Emotional abuse



Just like physical abuse — emotional abuse is an attempt to control another person. Rather than hitting or kicking the other party, however, the perpetrator uses emotion as their weapon of choice. The abuser might be aware or unaware, but they generally are keenly aware of a deep-rooted insecurity (which drives them to belittle, harass and demean their partner, spouse or family member).

A typical emotional abuser might accuse a spouse of cheating when they’re feeling insecure about their lovability, or they might be compelled the blame their partner for something unrelated or insignificant; inspiring conflict that more-often-than-not proves their darkest prophecies true. They might also constantly trying to control every move, he /she becomes an incessant criticizer and might verbally attack the other person when they feel as though they are not being “obeyed”.

Emotional abuse looks different, however, from partner-to-partner and case-to-case. Being able to spot the signs of emotional doesn’t just start with an understanding of the concept, it starts with understanding what an abuser can look like, as well.


Unfortunately, there’s no one hard-and-fast recipe for what an abuser looks like. There are, however, some central signs to look for and some facts that can help deepen your understanding of their behavior. Though it may not seem it at first glance, abusers feel powerless. Rather than fessing up to their securities, they over-compensate and conceal the truth behind a nasty wall of overbearing attitude and behavior. A personality profile which often looks a little something like this:

  • Need to be correct or in control.
  • Very jealous.
  • Doesn’t trust anyone.
  • Extremely insecure.
  • Verbally abusive.
  • Blames others for everthing.
  • Cruel to animals or children.
  • Very possessive with partners and “things”.
  • Has a history of aggression.
  • Hypersensitive to criticism.
  • Suffers from untreated mental health problems.
  • Needy with unrealistic expectations.

At first, it’s easy to rationalize and respond to this type of abuse in a logical way. Over time, however, that becomes harder to do as your resilience is worn down by the constant stress of conflict and confrontation. Knowing what abuse is, and knowing what an abuser looks like isn’t enough, though. You need to be able to spot the signs of abuse, especially the more subtle ones.


Physical abuse comes with obvious physical signs that are instantly recognisable to the trained and untrained eye alike. Emotional abuse doesn’t work that way, however, and many of the signs (warning or otherwise) aren’t so easy to spot — or fess up to.


Opposing occurs when the abuser argues against anything and everything you say. They challenge your perceptions, your opinions and your thoughts; they’ll even challenge how you carry yourself or live your life. Emotional abusers don’t care whether you’ve volunteered your thoughts or not, they treat you like an adversary and say “no” whenever they can.


Abusers love to deny the things that they’ve said or done. They’ll deny a conversation took place, and deny entire events altogether. They deny their abuse and, often, when confronted, resort to declarations of love and caring where once there was only scorn or vitriol. This manipulative behavior leads the abused party to doubt their own memory, perceptions and even experience — leading eventually to an extreme and persistent pattern more commonly known as gaslighting.


Blocking occurs when an abuser switches topics, in order to avoid a conversation or confrontation that they don’t like. Abusers might also use accusations or blame to block you from the point you’e trying to make, and they do it with an ease that is almost breathtaking.

Undermining & interrupting

Those who abuse are fundamentally broken people, who are incapable (in the current moment) of facing their own inadequacies in any kind of meaningful way. Because they can’ face their own insecurities, they focus on the insecurities of others; working hard to undermine any sense of self-esteem or self-confidence the other party might have remaining. They’ll tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about and even interrupt your sentences.


One of the more subtle techniques used by emotional abusers is minimization. This practice isn’t just about making someone feel small — though that’s definitely a major part of it. More realistically, it’s the downplaying of important things, or the rendering of meaningful things as insignificant. It doesn’t matter if you’e expressing your emotions, feelings, views, problems or experiences. To the emotional abuser: it’ all worthless, and nothing to be fussed about.

Unreachable expectations

Emotional abusers are all about tearing their partners down, even when they appear to be building them up. Unreachable expectations are one of the way abusers zero in on their prey and destroy the last facets of their self-esteem. They do this by putting their partner on a ridiculous pedestal, which then allows them to react with constant disappointment and disdain. Feeling disappointed, the abuser then feel empowered to amplify their behavior, heaping even more scorn over an already scorn-filled relationship.

Walking on eggshells

The term “walking on eggshells” refers to the tendency of victims to to judge everything in their environments against how their abuser will react to it. If you find yourself making decisions based entirely around whether or not they upset your partner — you might be dealing with an emotionally abusive situation.


Abusers need isolation in order to successfully destroy the self-esteem of their partners. For this reason, they work hard to isolate their victims from the activities and people that they love, leaving them rudderless and without help, perspective or guidance in the midst of a very turbulent unravelling. If your partner is keeping you from seeing or contacting your friends and family, then you’re in danger of dissociating from the critical support system that you need.

This article was written by E.B Johnson. Full piece here

Cover Photo: Laci Jordan

Source: Leading Ladies Africa