It’s painful to admit that I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. What’s even worse, I had no idea things were toxic when we were together. I knew I wasn’t happy and that I didn’t like myself when I was with him, but I never put the pieces together until after the terrible situation ended. At that point, the damage had been done. Don’t make the same mistake as I did—watch out for these 11 signs of emotional abuse:
He constantly makes you the butt of the joke. Having a joking relationship with your partner is common, and something I was pretty familiar with. While there’s nothing wrong with teasing one another, there’s a difference between having a witty rapport and being bullied. When it seems like he’s always putting you down and using you as the subject of jokes for the benefit of others, it’s because he is. Don’t stand for it.
If you try to talk to him about it, he spins it around on you. He might tell you that you’re being “sensitive” or “selfish” — there are a million words he’ll have in his arsenal to make you feel like you’re “overreacting” or acting “crazy” when you’re clearly not. If you’re upset or uncomfortable with the way he’s treating you, that’s the only justification you need.
He ignores your boundaries or requests. This can vary in its severity and it often dips into the more physical aspects of abuse—you’ve asked for him to not touch you a certain way, but he does it anyway, or you’ve asked him to please not call you “bitch” in bed and he persists despite the fact that he knows you find it demeaning. You know that these things make you uncomfortable—you asked him to stop, after all—and if he’s not taking that seriously, he shouldn’t get another chance.
He plays the victim to make you feel guilty. Say he crosses one of those boundaries you asked him not to and you call him out on ignoring your blunt request. Odds are, an emotionally abusive individual will play the victim. He’ll pout, whine, pull-away, or maybe even lash out in anger. If he’s throwing fits to make you feel terrible about something you didn’t do wrong, that’s a huge red flag.
You get no compassion or empathy from him. Obviously you’re not constantly whining and seeking sympathy, but everyone has bad days. If you come home from a crappy day at work and your partner couldn’t care less, it’s heartbreaking. When he doesn’t even ask what’s wrong—or worse, when he asks and then makes you feel as if you don’t deserve to be in a bad mood—it can make you feel invisible or worthless, which you definitely are not.
He attempts to control where you go and what you do. It might come in the form of a dramatic fit, snide remarks, pouting, or straight-up talking down to you, but an emotionally abusive partner will often try to dictate your life. They don’t want you to go out with the girls? They don’t want you seeing your family? I had to confront the fact that my boyfriend was making me feel guilty as a way to cut me off from social interaction. He wanted me for himself and anyone in my life that wasn’t him was considered the enemy.
He blames you for failures in his life. The fact that he’s not making as much money as he wants to has nothing to do with you, but somehow, you end up being the bad guy every time. You know their logic is flawed, demented even, but you still feel a pang of guilt every time.
Sex is his weapon. As a sexual being, I need someone who can fulfill my physical needs. At first, it seemed like my ex-boyfriend was the perfect yin to my sexual yang, but it quickly became apparent that he was using my sex drive against me. He would hold out on sex (or certain sexual acts) if I did things he didn’t like or refused to do certain things. In the moment, it seemed like a playful, sexy tactic. Looking back on it now, I see just how messed up it truly was. If a guy uses sex to control or influence you, there’s a serious problem.
He shares your personal information with people willingly. I remember being shocked and disgusted to find that my ex had shared super personal details of my life both with his friends and mutual friends. I felt humiliated and utterly betrayed. Worse, when confronted on the exploitation of my secrets for a good barroom story, he accused me of not being able to take a joke. It’s not a joke—it’s abuse.
He knows what you’re self-conscious about and he brings it up frequently. If you’ve unwittingly let an abuser into your life as I did, it’s likely he knows all your insecurities, from your thigh jiggle to your singing voice. An abuser loves to bring up those issues, insisting he’s “just having fun.” It’s seriously messed up.
He belittles your hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. He’s condescending when it comes to your ambitions and accomplishments. You’re a strong woman who’s achieved some amazing things and you dreams of accomplishing even more. But an emotionally abusive partner can’t handle that—he won’t want to see you succeed. In my situation, I think it was because I was “succeeding” more than he felt he was. Rather than support me, he tore me down and made me feel like my dreams were stupid and that everything I had done was worthless.
If you’re coping with or recovering from emotional abuse, know that you are not a fool. Abusive relationships of all types are difficult to escape, and what’s important it keeping your eyes open for signals like these. If you can wake yourself up to the brutally honest truth of the situation, you can find the strength to get yourself out.
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