Recognizing the signs of emotional abuse
Dr Jozelle Miller
February 18, 2020

Recognizing the signs of emotional abuse

There are several signs of emotional abuse that a person can and should look out for. Some signs of emotional abuse within a romantic or marital relationship to watch for include:

  • use of weapons as a means of threatening
  • withholding affection as a punishment
  • name calling, insulting, and continuous criticism
  • trapping a partner at home or preventing them from leaving
  • threatening to hurt children, pets, or other members of a partner’s family
  • demanding to know where a partner is every minute
  • refusing trust, such as by acting jealously or possessively-trying to isolate a partner from their family or friends
  • destruction of a partner’s property
  • gas lighting, or making a partner believe lies
  • monitoring where a partner goes, who they call, and who they spend time with -humiliating a partner
  • making accusations of cheating
  • jealousy of outside relationships
  • serially cheating on a partner and then blaming them for the behaviour
  • attempting to control a partner’s appearance
  • cheating to “prove” that they are more desirable than a partner
  • telling a partner that they are lucky to be with them
  • telling a partner that they will not find anyone better

If a person spots any of these signs within their own relationship, they should seek help as soon as they are ready.

Short-term effects on the brain and body

Emotional abuse can be difficult for the person on the receiving end to accept. At first, they may be in denial that the person they are in a relationship with is engaging in emotionally abusive behaviour. For example, they may start to feel:

  • shame
  • hopelessness
  • fear
  • confusion

As they deal with emotional effects of this, they may also start to feel some physiological effects of the abuse. These effects can include:

  • moodiness-aches and pains
  • difficulty concentrating
  • muscle tension

The longer the emotional abuse continues, the more prolonged these effects can become.

Long-term effects on brain and body

Emotional abuse, like physical abuse, can have long-term effects on the brain and body. In fact, research, severe emotional abuse can be as damaging as physical abuse and contribute to depression and low self-esteem.

The study also suggested that emotional abuse may contribute to the development of chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

In addition, a person may experience:

  • insomnia
  • chronic pain
  • social withdrawal or loneliness
  • guilt
  • anxiety
  • eventual feelings that their partner or parent is correct, and that they are “no good” or ugly, for example.