and their effects
  • understand the reasons your partner is abusive and how you got involved in an emotionally abusive relationship
  • affirm what you need and deserve
  • increase your feelings of self-worth
  • grow stronger and feel more empowered
  • handle the issues more effectively
  • find ways to protect your children
  • decide what you want to do
  • leave the relationship if you decide to
  • heal your wounds

I offer a non-judgmental, compassionate environment to help you heal and take charge of your life.

For lasting change to occur, we’ll look at the deeper emotional wounds from childhood that you may or may not be aware of. Longer-term therapy helps you improve the way you see yourself and your relationships, so that you feel empowered and more confident. Therapy can also help you avoid future involvement with emotionally abusive people.

Step-By-Step to Healing from Emotional Abuse

I offer a step-by-step approach to healing, regardless of the type of emotionally abusive relationship my clients have experienced. My approach is based on the expertise I’ve acquired through years of providing individual therapy to people who have been in emotionally abusive relationships.

Counseling may be shorter-term if you want to work on immediate issues such as gaining a better understanding of your relationship, how to handle emotional abuse, and help with making the best decisions for yourself and your children.

For lasting change to occur, we’ll look at the deeper emotional wounds from childhood that you may or may not be aware of. Longer-term therapy helps you improve the way you see yourself and your relationships, so that you feel empowered and more confident. Therapy can also help you avoid future involvement with emotionally abusive people.

Here’s a general idea of what to expect in your therapy sessions with me:

1. A safe, supportive, and non-judgmental environment

I offer you a comfortable and confidential place to express feelings that you’ve likely been carrying for a long time. I will listen to your story, validate your experience, and understand you on a deeper level than you may have experienced before.

You can reveal your feelings and experiences at your own pace and comfort level.

You may not be ready to tell me about your most hurtful and humiliating experiences. But when you are, I will never pass judgment or be repelled by what you reveal to me.

You will likely experience immediate relief that you’ve finally found someone who “gets” what you’ve been going through.

I will also provide you with therapeutic resources for your abusive partner if he or she is willing to take responsibility for the hurtful behavior and get help.

2. A way to recognize and name the emotional abuse

Much of the emotional abuse you have experienced may be hard to identify and describe. Your partner may have disguised the abuse with denial, excuses, intentionally confusing you, or claiming his or her actions are for your own good.

You might only be able to describe it in general ways such as:

“He blames me for everything.”

“She’s always mad at me.”

“I can’t do anything right”.

“She’s always putting me down.”

“He always has to be right.”

“He says he loves me, but he certainly doesn’t act like he does.”

“Sometimes I ask myself, ‘Is there something wrong with him, or is it me?’”

Often, you may get confused about whether your partner is right. You may think, “Maybe I did cause the trouble”. Because of this lack of understanding of mental abuse, it’s important in therapy that we work to help you identify and name the abusive tactics and their effects on you. Also, knowing what’s causing the abusive behavior, and your reaction to it, will weaken its power over you.

3. Help with understanding the full impact of the abuse

In therapy, you will come to understand how and when you compromised yourself in your relationship. You will learn how “settling for” and “putting up” with your relationship is harming you. You will become aware of the ways in which you are unintentionally contributing to the abuse, even as you believe you are doing everything in your power to stop it. You will realize that if the abuse is allowed to continue, it will only get worse.

I’ll help you sort out your feelings and experiences and recognize your symptoms of emotional trauma. We’ll also address conflicting feelings you may have about yourself or your partner.

4. Deeper insight into the root cause of emotional abuse

We’ll look deeper into the reasons why you are in an abusive relationship and the subconscious reasons why you may be contributing to your own suffering. This is not to blame you for what has happened to you, because abuse is never your fault. However, in order to move on from your experience and prevent it from happening in the future, awareness is key.

I’ll support and guide you as we look into your past to find the experiences that shaped your beliefs about yourself and others. I’ll help you take the steps necessary to identify your personal strengths and attributes and develop a more positive self-image.

5. Empowerment and healing

You’ll learn effective coping skills and discover ways to feel stronger and more grounded. You’ll realize the importance of listening to your intuition and setting protective boundaries in your relationships

You will realize the necessity of developing a loving relationship with yourself, before you can have a healthy relationship with another. You’ll be able to make an informed decision about whether you want to stay or leave your relationship.

You will develop a greater sense of who you are and work towards realizing and fulfilling your needs, wishes, and dreams – parts of you that were previously stifled. You will be freer to pursue the life you want and deserve.

Methods and Style of Therapy

I consider myself a collaborator with you in discovering and bringing forth your best self. I will always respect your feelings and opinions. I use a combination of proven theoretical approaches and methods, depending on what will be the most helpful to you.

If you are currently experiencing abuse in your relationship, please consider getting help. If you need help now:

Call 911 for all emergencies.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline

1.800.799.SAFE (7233)

National Child Abuse Hotline

1-800-4-A-CHILD (2-24453)

National Sexual Assault Hotline

1.800.656.HOPE (4673)

1. Engel, B. (2002). The Emotionally Abusive Relationship Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Constructive Strategies for Rational Living, LLC
Patti Lyons, LMFT


57 Executive Park South NE
Ste 360
Atlanta, GA 30329

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