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11 Lesser-Known Signs Of Emotional Abuse

11 Lesser-Known Signs Of Emotional Abuse


Emotional abuse is often not recognized.  It’s subtle backhanded comments. 

Small control measures that slowly build over time. 

Before you know it you find yourself asking why you don’t have any self-worth left.

This type of abuse is a downward spiral. 

Left unrecognized and unchecked it will spiral, becoming worse and worse.

Many believe that if you are not being called horrendous names or screamed at that it’s not emotional abuse. 

You don’t need to be called names or yelled at for a relationship to be verbally abusive. 

Emotional abuse comes with many different lesser-known signs that need to be identified.

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Emotional Abuse or Not?

There is a VERY fine line between psychological abuse and a difficult relationship. 

Once that line is crossed is hard to repair a relationship (but I’m not saying it can’t be done.  It just takes extra work).

The signs of emotional abuse typically start subtle. 

The abuser is always joking or you’re always left being too sensitive.

If you’re wondering whether your relationship is emotionally abusive or not, odds are your feeling like your relationship is less than perfect and your confidence is probably suffering because of it. 

Personally, I feel if you have to ask whether your relationship is abusive or not, then there something in your relationship that has triggered you to think there is a problem.

Fights happen in relationships.  But the major difference between the verbal abuse and a non-abusive relationship has to do with “why” behind the fight. 

If an argument starts because your partner won’t share his/her workload around the house. 

There is an actual reason behind the fight.

With verbal abuse, you never seem to know how an argument got started. 

It sounds silly but this is done on purpose to confuse the victim.

While it’s a normal part of a relationship to yell at a partner in an occasional fight, it’s not normal to yell at your partner all the time or to degrade them. 

That’s never ok!

When asking yourself whether it’s emotional abuse or not, there are common signs of emotional abuse people recognize, but then there are less common signs of verbal abuse.  It’s important to know both kinds!

Common Forms Of Emotional Abuse

  • Yelling- Pretty self-explanatory except this type of yelling occurs all the time
  • Name-calling- Any negative words that attack your character, your looks, your profession and more
  • Mocking- This is when how you are feeling is invalidated and made fun of or ‘mocked’
  • Spreading rumors– Talking behind your back and spreading lies even though you’re in a relationship with them
  • Threats- Physical threats; threats to ignore or leave you

Lesser-Known Signs Of Psychological Abuse


Do you find yourself ever questioning if something your partner said or did actually happened? 

(This is a common sign of gaslighting, another serious form of verbal abuse).

You may find yourself questioning the reality of the situation because the abuser will deny, deny, and deny some more. 

He/she will say they never called you names.  They never treat you badly. 

They never had that conversation with you.

Another way abusers deny how they treat you is by using excuses to rationalize or defend how they treat you.

They may say… “I didn’t call you a bitch!  And if I ever did, you know how bad my ex treated me.  I just get defensive sometimes.”

Any excuse is used to rationalize how he/she emotionally abuses you.


The blame game…  Unfortunility, the blame game revolves around everything YOU have done wrong. 

The abuser is never in the wrong.

The worst part about someone blaming you for everything…  They blame you for things that don’t totally make sense. 

An abuser may blame you because they did not get their promotion at work. 

In reality, your partner getting a promotion is completely out of your control and has nothing to do with you.

It probably seems like no matter what you do (in or out of your control) is not good enough.  And that’s exactly how your partner wants you to feel!


Criticizing is the same as nit-picking.  Every little thing you do is scrutinized. 

You probably feel as though everything you do is examined and judged under a microscope.

Criticism is different than complaining about issues in your relationship. 

This sign of verbal abuse is one that attacks not only your character but who you are as a person.

If you’re wondering when a partner is actually criticizing you or just complaining about a problem in the relationship, look for these two things:

~Look for “you” statements.  Example: “It’s your fault we never go out anymore.  If you’d wear something less slutty I’d be able to be with you in public!”

~Criticism is always an attack on who you are as a person. 

Notice how the example degrades someone’s character?

Related Articles: 14 Lasting Effects Of Emotional Abuse

14 Warning Signs Of A Toxic Relationship

The Best Self-Help Books For Emotional Abuse Recovery


Sarcasm and joking in a relationship are most of the time in good fun. 

But when you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship sarcasm and jokes are used by an abuser to belittle you. 

Over time, this will begin to weight on your self-esteem, especially because the same jokes are made at your expense repeatedly.

This lesser-known sign of verbal abuse always starts off as funny. 

The abuser says the joke a few times and you laugh it off because he/she is only “joking.” 

But after a while, those same “jokes” are no longer funny.

The big tipoff that the jokes are at your expense and your partner is doing on purpose to hurt you is when you call them on it. 

If you tell him/her that the jokes hurt your feelings, you are accused of being “too sensitive” or “you can’t take a joke.”

I was in one abusive relationship for two years (yes, there’s been more than one before I found my Mr. Right) and sarcasm and jokes were a DAILY occurrence. 

My boyfriend use to make fun of the clothes I wore.  Specifically, my low-rise jeans. 

He didn’t like how my butt looked.

For that, I received many laughs about how my butt looked big, or how sometimes my underwear or butt crack would show if I bent down too fast (hey, it happens with low-rise jeans). 

But after hearing the jokes for the four thousandth time, it wasn’t funny at all. 

In fact, it hurt and affected my self-esteem.

The rude jokes got to the point that I dreaded having to bend over and pick something up because I didn’t want to be made fun of anymore. 

Of course, I didn’t say anything.  I took it!

Instead, I decided to change my situation.  I went and bought 6 new pairs of jeans that were a higher cut at the waist. 

I didn’t tell him I bought new jeans, I simply started wearing them.  And do you know what happened?

His reaction- “Why are your jeans so high?” (With a disgusted look on his face).  “They look stupid!”

While I hoped buying a new wardrobe would stop the sarcasm and jokes at my expense, it did teach me a lesson: 

No matter what I did, there was always going to be something he made fun of me for. 

That’s because I was his personal joke.

He didn’t see me as a person with feelings, but instead just someone to make fun of, control, and belittle.

You might think, “It’s only comments about clothes, what’s the big deal?”  Well, it is a big deal when sarcasm becomes a daily occurrence that attacks who you are (including what you choose to wear).

Servant Treatment

Servant treatment is exactly that… When someone treats you like a servant.

Your partner may expect you to drop whatever you’re doing to do something for them. 

If they forgot their lunch for work, you’re expected to change your plans to go and deliver lunch to him/her. 

If you do the laundry, you’re expected to fold and hang the clothes a certain way.

Why?  Servant treatment is about one thing: Control. 

The more you do for him/her, the more you neglect your own needs. 

This means you’re basically at their beck and call.

Honestly, I’ve been treated like this too.  My ex wanted me to massage his feet every night! 

Now it would have been nice if I got a foot rub in return, but I never received one. 

If I said I didn’t want to, that answer was not acceptable. 

He would then argue with me about how hard he worked and how unappreciative I was of him.

It’s one of those instances where you just give in to what someone wants because you don’t want to argue. 

So every night I massaged his feet when he got home from work. 

Basically, he didn’t want a girlfriend, he wanted a servant!

Calling You Crazy

This is a hallmark sign of emotional abuse!  You may be called things like “crazy,” “bipolar,” “psycho,” and more.  Why? 

Because you’re questioning his/her behavior toward you.  Of course, the abuser is never wrong. 

Therefore, everything you say or do is an overreaction to their mistreatment of you.

I’ll admit…  The phrase “…no I’m not!  You’re just bipolar!” still repeats in my head to this day because it hurt so freaking bad! 

Having someone say you are crazy for how you feel in regards to being mistreated is like pouring salt in an open wound. 

The open wound heals over time, but the scar remains.

I have news for you though…  You are NOT crazy! 

You are only being told you’re crazy because it’s “crazy” for an abuser to:

-Admit guilt

-Admit being wrong

-Feel empathy

-Think you might leave the relationship (if they call you crazy, you might begin to believe it and stay with them because overreacting about the situation)


This is when someone withholds affection, sex, information, or withholding their feelings. 

A lot of withholding behavior is purely a control tactic if he/she has all the information (including their own feelings you don’t know about) and affection, they have all the power.

I could never figure out why my ex would not show affection in front of others. 

It didn’t use to be like that when we first got together. 

But of course, we were in the honeymoon phase where an abuser puts on a façade. 

After a while though, he wouldn’t even hold my hand in public.

Once the relationship ended, I could see this as a control tactic of verbal abuse.


Countering is similar to being argumentative. 

When someone is argumentative, arguments are created out of nowhere in everyday situations. 

Many times arguments are started to upset you and undermine your opinions.

This tactic is done for a few reasons…

-To make you feel stupid

-To discredit your knowledge and opinion

-To create chaos

-To (further) make you feel like you’re walking on eggshells

By countering, your partner is symbolically telling you your opinions are invalid or don’t matter. 

This may make you feel as if you’re not good enough or your opinions and feelings do not matter.


Similar to criticism, discounting is a way for your partner to discredit your thoughts and feelings.

Your thoughts and feelings are truly unique to you. 

When your partner tells you what you’re feeling is wrong, they are indirectly shaping how you think and feel about things. 

This distorts your reality and makes you question your feelings, opinions, and decisions in life.

This can actually lead to you seeking out reassurance or even permission in everyday decisions about your life.

If you’re wondering if your partner is ever discounting you, look for the following types of statements/phrases:

~”You’re too sensitive”

~”You’re too emotional”

~”You’re exaggerating”

It’s worth mentioning that discounting also comes in the form of discounting your feelings toward the future.  This occurs when your partner dismisses your aspirations and dreams in life. 

They may also seek to discount your aspirations by compiling reasons as to why your plans for the future are “stupid ideas.”

Trust me, this hurts and the long term effects of this are devastating!

Discounting your dreams and ambitions can lead to feeling unworthy of your dreams and aspirations causing you to abandon them. 

Then you’re always stuck with the “what if” questions for the rest of your life.

Related Articles: 19 Signs You’re Being Gaslighted

How To Handle Love Bombing In A New Relationship

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Blocking and Diverting

Blocking and diverting are verbal abuse tactics similar to withholding. 

However, they involve your partner deciding what can and cannot be discussed in your relationship.

Again, this is another control tactic because your partner controls what and when you can talk about basically anything. 

This gives your partner control over your topics of conversation and even when you can speak.

Your partner is ‘blocking’ what you talk about and ‘diverting’ or changing the subject to appropriate topics picked by him/her.

I had many instances with my ex where I was told how I complain too much and how I spoke out of turn around people. 

Eventually, I was told to say as little as possible when around other people.


Last, but not least, the emotional abuse tactic of isolation makes this list of lesser-known signs.

You’ve probably heard in abusive relationships that an abuser will isolate their victim from friends and family. 

However, many people believe isolation only occurs in physically abusive relationships.  Isolation occurs in verbal abuse as well!

Isolation is the ultimate form of control.  This type of control slowly cuts you off from any type of support system in your life. 

The friends you once had are suddenly “bad influences” who you don’t need to hang around with anymore. 

Your family members “do nothing but talk about you behind your back.”

These are common types of excuses given by an abuser.  But why does an abuser do this?

Although only the abuser truly knows why he/she is trying to isolate you, here are a couple reasons:

  1. With no support system, you only rely on your partner because that all you have
  2.  No support system means no one close to you can tell you how terrible your partner treats you
  3.  With no support system, it makes it MUCH harder to leave the abusive relationship

Out of all the signs of abuse, I feel this is the worst one!  Of course, that’s just my personal opinion. 

But if you’re starting to feel isolated from friends and family at the hands of your partner…

Start thinking about getting out of your relationship!  I’m serious, RUN!

I say this from personal experience.  Once your partner is starting to plant the seeds of isolation between you and your friends and family, the emotional abuse will only get worse! 

Sometimes, the emotional abuse after isolating you then turns to physical abuse.  Not always, but sometimes.


Final Thoughts

I’ll be honest with you…  This article was hard to write. 

In fact, it took me over a week. 

I kept having to stop and come back to the article because talking about past emotional abuse is painful. 

In all honesty, I try to completely eradicate from my mind.

But we all know that’s not healthy either!

That’s why I feel it’s so important to bring light to how serious emotional abuse is. 

Emotional abuse leaves scars no one can see. 

Years later, you still suffer the psychological damage inflicted on you by someone who said they love you.

However, any type of verbal abuse is not love! 

I believe those who inflict the verbal abuse are incapable of love.

Know that some relationships can be repaired after emotional abuse.  People do change! 

But it takes a lot of work to repair something so broken. 

The question remains, however how long are you willing to try and salvage the relationship?

It’s never ok for anyone to be mistreated in the above ways.

The most important thing to know about emotional abuse is that it is not your fault! 

You didn’t cause someone to treat you so badly. 

You are more than capable of finding true love. 

Someone who respects, appreciates, and builds you up.


Works Cited

What is psychological abuse?

15 commons forms of abuse in relationships

The effects of criticism on relationships

When is it psychological abuse?

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