What is emotional abuse? - Helpful tips to overcoming it.

Emotional abuse is a form of abuse that can have severe and long-lasting effects on your emotional well-being. Unlike physical abuse, emotional abuse is can sometimes be difficult to recognize, making it challenging to identify and address. In fact this is one of the main reasons emotional abuse can be so damaging, you just don’t see it happening until you are deeply entrenched in the abusive relationship.

Emotional abuse at its core, it’s designed to undermine your sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and confidence. Some classic examples of emotional abuse include belittling, name-calling, constant criticism, blaming, manipulating, and gaslighting. An abuser may use a variety of tactics for control. The most common tactics used would be threatening to leave, withholding affection, or isolating them from friends and family.

The effects of emotional abuse can introduce other mental health issues. Examples of these can include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and low self-esteem. Victims of emotional abuse may also experience physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach problems, and chronic pain.

Emotional abuse is not something that can be easily forgotten or “just gotten over”. It can have a lasting negative impact on a person’s mental and emotional health. Seeking help from a therapist who specializes in trauma and abuse can provide a safe space. This space can be used to process your experiences and develop strategies for coping and healing.

5 common types of emotional abuse and how to recognize them

Emotional abuse can take many different forms, let’s explore the five of the most common types of abuse:

  1. Verbal abuse – Verbal abuse involves using words to hurt, demean, or belittle someone. This can include name-calling, insults, and constant criticism.
  2. Gaslighting – Gaslighting is a tactic used by abusers to manipulate and control their victims. It involves making the victim doubt their own perception of reality, often by denying or minimizing their experiences.
  3. Withholding affection – Is a form of emotional abuse. It involves using affection and intimacy as a tool to control and manipulate the victim. This can include withholding physical touch, verbal expressions of love, and emotional support.
  4. Controlling behavior – Controlling behavior involves exerting control over someone’s life, often by limiting their freedom and autonomy. This may involve monitoring a persons activities, dictating their clothing choices, controlling how they spend their time, and cutting them off from friends and family.
  5. Blaming – Blaming is a form of emotional abuse that involves placing responsibility for the abuser’s behavior on the victim. This can include blaming the victim for the abuser’s anger or frustration, or shifting blame for problems onto the victim.

Recognizing these types of emotional abuse is an important step in protecting yourself or someone you know from further harm.

5 common ways emotional abuse can effect a person

It’s essential to recognize the signs of mental and emotional abuse. Seek help and support if you or someone you know is experiencing it. One way to address the effects of mental and emotional abuse is to get individual therapy from a mental health professional who specializes in trauma and abuse. This can provide a safe space to process experiences and develop strategies for coping and healing.

Self-esteem issues

Emotional abuse can have a significant impact on an individual’s self-esteem. Emotional abusers often use tactics such as name-calling, insults, and constant criticism to undermine an individual’s sense of self-worth and confidence. Over time, these negative messages can erode an individual’s self-esteem and lead to feelings of worthlessness, self-doubt, and insecurity. Victims of emotional abuse may begin to internalize the negative messages they receive and believe that they are unworthy of love, respect, and happiness. They may become overly self-critical and struggle to see their own strengths and positive qualities. They may also become anxious or depressed, as they feel that they are not good enough and are unable to meet the expectations of others.

Anxiety which leads to depression

Anxiety and depression can develop from someone being emotionally abusive in several ways. First, constant criticism, belittling, and demeaning behavior can erode an individual’s self-esteem and confidence, leading to feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt. These feelings can contribute to the development of anxiety and depression. Second, emotional abuse can also create a sense of isolation and loneliness, as the victim may feel like they can’t turn to anyone for help or support. This can lead to feelings of despair and hopelessness, which can contribute to depression. Third, emotional abuse can also trigger the body’s stress response, which can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, gastrointestinal problems, and chronic pain. Over time, chronic stress can also contribute to the development of anxiety and depression.


Emotional abuse can be a traumatic experience, as it involves ongoing and persistent maltreatment from someone who is supposed to care for and support the victim. Victims of emotional abuse may experience a range of symptoms associated with PTSD, including flashbacks, nightmares, and avoidance behaviors. They may also experience physical symptoms such as headaches, gastrointestinal problems, and chronic pain. Emotional abuse can also contribute to feelings of anxiety, depression, and hopelessness, which can further exacerbate symptoms of PTSD. Emotional abuse can be especially traumatic when it occurs in childhood, as it can interfere with the development of healthy coping mechanisms and self-esteem. Childhood emotional abuse can also affect an individual’s ability to form and maintain healthy relationships, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Trust issues

Emotional abuse can create trust issues with the victim, as it involves ongoing and persistent maltreatment from someone who is supposed to care for and support them. Emotional abusers often use tactics such as gaslighting, manipulation, and control to undermine the victim’s sense of self-worth and confidence. Over time, this can erode the victim’s ability to trust their own judgment and perceptions. Victims of emotional abuse may also struggle to trust others, as they may have been betrayed or hurt by those closest to them. They may worry that others will treat them the way they have been treated in the past and may become overly cautious or suspicious of others’ intentions. This can make it difficult for them to form and maintain healthy relationships, as they may struggle to open up and be vulnerable with others. Emotional abuse can be especially damaging when it occurs in childhood, as it can interfere with the development of healthy attachment styles and social skills. Children who are emotionally abused may struggle to form healthy relationships with others and may become isolated and withdrawn.

Substance abuse

Emotional abuse can be a contributing factor to substance abuse problems. Victims of emotional abuse may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of coping with the pain and trauma of their experiences. Substance abuse can provide temporary relief from negative emotions, but it can also lead to addiction and other negative consequences. Emotional abuse can also contribute to the development of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, which can further exacerbate substance abuse problems. Individuals who are emotionally abused may feel hopeless, helpless, and trapped, and may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of escaping these negative feelings. Substance abuse can also create additional problems for victims of emotional abuse. It can lead to financial problems, legal problems, and relationship issues, further exacerbating the sense of isolation and hopelessness that many victims of emotional abuse experience.

Other common signs of emotional abuse disorders can be described as:

  • Self-doubt, blame, and shame
  • Social isolation
  • Digestive issues and other physical health problems
  • Body aches and pains
  • Feeling worthless, powerless, or unlovable
  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Lack of self-care
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Chronic feelings of sadness, anger, or guilt
  • Negative impact on work or school performance
  • Difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

How can I prove emotional abuse?

Proving emotional abuse can be difficult, as it often involves subtle forms of manipulation, control, and maltreatment that are not easily visible to others. However, there are several steps you can take to document and validate your experiences of emotional abuse:

  • Keep a journal and write down any incidents of emotional abuse as they occur. Make sure to include the date, time, and details of what was said or done. This will be your record of the abuse. It can be helpful if you decide to seek legal or therapeutic support down the road.
  • Seek professional support and talk to a mental health professional who specializes in trauma and abuse. They can help you validate your experiences, develop strategies for coping and healing, and provide documentation of your experiences if necessary.
  • Talk to trusted friends and family and share your experiences. Trusted friends and family members  can provide emotional support and validation. They may also be able to serve as witnesses if you need to take legal action. Your loved ones will want to help you through this, let them help you.
  • Keep and gather evidence, if the abuse involves written or recorded communication, save copies of these messages as evidence. You may also consider taking screenshots of social media posts or text messages that contain abusive language.


Seek out an attorney that specializes in domestic violence and get legal support right away.  If you decide to take legal action, they can help you understand your rights and options.

How do you deal with emotionally abusive family members?

Dealing with emotionally abusive family members can be a challenging and complex process. However, there are several strategies you can use to protect yourself and set boundaries with them.

  • Establish boundaries and set clear boundaries with the emotionally abusive family member, and communicate them calmly and assertively. Let them know what behaviors are not acceptable and what consequences will occur if they violate your boundaries.
  • Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or a mental health professional for support and validation. It can be helpful to talk to someone who understands what you’re going through and can offer perspective and guidance.
  • Take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Consider doing hobbies that make you happy or start spending time with loved ones. Practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques, and getting help from a professional if needed is a great choice.
  • Limit contact if the emotionally abusive family member continues to violate your boundaries or refuses to change their behavior. This can be a difficult decision, but it may be necessary to protect your mental and emotional well-being.
  • Consider therapy – Consider therapy to help you process your experiences and develop strategies for coping and healing. A mental health professional who specializes in trauma and abuse can provide a safe space. In this space, individuals can process their experiences and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

What should I expect when attempting recovery from emotional abuse?

During the recovery and healing process, it’s common for individuals to experience a range of emotions, and there’s no one right way to heal. People may have mood swings, feeling positive and confident one day and anxious and sad the next. Adjusting to newfound freedom after experiencing controlling behaviors can be challenging for some, and many people may struggle to feel independent and make decisions on their own. It’s normal for abuse victims to miss their abusers, and some may even consider letting them back into their lives.

Before letting an emotionally abusive spouse back into your life, establish clear boundaries and stick to them. Create a plan for what you will do if your spouse attempts to contact you, such as blocking their phone number or email address. Surround yourself with a support system of family, friends, or a therapist who can help you stay accountable to your boundaries and provide encouragement when you need it.

Remember that it’s important to prioritize your own safety and well-being. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help if you need it. If your spouse is undergoing intensive therapy and making life changes, remember they shouldn’t be doing this for you. They have their own healing to do, give yourself to heal completely before worrying about the decision to get back together.

If you find yourself experiencing traumatic events through nightmares and flashbacks, it’s a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Victims of abuse may struggle with constant fear or feel as if they’re always on edge. Focus on the recovery process, it will help ease these struggles. Remember, recovery is always a long and sometimes difficult process. No road worth traveling is ever a short one. Stay the course, it will be worth it in the end.

How do you overcome years of emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse can have a profound impact on a person’s well-being, both mentally and physically. It may not cause visible physical wounds, but it can still be damaging. It can result in trauma that requires time to heal. Fortunately, we have compiled a list of 10 helpful tips to overcome emotional abuse.

  • Acknowledge that the abuse happened.
    • This can be difficult, but it is the first step to healing. Acknowledge that you were emotionally abused, and that it is not your fault.
    • Example: Say to yourself, “I was emotionally abused. It is not my fault, and I am not to blame for what happened to me.”
  • Surround yourself with supportive people.
    • Having a support system is crucial to healing from emotional abuse. Reach out to trusted friends and family members or consider joining a support group.
    • Example: Talk to a friend about your experience, and ask them for their support as you heal.
  • Practice self-care.
    • Self-care is important for healing from emotional abuse. Take time to care for your physical, mental, and emotional needs.
    • Example: Take a warm bath, practice meditation, or go for a walk to clear your mind and de-stress.
  • Seek professional help.
    • Consider seeking the help of a therapist or counselor. They can provide guidance and support as you work through the healing process.
    • Example: Schedule an appointment with a therapist who specializes in treating survivors of emotional abuse.
  • Learn about healthy relationships.
    • Educate yourself on what a healthy relationship looks like. This will help you identify unhealthy patterns and avoid them in the future.
    • Example: Read books or articles about healthy relationships, or talk to a therapist about what a healthy relationship looks like.
  • Set boundaries.
    • Setting boundaries is important for protecting yourself and your well-being. Be clear about what you will and will not tolerate in relationships.
    • Example: Tell your partner that name-calling or belittling language is not acceptable and that you will not tolerate it.
  • Practice self-compassion.
    • Be kind to yourself and treat yourself with compassion. Acknowledge that you are doing the best you can and that healing takes time.
    • Example: Say to yourself, “I am doing the best I can, and I am making progress in my healing.”
  • Practice forgiveness.
    • Forgiveness can be a difficult but powerful tool for healing. Forgive yourself and others for any mistakes or hurtful actions.
    • Example: Forgive your abuser for their actions, but also forgive yourself for any mistakes you may have made.
  • Take things one day at a time.
    • Healing from emotional abuse is a process that takes time. Take things one day at a time and be patient with yourself.
    • Example: Focus on what you can do today to support your healing process, rather than worrying about the future.
  • Remember that healing is possible.
    • Healing from emotional abuse is possible, and many people have successfully healed and moved on to lead happy, fulfilling lives.
    • Example: Say to yourself, “I am capable of healing from emotional abuse, and I am taking the necessary steps to do so.”

Sometimes it can be difficult to know how to begin the journey of healing from emotional abuse when you’re struggling with feelings of overwhelming hopelessness. However, it’s important to remember that healing is possible, and with the help of a professional, you can develop the necessary tools to thrive.

Seeking support from a therapist is a crucial step in the healing process. With online therapy, the process has gotten significantly more accessible, easier and comfortable. Northstar Counseling & Therapy is a locally based online therapy platform in Frisco, TX.

It's time for you to start the healing process.​

 With the guidance of fully licensed and trained professional, you can learn to practice self-compassion, protect yourself, and develop coping strategies that can benefit every aspect of your life. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help to start the process of healing today. Just click the button below to schedule your free initial consultation on our calendar.

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Megan Corrieri

Owner, Clinician, Wife & Mom