Mental Health

Overcoming Emotional Abuse in a Relationship

There are highs and lows in every relationship, and no relationship is the same. But there are specific dynamics that can be concerning and potentially harmful to your well-being. Learn how emotional abuse can manifest in a relationship and what you can do about it.

By URLife Team
27 Sep 2023

When it comes to understanding what trauma and emotional abuse can look like in a relationship, the answer is different for everyone. A 2023 study by the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care (India) shows that approximately 19 per cent of women felt that they been psychologically abused by their significant other. Another 2022 study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that roughly 1 in 6 men have experienced emotional abuse since the age of 15.


A strong emotional connection is what keeps many people within these relationships, often to the point where they feel like they would not be able to live without their partner, even while they’re suffering. It can be easy to think about moving on or ending the relationship, but emotional abuse is deeply personal; it takes a long time to understand it’s happening to you, and even longer to escape it.


If you or a loved one feel like you may be suffering from emotional abuse, here are the signs you should watch out for, and what you can do.


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Who’s Vulnerable to Emotional Abuse?

Anyone of any age, background, gender and race can be susceptible to emotional abuse. But there are specific individuals who may be dealing with an imbalance of power in the relationship (like financial dependency) or deal with low self-esteem who are more vulnerable to emotional abuse than others.


When a person is already vulnerable due to past trauma, low self-esteem, or a history of dysfunctional relationships, emotional abuse is more likely to happen. Vulnerable individuals may be more susceptible to manipulation and control. Many individuals in emotionally abusive relationships suffer from low self-esteem and may believe they deserve the abuse or are unworthy of better treatment. This self-doubt can keep them trapped in the relationship.


Some people may also lack a support system that encourages them to leave the abusive relationship or question its dynamics. The isolation created by the abuser can exacerbate this issue.


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How Emotional Abuse Can Manifest

In many cases, the person who is being emotionally abusive tend to apply specific tactics. They will humiliate and shame their partner, especially in public where they are unlikely to respond back to their abuser. It can also include controlling behaviour, where the partner is shamed for doing something, and controlled into not doing it.


You might deal with constant accusations and gaslighting. Your partner may deny that they are doing anything to harm your mental and emotional well-being, even when that isn’t the case.  Emotionally absuve individuals often isolate their victims from friends, family, and support networks. This isolation intensifies the victim's dependence on the abuser for emotional connection and support, making it harder to break away.


It can start with something simple like your partner constantly checking your phone and messages to see who you’ve been in touch with, and questioning why you’re in touch with these people. Over time, it can deter you from contacting anyone, effectively isolating you from loved ones.


The relationship can also become imbalanced after particularly traumatic events, such as physical abuse, threats, or extreme emotional manipulation. These intense experiences can create a strong emotional bond as the victim seeks comfort and security from the abuser.


Victims in these relationships may experience cognitive dissonance, a psychological phenomenon where they hold conflicting beliefs simultaneously. For example, they may know that the abuser is harmful, but they also believe the abuser truly cares for them due to intermittent positive experiences. Resolving this dissonance can be mentally distressing.


Fear and threats are also used to maintain control. Victims may fear physical harm, social consequences, or the loss of the relationship, which can prevent them from leaving. Victims may feel shamed or guilty because they are made to feel like they are the cause of this abusive behaviour. This guilt can make victims reluctant to seek help or leave the relationship. Victims may hold onto the hope that the abuser will change or that the relationship can be salvaged. This hope can keep them engaged in the cycle of abuse.


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Helping Yourself Out of the Relationship

The only way emotional abuse can truly end is when the victim decides to end the relationship. While this is a decision that can take a lot of courage, self-love and understanding, it is still hard. Recognising the signs of emotional abuse is essential to ending the relationship, no matter how strongly you may love your partner.


If getting out of the relationship seems impossible to face alone, it is best to seek out professional help. Therapists who specialise in abuse and trauma can provide guidance, support and tools needed to help you end and move past the relationship.


Connect with friends, family, or support groups who can offer emotional support and validation during your healing process. Learning more about how emotional abuse works and manifests will help you feel empowered to make informed decisions for yourself.


Establish clear boundaries with your abuser or toxic relationship. This may involve limiting or cutting off contact altogether. Healing takes time, and it's essential to be patient with yourself. Forgive yourself for any perceived mistakes or perceived weaknesses in the past.


As you distance yourself from the abuser, set goals and aspirations for your future. Focus on rebuilding your life in a healthy and positive way. Ultimately, each individual’s triggers and emotional needs are different, and this is why emotional abuse looks different in all relationships. However, feeling humiliation, shame, sadness and even anxiety are not signs of a healthy relationship. Understand that you deserve to be happy, content in a relationship that supports and uplifts you. 



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