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Lisa Ferentz LCSW-C, DAPA

Emotionally Abusive Relationships, Part Two

Classic red flags that may indicate an abusive relationship.

DesignPicsInc/Deposit Photos
Source: DesignPicsInc/Deposit Photos

In Part One this series, I offered a relationship scenario that subtly but powerfully indicated some of the manifestations of emotional abuse. Research shows that women and men equally take on the role of either the abuser or the person who is victimized. Emotional abuse can occur in any kind of relationship: intimate partners; a parent and a child; two friends; siblings; a boss and his or her employee; or between colleagues. Although the emotionally abusive interplay between people can fly under the radar or be minimized or rationalized by either person, the cumulative effect takes a profound toll, particularly on one’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Here are just a few of the classic red flags to look for when considering the possibility that the dynamics in a relationship are emotionally abusive:

  • Communication is designed to humiliate, shame, or demean. The abuser enjoys “finding fault” with or “correcting” their partner, frequently pointing out their mistakes as a way to put them down both privately and in front of other people.
  • The abuser frequently belittles or disregards the other person’s thoughts, feelings, opinions, suggestions, or ideas, making it unsafe for them to freely or safely express themselves. In addition, they disregard the other person’s right to privacy or boundaries.
  • Teasing and sarcasm are employed to make the other person appear foolish. Yet when the victim complains they are accused of being “overly sensitive” or not having a sense of humor.
  • The abuser seeks to control all aspects of the relationship through financial withholding, verbal or physical intimidation, sex, granting or denying “permission,” stalking or harassing, or by making unilateral decisions that impact the other person.
  • The victim often feels “punished” by the abuser and over time is brainwashed into believing that they deserve the maltreatment they’ve received.
  • The abuser is usually emotionally distant and unavailable, forcing their partner to “work for” even the smallest degree of validation, support, or comfort. The victim is also made to feel guilt for wanting any emotional connection at all.

Since all of these behaviors are “normalized” or justified by the abuser, they create tremendous confusion and self-doubt in the victim. Part of why it’s so difficult for the victim to summon the courage to leave an emotionally abusive relationship is because they continually question their right to be upset, afraid, angry, or unhappy. In these situations, the support, guidance and encouragement of a well trained professional who understands the nuances of emotional abuse becomes a necessary resource.

If you’ve found the strength to leave this kind of relationship, please share your story to inspire others.

Missed Part One of this series? Read it here.>>