Signs You Are In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship (and don’t even know it)

black and white photo of woman laying
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(Not so) Fun fact:  I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for over 6 years.  

I was in my early 20s and for some freaking reason, I loved the hell out of that man, no matter how toxic the relationship was.

It took all I had to finally break away once and for all, and once I did and stopped looking back with a hopeful heart I started to realize just how abusive and forever damaging the relationship really was.  

I still, 10 years later, have a really hard time looking people in the eye when I am speaking to them, for example.

What is Emotional Abuse?

When we hear the words “abusive relationship,” most of the time our minds immediately think of physical abuse – hitting, pushing, etc. You picture black eyes and fat, bleeding lips and we always wonder “why the hell does she (or he) stay with that abuser?!  Just leave!”

But there’s also emotional abuse – also known a mental abuse.  

With the goal of completely controlling their partner, emotional manipulation is a form of abuse that leaves no physical marks. It wears down a person’s self-esteem to the point where they don’t even see their own self anymore.  

The victim will even begin to believe what their abuser says about them, which is what keeps them feeling “trapped” because they feel they couldn’t possibly be good enough for anyone else.


An emotionally abusive relationship (mental abuse) is something you never even see coming, and often don't even realize you are in. Here are signs you may be living with emotional abuse. #emotionalabuse #emotionallyabusiverelationship #mentalabuse
An emotionally abusive relationship (mental abuse) is something you never even see coming, and often don't even realize you are in.  Here are signs you may be living with emotional abuse. #emotionalabuse #emotionallyabusiverelationship #mentalabuse
An emotionally abusive relationship (mental abuse) is something you never even see coming, and often don't even realize you are in.  Here are signs you may be living with emotional abuse. #emotionalabuse #emotionallyabusiverelationship #mentalabuse

Remember that question, “Why the hell does she (or he) stay with that abuser?! Just leave!”

Well this is why. Because they have been emotionally brainwashed and actually believe what the abuser is telling.

An emotionally abusive relationship is something you never even see coming as it is very subtle, and definitely something you never think you are neck deep in, until it has completely consumed you and you are left to feel like you are trapped and alone with nowhere to turn.

I felt trapped for 6 long years.

For me, the red flags were there from the very beginning.  (Talk about hind sight 20/20, right?!) But of course, as most do who are blinded by love, I ignored them.

Signs you might be in an emotionally abusive relationship

Keep in mind, your partner doesn’t have to meet all of these signs.  It’s not all or nothing.  Even if they only do a handfull of these things, it’s still abusive and the first step towards helping yourself is to recognize it and understand that it is NOT normal behavior.

Emotionally abusive relationships usually start out…well…amazing.

The courting period is just the best!  They’re fun, affectionate, make you feel like you are the only person in the world.  They are the most charming, romantic person, and you tell all of your friends and family how perfect this person is!

happy couple hugging woman laughing

Things tend to move quite quickly.  They drop the big “L” word on you faster than you were even ready for (I mean dang you’ve only been seeing each other for, like, a few weeks!) but you see it as sweet and flattering that this person has seemingly fallen head over heals for you and your awesomeness so quickly.

You’re texting and calling and hanging out with each other ALL.  THE. TIME. And you love it! It’s loooove!

Then you notice that when you do have a moment that you’d like to come up for air, and maybe go hang with your friend or family member…

You get no space

This is often confused with thinking they just “love to be around you” and “cant stand to be away from you” because they love you that much.  It is also often confused with “oh, they’re so protective of me and that’s so sweet!”

They can even claim to be worried about your safety.  They will almost always insist on going everywhere with you – even to things like “girls night” with your friends.  

If you do manage to go somewhere without them, you must answer their texts or calls at all times. They must know who you’re with and where you are at all times.  

Slowly but surely they will start to give reasons why they dislike your friends and family members – which leads you to slowly lose touch with them. You start to move from “oh, he loves me so much that he cant be without me!” giddy feeling, to feeling like you are being smothered.

This can also come in another form of manipulation where the abuser with basically fake sick, hoping you will come to their rescue.  Also fake being oh-so sad that you are away and they miss you so very much – which often leads to you canceling your plans and staying home with them.  Over and over again, until you basically never go out with your friends or family anymore.


Questioning everything you do and who you are with.  Questioning your relationships with friends and family members who were clearly there long before you even met them.

Jealousy of anyone and everyone you are with, even your friends. 

The accusations start for no apparent reason.  And, because you know you’re innocent and havent cheated (or even want to for that matter), you start to work towards proving your love and loyalty to them by cutting off the people he/she tells you are a bother to them because of their made up reasons for distrust.

And sometimes you cancel your plans with friends for the sake of not having the energy or not wanting to deal with the fight that will come of it if you go.

When all is said and done, you have basically cut off everyone in your life… except them.  They’re now all you have.

Blames you for his or her problems

As a matter of fact, blames everyone except themselves for their problems.  

close up of man pointing

Somehow they are never, ever to blame for anything, and they have an excuse for every single action they do.  Even the horrendous ones.

They play the victim card – saying the reason they have jealousy issues is because of past relationships where they had been cheated on, and/or a crappy childhood.

Cheats on you – Constantly

This is one thing that I was always so confused about when I was eyeballs deep in my emotionally abusive relationship.  

The irony of the total insecure jealousy that he had for anyone who pretty much breathed in my direction and anyone I would attempt to hang out with – yet he cheated on ME time after time.

(I found out about all the cheating after I finally left him for good.  That’s when seemed like the entire town came forward, telling me all the people they would see him with. Like, gee thanks. Would have been nice had somebody came forward and told me this WHILE WE WERE STILL TOGETHER.  But anyway…)

You walk on eggshells

They seemingly have drastic mood changes (bipolar behavior) where one second they are happy and life feels great hanging out with them, and then all the sudden they’re pissy for no apparent reason. (And oftentimes, they blame their sudden bad mood on you and something you did.)

Shit-starters: starting arguments just for the sake of arguing. You could literally just be sitting there and all of the sudden, they say something (on purpose) that anyone in their right mind would get pissed off about. Usually something offensive.

These hurtful things they say will then be called “jokes,” and then you are made out to be “too sensitive” and “gah, you can’t even take a joke.”


“I never said that.”

“You dont know what youre talking about.”

“That doesnt even make any sense.”

“I never did that.”

“You’re too sensitive. Get over it.”

“When and where did I say that? I want you to tell me when I actually did that.” (And if you don’t rememebr the exact time and place and millisecond when the act was commited, then “it didn’t happen.”)

All of these comments are a way of instilling self-doubt. Being told that you “don’t know what you’re talking about” or told that something “never happened” over and over again, can and will start to stick in your mind. You start to believe that you really are just being “too sensitive,” and even start to believe that you must have just jumped to conclusions and are “crazy” for getting upset over “nothing” because it “never happened.”

You begin to downplay the horrible thing they said or did because you now believe you were just being overly sensitive, as they said.

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Never acknowledges your strengths and belittles your accomplishments, hopes, and dreams

My personal example of this:

I was in college during my time in my emotionally abusive relationship.

One of my classes had a tough instructor, with a tough grading scale, and even tougher tests. (He had a 40% class fail rate!)

I had a test coming up and I studied my ass off for that stupid thing. And managed to get a C+!

I passed the (STUPIDLY HARD) test! I. Was. Ecstatic.

It made my freaking day. I walked off campus that day with my chest in the air and my head held high!

Of course, the first thing I wanted to do was come home and tell my partner!

I tell him. And no lie, the only thing that came out of his mouth was, “C+? Um, that’s horrible. When I took that class [different instructor and a different school, might I add] I got an easy A. It’s not even that hard.”

That chest and head of mine turned into a big fat slumped over ball of failure.

girl sitting on dock alone with head on knees

Another of my personal examples:

I was in my early 20s, broke (even though I was working THREE jobs while going to school full time), and was sort of wandering aimlessly when it came to “what I want to be when I grow up.” I had no clue and was basically only going to college because you’re “supposed to.” lol

I started thinking that I need some help with some direction in my life. I felt in a weird rut and didn’t know which road to take to get somewhere, anywhere, in my life, figuratively speaking.

So I seriously started considering joining the military. The Navy to be exact.

I ran the idea by my partner and you can guess what he told me:

“The military? That’s the dumbest idea. Why would you want to join the military?? To go get yourself killed?”

As I was already eyes deep in self doubt, lowered self esteem, and dependence because we were years into this mentally abusive relationship, I [he] shut down that idea in a matter of seconds.

(I ended up joining the Army a few years after he and I broke up and served 6 years. Take that jerkface! Haha!)

I got the same type of response when I told him I used to do modeling when I was a teen and wanted to take it up again. Shut down.

Humiliates you – behind closed doors and/or in front of other people

This can include things such as:

  • Constantly interrupting and answering for you when someone asks you a question
  • Commenting on your “behavior”
  • Pointing out your “flaws” – even made up ones. (Man, did I get a TON of these comments – especially about my body)
  • Making you the “butt” of the joke (especially humiliating when they and their friends laugh about it with you standing right there)
  • Constantly pointing out your mistakes, seemingly dwelling on them, and bringing them up over and over again

Controls all of the money

…And will not let you have any voice in any financial matter. You may not even have access to the family income – bank accounts, savings funds, etc.

You are given an “allowance.”

You are made to ask for money and are oftentimes denied, even if its for essentials such as toiletries.

They prevent you from getting a job, and/or sabatoge a job you have.

If you do have an income of your own, they take your money, too.

I want to make clear, that I am not talking about you guys living on a budget and you know he is better with money than you are, so he’s the one who handles it all and you both are working together to keep your family finances in order. I’m talking about you being completely shut out of the finances, and have control over little to none of it. There is a difference.

Other signs you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship include, and are not limited to:

  • Name calling
  • Tries to control your behavior
  • You feel like you are unable to discuss issues or how you are feeling in your relationship
  • Lack of respect for you and your feelings – your feelings and opinions mean nothing
  • They become emotionally distant, and can even withhold sex or affection as a “punishment” because “you don’t deserve it”
  • Condescending and talks down to you
  • You find yourself constantly giving excuses and justifications for their behavior – “He/she’s a mean drunk” “He/she doesn’t mean that crap they said – They only said it because they were angry” etc.
  • You feel “stuck” and confused most of the time
silhouette of person with head down hopeless broken unimportant

Guilt Trip – Blackmail

They threaten to kill themselves, you, your kids or other loved ones, your pets, etc. if you leave them.

Threatening to turn you in to child protective services and “have your kids taken away from you.”

They say you will never find anyone who loves you as much as they do or take care of you the way they do, and because your self-esteem and self-worth are so low due to the emotional abuse you have subconsciously endured for some time now, you believe them.  You can’t even fathom finding someone new.

Leaving them feels terrifying

Leaving them scares the hell out of you because then you will be alone with literally nobody to turn to (because you previously cut everyone off, remember?).

You stay because you have all the hope in your being that you can turn this relationship around.  You can change him/her. You just know that they love you just as much as you love them – they just don’t know how to show it correctly.  And you can fix that, right?!

You stick with it, giving chance after chance, and in the meantime, reminisce on the awesome days you and them used to have.  You know, the days in the very beginning when everything was romantically amazing.

All relationships have their ups and downs, right?

Yes, absolutely.

Every relationship sucks at times. Every single one has disagreements and fights/arguments and tears and “ugh I’m going to stay with my mom for a little while because we just need to take a breather for a damn minute.”


It is absolutely NOT NORMAL for one party to feel belittled, depressed, low self esteem, manipulated (and not even know it), stuck, and disrespected.

Your feelings mean just as much as anyone else’s.

Your voice is just as important as anyone else’s.

Your dreams are just as achievable as anyone else’s.

And your mental health is just as indispensable as the next person’s.

Yes, relationships have ups and downs, but a partner should be someone who is by your side. Not in front of or behind you.

They should be the person who lifts you up when you are down, and vice versa.

Not the very person who is keeping you down…. and stomping on you while you’re down there.

Is this you? 

If you’ve made it through this post and you feel like some, most, or all of these signs resonate with you, it is time to take control of your life again.

If you’ve read through this post and you’re thinking, “well, sooome of these things my partner does, but he only does them if and when XYZ. Or if and when I ZXY. Or if and when he’s having a hard time at work. Or…”

then you are in an emotionally abusive relationship. Everything you just said or thought are excuses for his or her abusive actions. You have been manipulated to the point of justifying their abuse.

And it’s time to get your life back.

Know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. You feel like you are, I know. I did too. I felt like and knew in my heart that I was completely screwed, and was too humiliated to even talk about it to anyone or seek help.

But know this: more people have dealt with mental abuse than you think. We just don’t willingly go around talking about it to anyone who crosses our path. You are not alone in this.

You deserve a life better than this. And know that you CAN get it. Stand yourself back up, even if it’s a wobbly, unsure stand, and take that first step to snatch back your life out of your abuser’s hands and living it the way you deserve.

Happiness is right there – right around the corner. Stand back up and take a peek.

Continue reading to Part 2: How To GET OUT Of An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

You held me down, but I got up…already brushing off the dust… – Katy Perry in her song ‘Roar’ (watch and listen to the video below!)

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  1. Reply


    October 22, 2019

    I actually just left my ex fiancé (dated on and off for 4 years) and I now look back on how happy I was before the relationship and I’d been in controlling and once physically abusive relationship but I remember being strong enough to leave them right when I saw the signs, but this one was different… and I wish I had seen it sooner. But it literally took my looking back on the relationship and talking about it for me to realize what was happening. Now I honestly don’t know what to do, I feel even more lost then I did… I feel weak like I should have known… how do I even start to heal? Please help…

  2. Reply

    Chloe Daniels | Clo Bare

    July 8, 2019

    OMG THISSSSSSS! I love this article. It is SO informative and so clearly outlines the steps that I feel like are TEXTBOOK emotionally abusive. It’s so hard to see that stuff when you’re in it but it’s comforting to know that we’re all out there figuring it out. Seriously great article. The excuses that we make really tugged at my heart because I remember CONSTANTLY making all the excuses for several of my ex’s. I’d come up with reasons they were doing what they did– basically doing all the work for them to make it okay for me to continue staying in the realtionship– like “Oh he’s only being this way because he is stressed out at work and I’m making it worse because I’m not giving him space to breathe.” It’s Like— wait, what??? Number one, how can you assume that about a person if they aren’t even trying to explain their own reason for doing something. Number two, talk about giving someone an out for treating you like shit. Number three, EVEN WHEN SOMEONE IS AT THEIR WORST THEY SHOULD NOT TREAT THE PERSON THEY LOVE MOST TERRIBLY.

    I’m glad I went through what I did only because now I know what to look for. It’s incredible the ways this stuff messes with us. I could rant on but you get it 🙂

    Lots of love to you lady!

    • Reply


      July 10, 2019

      The worst thing is that the abused doesn’t even realize its happening until they suddenly feel depressed and completely alone. And then you wonder, damn, where did all of my friend go before I met this person?! The friends said peace out because they were tired of hearing all the excuses we’d give as to why we can’t hang out, or why my dude was being a jerk to them, or why my dude was being a jerk to ME, or whatever else. And we think it’s love….all the way up until we break free and look back with a clear eye. Only then do we realize it’s the furthest thing from love.

      I’m so happy you eventually stepped away from your toxic relationship. And yes, mental abuse can have lifelong effects. For example, I still, over 10 years later, have a hard time looking people in the eye when I am speaking to them.


  3. Reply


    March 17, 2019

    So I read this article after my friend sent it to me because I told her why I couldn’t hang out. Most of the signs are happening for me, what I should I do? I don’t know how to confront her about my issues at all. The issues I’m the relationship are affecting me so much in everyday life. I can’t even hang out with my friends and not text or call her everytime she sends a text. I have no idea what to do and I just feel trapped in this relationship.

    • Reply


      March 17, 2019

      I am in the process of writing out a “Part 2” to this post that will be a guide on what to do if you find yourself in a mentally abusive relationship (or even a physically abusive relationship for that matter).

      If you don’t mind, Kaleigh, I will email you the link as soon as I have it finished. Or you can subscribe to my blog HERE and you will receive an automatic email when the article posts. I plan to have Part 2 out by the end of this month (March) at the latest.

      Hugs, my friend. Know that you are NOT alone. As you can see just from the comments on this post, many of us have gone through exactly what you are going through. Most of us just don’t go around talking about it so you’d never know just by looking at us that we have been through hell and back lol.

      Talk soon.

    • Reply


      April 1, 2019

      I completed Part 2: How To GET OUT Of An Emotionally Abusive Relationship.

  4. Reply


    February 6, 2019

    I’m so glad you are out of this relationship! I have been there as well. I always wondered why people only spoke up about the cheating AFTER the relationship ended, too! Thankfully, I’m no longer in this situation. 🙂

    • Reply


      February 7, 2019

      I think people feel like “it’s none of my business.” I remember people actually telling me that when they told me about the cheating and I flat out asked them why the hell they didn’t tell me a long time ago! Would have saved me YEARS of my life, because had I known about it, I probably would have left!

      I’m glad you got out of your situation as well. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Reply


    February 6, 2019

    I was in an emotionally abusive marriage for 2 years before he THANKFULLY left me when I was pregnant and haven’t had much contact with his sense. It has been 4 years, and the scars are still there. This is a great post and list for those who are maybe questioning their relationship and hopefully, it opens eyes those who are in this terrible kind of relationship so they can get out of it 🙂

    • Reply


      February 6, 2019

      A blessing in disguise! Glad you dodged that bullet! 🙂

      I think our scars will be there forever, but with time and help (I love my counselor!), those scars can slowly fade.

      Thanks for the comment!

  6. Reply


    February 6, 2019

    I was there once before I got married to my husband now. It was horrible. You don’t realize it until you’re too deep into it. I never wish that for anyone. I’m happy you got out of it. And I’m happy I got out of it when I did too!

    • Reply


      February 6, 2019

      Yes, exactly. Deep into it and completely isolated. I’m happy you got away from it as well. No one deserves to live that way.

      Thanks for the comment, Kate!


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