Most people understand the concept of physical abuse. If you’re in a relationship where your partner is physically hurting you, this is an obvious sign that:

1. Things are not okay2. This will probably not be the last time.3. This relationship has the potential to be very dangerous.

Emotional abuse is more confusing. Depending on how someone was raised, where they grew up, and who influenced their life, the term “emotional/psychological abuse” may vary. While there is no official definition of the term, the outcome is usually the same.

Emotional abuse can lead to:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • Problems with sleep
  • Low self esteem
  • Doubting oneself

Most emotionally abusive behavior is used as a way to control the victim. There are different tactics used when implementing this type of control. Verbal aggression is one of most popular forms and can be demonstrated by lying, screaming, intimidation, threats or even the constant use of sarcasm. When one partner uses “jokes” to put the other down, especially in front of friends or family, this can be an early warning sign for problematic relationship behavior. Although the partner may insist they are “joking”, this can leave the other partner with nowhere to go. It is very difficult to address a joke as worthy of serious attention.

Sometimes we can justify the behavior of someone we love. Since rarely are people all right or all wrong, there is a lot of wiggle room to excuse the actions of people we care about, especially if we are currently in a close relationship with them. When an emotionally abusive partner has all the external hallmarks of success, the process of understanding abusive behavior may be even more difficult. People who emotionally and psychologically abuse their partner can move in multiple social circles. Economic wealth, social class, and location have nothing to do with the prevalence of maladaptive relationships. Instead of asking yourself if your significant other is manipulating or trying to control you through unhealthy behavior, it may be easier to accept the reality of abuse through observing your own behavior. Below is a checklist of common responses to emotional abuse:

  • Do you feel as if you are on an emotional roller coaster? Is your partner loving and tender one minute, yet explosive the next?
  • Do you “know what you have to do” to keep your partner from hurting your feelings?
  • Do you end up pushing his buttons anyway because of something small you’ve forgotten to pay attention to?
  • Do you miss your friends or family? Are you spending less time with them than you have in the past?
  • Do you feel unfaithful or guilty and are not sure why?
  • Do you smile more when you are around your partner in order to keep the peace?
  • Are you nervous to bring friends or family into your relationship?
  • Do you feel like you’re not capable of making good decisions?
  • Do you feel unworthy?
  • Do you feel trapped?

There are no obvious physical scars from a person who emotionally and psychologically abuses those that he/she loves. Because others may not recognize the extent of dysfunction in a relationship that may look perfect on the outside, it can become very difficult to trust gut instincts. Leaving an emotionally abusive partner can take a long time and it may happen in several gradual steps. The first step is to trust your instincts.