Is Emotional Abuse Poisoning Your Self-Worth?

If you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship, would you know it?  Would you dismiss it as no big deal?

Emotional abuse doesn’t leave any visible external scars, but the effects of emotional abuse can be more severe and longer lasting than healing from a physical trauma.

Being emotionally abused by a partner or date mutilates your self-esteem,  lowers your self-worth and reduces what you require in a partner. It will make you question yourself, question your sanity and to think that you have no other options. It can also cause the domino effect of attracting bad people into your love life over and over because you no longer feel that you’re worthwhile.  Let me be frank…you ARE worthwhile, and being with an abuser of any kind is not worth it, no matter what.

Today, I’d like to make everyone aware of what emotional abuse is, so you can spot it, and provide a way for you to evaluate if you are in an emotionally abusive situation.

So, how do you define an emotionally abusive relationship? It’s when one partner tries to control the other by:

  • Undermining his or her confidence, worthiness, growth, or trust
  • “Gaslighting” – making him/her feel crazy or unstable
  • Manipulating him/her with fear or shame.

It’s important to note that emotional abuse is not only direct and verbal. All of the above can be implied with sarcasm, irony, or mumblings and can be communicated with body language, rolling eyes, sighs, grimaces, tone of voice, disgusted looks, cold shoulders, slamming doors, banging dishes, stonewalling, cold shoulders, etc. There are a myriad of ways to be emotionally abusive with a partner.  Please take it seriously, don’t ignore or just tolerate this kind of treatment.

Some people are very clear that physical abuse is a deal-breaker…but that same person will then spend years allowing themselves to be emotionally abused. They wouldn’t let someone give them a black eye or break their arm, but will let someone beat your self-esteem to death, to choke your self worth and tear down your confidence. There is no good reason to tolerate this kind of treatment – certainly not fearing being alone. Seriously folks, partners are like taxis…another one will ALWAYS drive by. Really.

According to an article by Steven Stosny, Ph.D in Psychology Today, emotional abuse can be perpetrated by both men and women.  An emotionally abusive man controls his partner by manipulating her fear of harm, isolation, and deprivation; he threatens or implies that he might hurt her, leave her, or keep her apart from the things she loves. He often mocks her appearance, choices, preferences, etc.  An emotionally abusive woman controls her partner by manipulating his dread of failure as a provider, protector, lover, or parent: “I could have married a man who made more money, I had more orgasms with my last boyfriend, you’re not a real man, and you don’t know the first thing about raising kids.”

Interestingly, the more you experience this kind of fear, the more sensitized to it you become. So, the more you allow yourself to be treated this way, the more “normal” you begin to think it is. However, this “normal” causes you to be hypervigilent – you’re more likely to be highly aware of what the abusive partner is doing and try to prevent it from happening.  In addition, while physical abuse is usually cyclical, emotional abuse usually happens every day of the relationship. And the person being emotionally abused usually thinks that they are causing the other person to treat them in this unacceptable way or that they somehow deserve to be treated this way. Please realize that there’s nothing you can do to prevent or stop this kind of treatment – you could be absolutely perfect and it would still happen. That’s because it’s all about the abuser – this is their pattern. Nothing you do can change it. It’s who they are.  If you are in a situation like this, the most important thing you can do is to realize YOUR patterns:

  • What in your past has taught you that it’s ok to be treated this way?
  • Why are you staying?
  • Why are people who treat you badly allowed in your life?

Are you wondering if you are or have experienced emotional abuse? Take the Walking on Eggshells quiz.

Have you ever been in an emotionally abusive situation or are you in one now?  Do you have a situation you think might be abusive, but you’re not sure? Post here and let’s talk about it…

Photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt Flickr page


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Categories: Discussion


I'm a married publicist who holds a Master's degree in psychology, with a concentration in Marriage and Family Therapy. I'd like to make the world a better relationship at a time.

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7 Comments on “Is Emotional Abuse Poisoning Your Self-Worth?”

  1. February 21, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

    I have so been there.. done that… and got the t-shirt. The problem is, when you’re not familiar with this kind of treatment, it takes time and some research to actually realize you’re being mentally abused. They build you up and tell you the greatest person in the world and the love of their life and with the same breath they tear you down just as far as they can. They actually make you believe the things they say to you are true.. and it’s sad. It’s a terrible place to be, and it’s even tougher to recover once you’ve been with someone like that.

  2. February 21, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    “Abuse” sounds harsh. I don’t like using that word to describe my late husband’s actions. However, I would moniter the kids’ behavior and would try to get them to play downstairs before he got home so they wouldn’t bother him. When he was sick, I’d remind the kids that he wasn’t feeling well and to be sure and be quiet around him. I didn’t want them to suffer what he might say to them if/when he got perturbed. The day he went to the hospice house, my son was happy – he could be a kid again. Before he passed away my husband told me he’d been afraid of some of the ways I approached life- and in an effort to control me had said things he wished he hadn’t and asked for forgiveness. I forgave him. Unfortunately it’s much more difficult to forget. Thankfully I have always had a father who believes in me 100%. Good topic to discuss. Thank you.

  3. February 22, 2012 at 1:20 am #

    Emotional abuse is a two way street…. its not just the abuser that is doing the abusing, its also the “so called” victim for staying!!!! Sticking around reassures the abuse…. both parties are sick and need help!!!! Do people really stay because the person is making them feel less or are they staying because they are holding on to the possibility of one day getting more????

  4. postmod
    February 22, 2012 at 4:06 am #

    People often stay because it’s hard to have a clear perspective from the inside. At least that was a big part of the reason in my case. It took me a long time to see the way I was mistreated and even longer to accept that it was abuse. The constant undermining, manipulation, and gaslighting make it near impossible to trust yourself and you do start to believe it is normal. I got stuck in a terrible cycle trying to fix MY behaviour but it was never enough.

    I didn’t realize how terrible the situation was until sometime after he left me for another woman. With some distance and time I regained perspective and the ability to trust my own experience and not the manipulated reinterpretations he would constantly feed me. Though I was devastated by the breakup, you have no idea how lucky I feel to have dodged that bullet. I have no idea how long it would have taken me to see the abuse clearly had we stayed together – if ever.

    The person being abused does need help but it most certainly is not their fault they are being abused because they stay.

    Thank you for the post.

  5. Anna
    February 24, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

    It took me years to accept that I was in an abusive marriage too. I stayed for a variety of reasons, hope that he’d “change”, fear of leaving him in case he’d make me “pay” (and yes, he is still making me pay 3 years later, but that’s another story)…

    I would just ask for a little compassion towards the person that is suffering the abuse; the book that helped me see what I was going through and literally got me through the last year of hell was “Why does he do that? Inside the mind of controlling and angry men” by Lundy Bancroft. This book describes the dynamics of abuse. It’s not as cut and dried as people that haven’t experienced this horror think.
    Sometimes there’s a very high price to be paid, even if he’s never been physically violent.
    It’s taken me years to get back on track and I still feel that he’s stolen parts of my soul that I may never get back.

  6. Rose
    August 16, 2012 at 1:57 am #

    Reblogged this on Weaving Among The Stars and commented:
    I stumbled upon this blog while researching emotional and verbal abuse. I experienced the most extreme form of this abuse, known as “gaslighting” while I lived with my ex-boyfriend a few years ago… it was so extreme that family members and friends were used as “proxies” without their knowledge… and I have documentation to prove it. I decided to reblog this post as an initial post and to record some of my research, along with some of my reposts on Facebook. Experiencing all this during a time I was attempting to deal with harassment at work, and then assimilating the information which I could no longer deny regarding my MST, was beyond my capacity at that time. My mind could take no more. Yet, the abuse continued to worsen… and family and friends still do not fully comprehend the enormity of what I experienced. I’m not sure I care if they do anymore. I only care I do… and can now finally move forward from it all.

  7. April 10, 2013 at 4:10 am #

    I am really impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to see a great blog like this one nowadays..

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