Signs of Emotional Abuse
Minimize, Dismiss, Exaggerate, and Excuse
In intimate partner relationships, oftentimes the abusive partner may minimize their partner’s feelings, and avoid taking accountability by dismissing or excusing their own abusive behaviors with, “it was just a joke” or “you’re exaggerating,” or by accusing their partner of being “too sensitive.” They may deny that the event ever happened, or make their partner question their memory of it. They may exaggerate their partner’s mistakes or flaws in order to deflect or avoid taking accountability for their own behaviors. Or they may make their partner explain how they feel over and over, while often trivializing their concerns and not changing their own behavior (even after saying “sorry” and promising to change).
Invalidate and Criticize
Emotional abuse can present as subtle, but repeated invalidations and criticisms, such as minimizing their partner’s job, nitpicking their appearance, or mocking their hobbies, interests, or style. The survivor may adapt how they do chores, how they park their car, how they dress or decorate their home, or even adjust their interests and hobbies altogether to satisfy the abusive partner or avoid criticism.
Sense of Superiority
People who are emotionally abusive may present a sense of superiority, treating their partner like they’re inferior, or telling them that their jokes, ideas, or opinions are illogical or “don’t make sense.” They may undermine or embarrass their partner, such as making jokes at their expense in public. They may talk down to their partner, be condescending, use sarcasm, or act like they’re always right or “know what is best”.
Isolate and Track
People who are emotionally abusive may slowly begin to isolate their partner by criticizing their family and friends, or by being jealous or upset when their partner wants to spend time with other people. The abusive partner may expect to have access to their partner’s social media accounts, look through their texts, be able to track them with GPS, or accuse them of “flirting” or cheating.
Abusive behaviors may also show up in ways that create confusion and chaos, such as mood swings, silent treatment or withholding love and affection, emotional outbursts, making contradictory statements, or behaving unpredictably, causing their partner to feel like they have to “walk on eggshells.”
Weaponize “Therapy Speak”
The abusive partner may communicate in a way that sounds like “therapy speak”, such as, “I’m stating my boundary,” meanwhile trying to control their partner (what they wear, who they’re with, or their job, etc.).