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Identifying Emotional Abuse

Author: Florida Women's Law Group
Date: Aug 02 2021

Identifying Emotional Abuse

Relationship abuse can take many forms.  Physical abuse is easier to identify and the marks of it are obvious.  Just as destructive is emotional and verbal abuse.  Unlike bruises or broken bones, the damage is not as visible and attacks the victim’s self-esteem, confidence, and overall mental health.  This form of abuse is subtle in the beginning and escalates gradually with the victim not even realizing it.  Through words, actions and behaviors a spouse will slowly chip away at their victim’s self-esteem and independence.

What is Emotional Abuse?

Every couple will argue and at times may say harsh words that they do not mean in the heat of the moment.  Emotional abuse, however, is about control and intimidation.  Victims become fearful of their partner and find themselves isolated and completely dependent on the abuser.  This abuse can be so subtle that the victim may not even realize that it is happening to them.  The mind games, actions and words make it difficult to see when you are in it.  The abuse leaves victims feeling worthless, vulnerable, insecure and trapped in the relationship.

Signs of Emotional Abuse   

Spouses that emotionally abuse are masters at manipulation and make you doubt your own judgement.  Their abuse stems from their own insecurities and is all about controlling you.  Here are signs of emotional abuse by a spouse:

  • Controlling Daily Life – They will monitor what you do every day. They want to know where you are always.  They will tell you where you can go, who you can see and what you can do during the day.  They will seem overly invested in your social life.  Often, they do not want you to work to make you more dependent on them.  At first it can seem that they are attentive and interested in what you are doing and it seems romantic.  Slowly it becomes suffocating, and you feel as if you need their approval to do things without them.

  • Isolation – Abusers will deliberately isolate you from your friends and family. This happens subtly and you will slowly find that your contact and interactions with your friends and family dwindles.  The emotional abuser wants you all to himself.  By keeping you dependent on him it makes it harder to see that he is emotionally manipulating you.

  • Criticism – To tear down your self-esteem they will make critical remarks about your physical appearance. They may make remarks about your weight, hair or clothes.  They can also be dismissive or negative about your interests and accomplishments.

  • Blame Game – Abusers will constantly blame you for everything. If they get upset, it’s because you did something to make them mad.  They use guilt and accusations to make you feel as if you are always defending yourself.  They will accuse you of cheating or flirting.  They will gaslight you to make you doubt your own memories and sanity.  Victims tend to feel so much guilt they begin to think they deserve the abuse and are ashamed that they are even in the situation.

  • Threats and Insults – They can make threatening remarks that are meant to intimidate you and create fear. They are trying to prevent you from leaving by making you feel helpless and scared.  Abusers will insult, belittle and patronize you, especially in public and in front of friends and family.  They may disguise it as sarcasm or say they are joking but their remarks are hurtful and embarrassing, especially when done around other people. 

  • Financial Control – They can limit your access to funds or give you an allowance. They will make you ask for money and account for where you spend it.  They, on the other hand, may spend freely on themselves without consulting you all while you must beg them for grocery money.

If some of these behaviors sound familiar to you, you may be the victim of emotional abuse.  The abuser’s actions are meant to belittle you and undermine your self-esteem until you feel powerless to leave.  This abuse is not your fault, it is your spouse’s insecurities and need to control you.  You do not have to live in an abusive relationship, there are options and ways to leave and gain back your independence.

If you are in an abusive relationship, make a safety plan and get you and your children out of the situation.  You are not alone, we are here to represent women just like you to help you get through this and onto a better and happier life.

Florida Women’s Law Group