Social illness

Examples, Signs, and Effects — Talkspace

Signs of Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse isn’t always obvious, which can make it hard to recognize. Even in cases where the mental abuse is more noticeable, emotionally abusive people go to great efforts to manipulate victims and make the effects of their abuse seem lesser. They often will go so far as to deny any abuse happened at all. 

“Emotional abuse starts slowly and happens over time. It’s hard to recognize the signs and symptoms when the behavior and words become normalized or minimized. For this reason, it can take time for someone to recognize that emotional abuse is occurring. Take the time to learn what needs to be done to safely navigate away from the situation. Ask for help from professionals and friends and family.”

Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

When examining a relationship, it can be helpful to focus on how behaviors make you feel. Remember that you deserve to be treated with respect and kindness, and you should never put up with any form of abuse whether it’s emotional abuse, narcissistic abuse, verbal abuse, or otherwise. Some emotional abuse examples include:


Abusers frequently use accusations to manipulate victims into behaving in a certain way. Being accused of bad behavior can put you on the defense, even if you haven’t done anything wrong. For example, an abuser can accuse you of cheating, suggest that you’re neglecting responsibilities, or say that you would behave differently if you cared about them.


Emotional abuse often involves implied or overt threats. These threats can create an environment of fear and be used to manipulate you into behaving a certain way. An abuser could make threats of violence toward you or your loved one. They might use threats in other ways, too, like threatening to have you fired or saying they’ll report you to authorities (even if you’ve done nothing wrong).


An abusive person often tries to shame or humiliate victims in public and in private. This could include lectures about shortcomings, public outbursts, or even spreading flat-out lies. For instance, an abuser might falsely claim that other people said your behavior was embarrassing.

Ridiculing and teasing

Insults and name-calling are common emotional abuse tactics. Abusive people can make nasty comments or use hurtful nicknames. When this behavior is confronted, the abuser often insists that they were being sarcastic or just making jokes. They may even belittle you for being so sensitive and taking offense.


While some forms of criticism can be part of a healthy relationship, emotional abusers use it to hurt and devalue their victims. You may be subjected to constant criticism or critiques that are extremely harsh. While constructive criticism can help you improve, abusive criticism can leave you feeling worthless.


Emotional abusers may try to make their victims feel as though they’re unimportant or don’t matter. It’s common for them to dismiss accomplishments or take credit for successes. They may also insult your hobbies or interests or use patronizing language to belittle you.


It’s very normal for an abuser to try to control their victims. Controlling behavior can include digital spying (especially on social media), constant monitoring, and taking over important decisions can give abusers more power in a relationship. These tactics often isolate you, making it harder to exit the abusive relationship. 

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