There’s a subtlety to emotional abuse that makes it difficult to spot—not only for those looking at the relationship from the outside, but potentially for the victims themselves as well.
“Emotional abuse is insidious,” therapist Sharie Stineswho specializes in it Recovery from Abuse, HuffPost said. “It’s often invisible. It’s often designed so that only the target will know she’s being abused, and on the surface the abuser looks “normal.”
Behaviors such as gaslighting, criticizing, insulting, belittling, blaming, threatening, isolating, and withholding affection or money can be forms of emotional abuse. Abusers use these and other tactics to undermine their partner’s confidence and independence, allowing the abuser to gain and maintain power and control in the relationship.
“Victims of emotional abuse are never validated, reassured, not listened to, or not understood. They feel lonely, confused, hurt and insecure.”
– Sharie Stines, therapist specializing in abuse recovery
However, abusive relationships don’t always start that way. In fact, they appear to be loving and caring at first, at least on the surface. In the early days of the relationship, the abuser uses nurturing techniques such as charm, gifts, and affection to draw the victim in before pulling the rug out from under them.
“This ‘kindness’ is intended to gain the trust of an unsuspecting victim and leave them vulnerable to later abuse.” Lisa Ferentza licensed clinical social worker and educator specializing in trauma, previously told HuffPost.
Emotional abuse can eventually escalate into physical violence. And abusers who engage in abuse, whether physical or verbal, tend to use the same type of language.
Below, experts reveal some of the common phrases used by abusive partners. (You can read about some of the behavioral warning signs in this post.)
1. “You’re too sensitive.”
Emotional abusers will try to dismiss your legitimate feelings about something hurtful they did or said—by accusing you of being “too sensitive”—by accusing you of being “too sensitive.”
“It takes the focus off the offending behavior. It’s a form of gaslighting,” said the psychotherapist Stephanie Moulton Sarkisauthor of “Gaslighting: Recognize manipulative and emotionally abusive people — and break free.” “It leaves someone feeling drained and ashamed.”
2. “You’re impossible to please.”
Emotional abusers are master manipulators, Stines said. They give you sneaky compliments — “The apartment doesn’t look as dirty as it did the last time you tried cleaning” or “You can’t tell how heavy you are in that outfit” — that are actually insults. If you bring this to their attention, they will deny that they said anything rude and dismiss you as dissatisfied.
“The victim is confused and thinks, ‘There’s no way I can please me,'” Stines said. “That’s because her abuser is so hurtful that she’s often unhappy. It’s not really her fault that she feels so miserable, it’s the fault of her tormentor, who constantly mentally injures her.”
3. “Your friends aren’t as supportive as I am.”
It is beneficial for the abuser to isolate the victim from their friends, family, and other members of their support system. That way, there is no one around to observe the abusive behavior or help the victim exit the relationship safely. Abusers often do this by discouraging you from spending time with your friends—whom they say do not have your best interests at heart—while convincing you to spend as much one-on-one time with them as possible.
“For example, my partner would always say that my friends were interfering with our relationship or that I couldn’t do anything right because I was on the phone all the time,” said an educator and domestic violence survivor Zoe Flowers, author of “From Ashes to Angel Dust: A Journey Through Femininity.” “Thankfully I never believed him and continued to meet up with my friends, albeit secretly, which ultimately saved my life when I left.”
4. “Why are you making such a big deal out of this?”
Emotionally abusive partners will ignore the problem at hand and instead blame it on you. Let’s say the abuser came home from work hours late without calling you to let you know. If you try to tell your partner that you were worried or frustrated because you already prepared dinner, they will not apologize or take responsibility. Instead, they will punish you for overdoing things once again.
“The light no longer shines on the deceased and insensitive partner, but on the victim of the emotional abuse,” Stines said. “What are her options? When she shares her feelings, such as, “I felt ignored or worried,” her abuser responded with something like, ““You’re too sensitive” or “You always overreact.” These comments are meant to silence the victim so they don’t dare question them now or in the future.”
5. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Gas lighters will make you question your own judgement, memories and sense of reality. If you make an accusation based on something you experienced, a gaslighter will tell you it never happened or that your memory is flawed.
“This then leads to the person relying on the gas lighter for the ‘correct’ version of reality,” Moulton Sarkis said. “Someone might feel like they’re losing their mind and becoming addicted to the gas lighter.”
6. “Everyone thinks you’re crazy.”
Once a gaslighter makes you doubt your own perceptions, they will convince you that other people also think you are mentally unstable, further shattering your confidence.
“That’s dismissive,” Moulton Sarkis said. “It also makes a person feel like they have no outside support, which isolates them from friends and family. The more isolated a person feels, the less likely they are to leave an abusive relationship.”
7. “My ex was so much better than you.”
Comparing yourself negatively to their previous partners is another attempt to hurt your self-esteem. They may make derogatory comments about how your looks, intelligence, skills, or personality compare to their exes or other people in your life.
These types of comments are “used to weaken their partner’s spirit and confidence,” Flowers said.
What should you do if your partner makes such comments?
It depends on. There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to dealing with an abusive partner.
“I don’t want to put anyone in any more danger by making a blanket suggestion about what they should or shouldn’t say,” Flowers said. “I believe survivors are the experts on their relationships.”
If you’re (or suspect you might be) in an abusive relationship, Flowers recommends calling that National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) where attorneys can provide advice tailored to your specific situation.
Additionally, these expert-backed tips can help you deal with a toxic, manipulative partner:
Over time, emotional abuse makes it harder to tap into what your intuition is trying to tell you. But if you feel something is wrong, don’t ignore it.
“If you feel that tightness in the pit of your stomach or a feeling of uneasiness about a situation, don’t immediately dismiss that feeling just because someone else thinks you should,” the clinical psychologist says B. Nilaja Green previously told HuffPost. “Investigate what that sensation might be telling you and get more information before taking your next step.”
“These are the weaknesses or weaknesses in one’s psyche that an emotional abuser exploits,” Stines said.
“For example, if you find it easy to feel guilty, remind yourself not to make decisions out of guilt. If your weakness is “give him the benefit of the doubt when in doubt,” remember that this only works with non-emotional abusers. Perpetrators will take advantage of your good nature.”
Trying to convince your partner to see your page is probably a waste of time.
There are a number of ways you can try to present your case, but it’s no use. Explaining yourself doesn’t work for an emotional abuser.
“Victims of emotional abuse are never acknowledged, reassured, not listened to, or misunderstood,” Stines said. “They feel lonely, confused, hurt and insecure.”
If you’re inclined to respond, Stines suggests saying something non-combatant, like, “Thank you for sharing your thoughts about me.” Maybe you’re right. But I do not believe that.”
“Make the decision to stop fighting with your abuser,” she added. “This is an example of a healthy border. Remember, you cannot set limits on anyone but yourself.”
If you’re feeling defensive, try to withdraw from the conversation.
“Call a friend. Journal. Do anything other than defend yourself,” Stines said. “Remind yourself that you don’t have to defend yourself because you didn’t do anything wrong.”
The most effective response, Moulton Sarkis believes, is not responding at all.
“Any type of response can and will be used against you now or in the future,” she said. “The purpose of using this emotionally abusive language is not just to hurt you, but to make you appear unstable and then accuse you of being supposedly ‘irrational.'”
Remember to rely on your support system.
Need a safe place to stay, a listening ear, or help finding a professional who specializes in abusive relationships? Reach out to someone you trust in your life who can help you Get access to the support you need.
Do you need help? In the US, call 1-866-331-9474 or text “loveis” to 22522 National Dating Abuse Hotline.