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How to Spot Emotional Abuse

When it comes to emotional abuse, similarly to physical violence and other forms of abuse, it is often an attempt by an abuser to maintain power and control in a relationship dynamic. The most notable difference between physical and emotional abuse is that emotional abuse is much harder to recognize because it excludes acts of physical violence.

With emotional abuse, as there is no physical evidence of abuse such as bruises or scars, this makes it difficult to identify when you or a loved one are the victims of emotional abuse.

Domestic violence refers to any form of violence performed in a domestic setting such as a marriage, that is committed by one partner against the other partner in a relationship. While domestic violence can include emotional abuse, emotional abuse can occur in any relationship, be it marriage, work relationships, or friendships, because, in reality, any relationship can become abusive.

Spotting Emotional Abuse

What Is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse can take several forms, including excessive jealousy, verbal abuse, and victim-blaming, which can be behaviours that are difficult to identify, especially as a lot of these tactics take place in the privacy of home settings. Despite the tactics used, the goal is always the same - to gain power and assert their authority over the other person in the relationship by attempting to frighten, isolate or control them.

These acts of emotional abuse chip away at the victim's self-confidence and self-worth, making them more susceptible to future abuse. As the victim loses their sense of self-worth, they may develop mental health conditions like depression, which can further worsen their overall well-being.

Here are three potential warning signs that could indicate that you or a loved one is the victim of emotional abuse:

Signs of Emotional Abuse

Victim Blaming

When things go wrong or if an abuser is accused of abusive behaviour, they will often try to avoid accountability by blaming the victim or others for the problem and implying that had the victim acted differently, the abuse or problem would not have occurred. Which then forces the blame to fall on the victim.

Victim blaming is extremely dangerous for victims as once they are convinced they are the cause of the issue or abuse, they are likely to stay in the abusive relationship under the belief that if they change their behaviour, it may stop the abuser from being abusive.


A common tactic in emotionally abusive relationships, gaslighting is where an abuser denies that certain events, like conversations or arguments, ever happened. This tactic causes the victim to doubt and question themself as well as their own memory, which helps the gaslighter maintain control over the victim, as the abuser’s word becomes more powerful than the victim’s own lived experience or beliefs.

Controlling Behaviours

In an abusive relationship, it is an abuser's aim to maintain power and control over the other person. They achieve this through controlling behaviours which may include isolating the victim from their loved ones, controlling the victim’s access to their finances or other resources, and controlling and monitoring the victim’s digital access, activities or social media, and their phone use.

Gender-Based Violence doesn't happen in a vacuum. There are various types of abuse, and numerous signs and symptoms of emotional abuse that are not always easy to spot. Because these behaviours often occur in the privacy of the home space, this limits opportunities for friends or family to witness the abuse, which makes it harder for the victim to seek help as they may feel like no one will believe they are being abused. Knowing what signs of emotional abuse to look out for can help you offer a helping hand when your loved one needs it most.

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