‍7 Signs of Emotional Abuse and Manipulation

The signs and symptoms of physical abuse are obvious and concrete, but the signs of emotional abuse are insidious and hidden to the eye. For this reason, many people underestimate the devastating and lasting effects of emotional abuse. In this article, we will explore the signs of emotional abuse and manipulation, the impact they can have on individuals, and how to protect yourself from these toxic behaviors.

Common Tactics Used in Emotional Abuse and Manipulation

To effectively combat emotional abuse and manipulation, it is crucial to understand the dynamics at play. Emotional abuse is about power and control. Remember, in a healthy relationship, both people have the capacity to respect multiple subjectivities. That means that both people understand that each individual has their own set of feelings, perceptions, needs and desires that are worthy of respect and consideration, and that they are bound to differ. Both people work to respect the subjectivity of one another. 

In an abusive relationship, the abuser lacks this capacity to hold another’s subjectivity in mind and compensates for this deficit by seeking to dominate and manipulate their victim, often using tactics that are difficult to recognize. They use manipulation and abuse to exploit vulnerabilities, create fear and dependency, and undermine the victim's sense of self-worth in an ultimate attempt to have the victim surrender their own subjectivity and allow the abuser to control the relationship to suit their own needs

First, let’s define what emotional abuse is, in terms of behaviors and patterns in relationships. Emotional abuse and manipulation can take many forms, with abusers employing a range of tactics to control their victims. Some common tactics include:

  • Gaslighting: Manipulating the victim into questioning their own reality.
  • Belittling and Criticism: Constantly putting down and demeaning the victim.
  • Isolation: Cutting off the victim from friends and family, creating a sense of dependency.
  • Guilt-tripping: Using guilt to manipulate the victim into doing what the abuser wants.
  • Emotional Blackmail: Threatening to withdraw love, affection, or support as a means of control.
  • Stonewalling: refusing any contact or collaboration, leaving the victim feeling helpless, trapped and in pain.  (distinct from a healthy ability to pause a conflict for the sake of coming back together when both partners are calm enough to proceed)


Signs of Emotional Abuse in Relationships

Emotional abuse in relationships can take many forms, and it is important to be able to identify the signs. Here are the 7 most common ways to identify when emotional abuse is present:

    1. Criticism and Contempt. From inside an abusive relationship, the victim might notice that they have been constantly criticized. If criticism escalates into contemptful  speech, that is a more distressing symptom of abuse. Name calling, derogatory comments, belittling all fall into this category.

    2. Isolation. If your relationship has caused you to cut off meaningful contact from family members or friends, and you feel more isolated and dependent on your partner, this is a huge warning sign of an abusive relationship.  Sometimes, the abuser will actively drive a wedge in your outside relationships, criticize your friends and family, or cause conflict. Other times, you may withdraw from close relationships out of shame of what is happening in the relationship and a need to hide or protect the abuser. If you have a friend in an abusive relationship, you may notice that they seem more withdrawn, and are less willing to talk about what is going on in their life.


  • Guilt tripping or emotional blackmail. In a healthy relationship, both partners are able to apologize or feel reasonable remorse for mistakes or hurt feelings they may have caused. However, if you find yourself constantly feeling guilty, or that you are chasing a moving target of faults and problems, you are likely the victim of guilt tripping.


  1. Lack of collaboration.  In a healthy relationship, both people feel free to express their feelings and needs, and both people actively work to make sure that decisions are an active collaborative ebb and flow in which both people feel cared for and have their needs met. In abusive relationships, one person is unable to partake in this collaborative process and instead can usually only consider their viewpoint, their needs, or their subjective reality as having value.

  2. Low Self Esteem.  The most common and compounding effect of being in an abusive relationship is that the victim’s self esteem will slowly but continually degrade.  When one’s self esteem is lower, it makes it harder to imagine not needing the abuser, deserving better treatment, or even being okay in the world without the abuser. One’s self value declines to rationalize the treatment from the abuser. This may occur on an emotional level, even if the victim consciously feels undeserving of the treatment.

  3. Self Alienation. A more extreme version of low self esteem, self alienation is the feeling of being disconnected from your core self, your values, your aliveness, sense of humor, and ability to identify your needs and feelings. If you were raised in an emotionally abusive household, you may very well experience self alienation on a profound level, and this may impact your life in grand ways.

  4. Unconscious Anger.  In abusive relationships, there is no healthy place to express anger towards the abuser. Thus, victims tend to internalize and repress their realistic and necessary anger. This anger can manifest as depression, self harm, addictive behaviors and unhealthy emotional regulation. 

Effects of Emotional Abuse and Manipulation

The effects of emotional abuse and manipulation can be far-reaching and damaging to your mental and emotional well-being. 

  • Constant criticism and belittling can erode your self-confidence, making you doubt your own worth and abilities
  • Over time, you may become isolated from friends and family, losing your support network and feeling completely dependent on your abuser.
  • Guilt and shame can creep into your thoughts and feelings about the relationship, even if you feel angry and mistreated. 
  •  Anxiety is a very common effect of emotional abuse, as your connection to self and others has become unstable and does not follow healthy patterns, respond to healthy interventions, or make sense. 
  • Many people become depressed as they feel lost in the system of manipulation and confusion, feeling that there is no way out of the cycle. 
  • Over time, self alienation occurs. Self alienation is the phenomenon where you lose contact with your own subjectivity, intuition, truth, clarity, and ability to articulate your needs and feelings. 
  • Manipulation and gaslighting can leave you feeling confused, ruminating about the relationship or conversations, doubting your own reality, and questioning your sanity

Each of these effects are serious and profound, and cumulatively over time. They can be truly damaging and life altering. 

How to Protect Yourself from Emotional Abuse and Manipulation

Identifying emotional abuse and manipulation can be challenging, as they often occur behind closed doors and are masked by the abuser's charm and charisma. However, there are some key signs to look out for. Trust your instincts and pay attention to any feelings of unease or discomfort in your relationship. 

A healthy relationship will leave you feeling more connected to yourself, at ease, and able to be honest. 

If you are constantly doubting and questioning yourself, feeling confused, ruminating on conversations, these are red flags. 

Remember, emotional abuse and manipulation can occur not only in romantic relationships but also in other settings such as the workplace, friendships, and parenting relationships

In the workplace, manipulative tactics may manifest as bullying, undermining, or sabotaging your success. 

Friends can also be manipulative, using guilt or emotional blackmail to control your actions or decisions. 

When manipulation and emotional abuse enters a parenting relationship, it can have one of the most devastating lifelong effects as the psychological effects of abuse become embedded in the developing personality of the child.

It is important to recognize that emotional abuse and manipulation are never acceptable, regardless of the context. Establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries is crucial in all relationships. If you suspect emotional abuse or manipulation in any setting, it is important to address the issue and seek support.

Protecting yourself from emotional abuse and manipulation starts with a healthy relationship to yourself. If you were raised in an unsupportive or abusive household, you likely need a lot of support creating this healthy self relationship. Seek therapy and/or try my online course, Love Thyself, which will walk you through the necessary work on your attachment history and the beliefs you hold about your identity and how relationships ought to work. People who lack self esteem or suffer from self alienation suffer from a high risk of falling into manipulative and abusive relationships. 

However, even healthy people can easily fall prey to abusive dynamics because abusers are often charming and good at hiding their true intentions until you feel bonded in the relationship and may feel compelled to “work on” the relationship, which will only leave you more ensnared in a toxic dynamic.  To avoid this trap, you must be strongly connected to your own sense of self, be able to hold healthy boundaries, and recognize manipulative behaviors straight away. If you are dating and want to make sure that you are screening for the presence of healthy relationship capacities and the absence of any manipulation, my Dating Course was designed to help you do just this.  

If you have a healthy relationship to yourself, and have done the work to unpack your own attachment history, you will be able to trust your instincts and prioritize your well-being. If you are very clear about what constitutes manipulation or abuse, you will feel confident keeping healthy boundaries and toxic relationships out of your life. I recommend my Emotional Manipulation and Abuse Course for anyone who wants to make sure that they are crystal clear about toxic behaviors and, as importantly, the healthy alternative to get your needs met. 

Some people inadvertently fall into manipulative behaviors less because they are abusive by nature, and more because they lack the healthy skills to express their needs and feelings in a productive way. This course is meant to help you discover where you and a potential partner, boss, or friend may be on this spectrum. 

If you suspect emotional abuse, confide in a trusted friend or family member or find a therapist well trained in these dynamics who can provide support and help you access resources.

Educate yourself about healthy relationships and assertiveness skills. Surround yourself with a support network of trusted individuals who can provide guidance and encouragement. Practice self-care and prioritize your mental and emotional well-being. Remember, you deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.

Breaking the Cycle of Emotional Abuse

Breaking the cycle of emotional abuse requires courage and self-awareness. Recognize that you are not to blame for the abuse; it is the abuser who is responsible for their actions. Take steps to prioritize your well-being and establish healthy boundaries. You may also need to correct your own behavior that has developed in the context of an unhealthy dynamic. Re-learning to express your feelings and needs in constructive ways will be essential.

Seek therapy or counseling to address the emotional scars and trauma caused by the abuse. Learn to recognize unhealthy patterns and behaviors, and work towards cultivating self-love and self-empowerment. Surround yourself with positive influences and build a support network that uplifts and validates your experiences.

Healing and Recovery from Emotional Abuse and Manipulation

Healing from emotional abuse and manipulation is a journey, and it takes time. Be patient with yourself and allow yourself to feel the pain and emotions that come up. Seek professional help to guide you through the healing process and provide you with tools and coping strategies.

Engage in self-care activities that nourish your mind, body, and soul. Practice self-compassion and forgiveness, both towards yourself and towards your abuser. Remember, healing is possible, and with the right support and resources, you can reclaim your life and build healthy, fulfilling relationships.

In conclusion, emotional abuse and manipulation can have devastating effects on individuals. It is crucial to recognize the signs, protect yourself, and seek support if you are experiencing these toxic behaviors. Remember, you deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. Enroll in our MasterClass for tools and skills to build better relationships that last.

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