Emotional abusive behavior is when something is said, implied, or done to intentionally hurt someone’s feelings. This type of behavior may occur in healthy relationships, yet, a consistent pattern of emotionally abusive behavior can turn into an emotionally abusive relationship. You may be in an emotionally abusive relationship if your partner makes you feel like you’re not good enough, calls you names or puts you down, threatens or intimidates you, or you fear your partner leaving you. If you are in an abusive relationship, recognize that you cannot change your partner and it is best to seek help and leave the relationship.
Be aware of the signs of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse functions to make you feel small and strip you of your independence and self-worth. Your partner may make you feel isolated, use intimidation or controlling behavior. While your partner may not use physical force, he or she may threaten violence.
Your partner may limit your freedom (not allow you to spend time with some people or insist on knowing your whereabouts), reject you (pretend you don’t exist, blame you for things that are not your fault) or belittle you by calling you names, insulting your family or career.
Emotionally abusive behavior patterns that are controlling can spill over into finances. Emotional abuse can include a partner monitoring your finances, making you account for every penny, withholding money from you, or restricting your spending.
Emotional abuse can also include monitoring your time, insisting on checking your phone and emails, and limiting your contact with family.
Know your rights. You have the right to be treated with respect within an equal relationship with your partner. You have the right to change your mind and/or end the relationship if it no longer serves you. You have the right to have your own opinions, even if your partner disagrees. You have the right to receive clear honest answers to important questions. You have the right to say no to your partner if you do not wish to engage in sexual contact.
These are your rights. Don’t allow your partner to convince you otherwise.
Realize that you cannot change your partner. Making your partner understand or realize that he or she is hurting you is not your responsibility. Abusers do not change from receiving your compassion, they change by learning to act with compassion.
You are not doing your partner any favors by staying in the relationship. You may feel like you are “the only person who understands him” or feel like she’s “a really good person if you get to know her” but don’t minimize how much pain this person causes you. It is not heroic to stay with a person that disrespects you.
Don’t retaliate. Abusers are excellent manipulators, and may provoke you to the point of breaking, then blame you for everything. Don’t retaliate on any digs, insults, or threats. While it may be hard to hold back your own temper, remember that it’s a trap and you may be the one suffering the consequences.
Never respond with physical force, even when provoked. Try to control your impulses by walking away, taking deep breaths, or cutting the discussion off.
Recognize the long-term risks of an abusive relationship. An abusive relationship can contribute to physical problems such as migraines, arthritis, and body pains, mental health problems such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and alcohol/drug use or abuse, and sexual health issues such as increased risk of sexually transmitted infections or unwanted pregnancies.
Reach out for support. Confide in friends and family and ask for their support. Tell them what is happening, and that you would like help in leaving the situation. It is likely that they will be willing to help in any way they can.
You can create a signal to alert them that you need help, such as a coded text. “I’m baking lasagna for dinner”could be a code for “I’m in trouble and I need your help.”
Reach out to friends, family, neighbors, spiritual leaders, or anyone else who may be able to help you.
Know when to say goodbye. Sometimes, relationships are just wrong and cannot be saved. For your sake, and for the sake of your mental health, try hard to recognize as early as possible whether or not this relationship is worth working on. Remember that it’s unlikely that your abuser will change.
Don’t allow yourself to cling to the relationship because you are scared of letting go. Remind yourself of all the pain this person has caused, and that it is better for you to cut it off. It may be hard to imagine your life without the relationship, but you deserve to be treated with more respect.
Don’t ever let abuse go on or make excuses for your partner’s behavior.
Put your safety first. Recognize that abusers rarely change, and it’s likely the abuse with escalate with time, and can turn into physical violence. With this in mind, prioritize your safety. You may respond to threats differently if you fear violence, such as avoiding them or not fighting back. While not defending yourself may be difficult or hurt you, remember that you are prioritizing your safety until you can make you next move.
If your home feels unsafe, go to a sibling’s home, a friend’s home, or somewhere where you feel safe.
Prioritize your child’s safety. If you have a child or children, protect them. Send them somewhere safe like a friend’s house.
Have a phone on you at all times. You may need to call for help, call police, or deal with an emergency situation regarding your safety. Have a phone charged and ready at all times to ensure your safety.
Program your speed dial to anyone you may need to call in an emergency, including friends, family, or police.
Escape to a safe location. When planning an escape, think about any risks that may be present. If you leave with children, for example, make sure your partner will not go after them or try to harm them. You may even want to escape to a different location than your children if you are concerned about both your and their safety. Go to someplace that is safe and that you will be protected from your partner. This may include a friend’s house, your parent’s or sibling’s home, or a shelter.
Always be careful when leaving an abusive relationship, even one that’s “just” emotionally abusive. You can get help in establishing a safety plan by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
Ask for help from a friend or family member who may be able to help you escape quickly. This person can help you gather your things, watch the kids, or act as your getaway person to leave quickly.
Many shelters accommodate children and pets.
Cut off contact. Once you have successfully escaped the relationship, don’t allow your partner into your life on any terms. He or she may try to sweet talk you, apologize, or say that things have changed. Remember that it’s more than likely that the behavior will start up again, even if your partner promises that it will never happen again. Allow yourself to heal on your own terms, without your partner.
Delete this person’s phone number and remove any ties you have on social media. You may even want to change your own phone number.
Don’t try to show your partner that you’re better off without him or her. Allow healing to be personal, just for you.
Take care of yourself. Remind yourself that the abuse was not your fault. Nobody deserves to be abused in any capacity, and nothing you did made you deserve to be treated like that. Find ways to be happy. Write in your journal, go for a walk, and engage in activities you find fun, like hiking drawing.
Get some professional help. Find a mental health professional who can help you work through the situation. A therapist can help you with the emotional side of leaving, and help you cope with any feelings of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, or anger. A therapist can help you cope with the situation and work through the challenging emotions you may have.