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How to Identify Psychological Abuse?

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How to Identify Psychological Abuse?

3 min read


Among various forms of abuse, the type of abuse which seems least discussed is psychological abuse. This article discusses psychological abuse in detail.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. K. Shobana

Published At October 15, 2018
Reviewed AtJanuary 10, 2023


Psychological abuse can also be termed emotional abuse. We often see people stuck in unhealthy and difficult relationships. We wonder why one should continue in such a relationship, but the answer to this question is difficult to give even for the people who sustain that relationship.

What Is Psychological Abuse?

Psychological abuse refers to a way of controlling a person by using emotions. It is one of the hardest forms of abuse to identify, which is otherwise known as emotional abuse. Psychological abuse includes threatening the physical health of the victim and the health of the victim's loved ones to purposefully control the victim's freedom. However, psychological abuse is more than just bullying or verbal assaults. This is known to cause long-term damage to the victim's health.

Frequent bruising may be a sign of physical abuse but whereas emotional abuse does not leave any visible signs. It is emotionally deteriorating as someone manipulates your emotions in a psychological manner.

Does Psychological Abuse Occur In Cycles?

Like any other type of abuse, psychological abuse also occurs in cycles. It typically starts when the partner or any other person emotionally abuses the other, and later the abuser feels guilty, guilty not about what was done but thinking of living with the consequences of the actions. Then the abuser often makes excuses for their behavior to avoid taking responsibility for what had happened and behaves as if nothing happened. There are cases where they become more caring and extremely apologetic, making the victim believe that the abuser is sorry and accepts the apology. And when the abuser feels that he is losing control again, then the abuser starts to set up situations trying to manipulate the emotions.

Case Study-

To understand the condition better, let us take an example. A patient was in a relationship with her boyfriend for almost three years. The initial year was very good. He would bring her gifts, spend time with her, and take her out. But then, he noticed that she was vulnerable and emotionally dependent on him. She would never talk about any other guy and was very committed. Although her boyfriend admired this nature, he subconsciously started taking her for granted. He would do things that annoyed her, like coming late for dinner, not receiving her phone calls, forgetting her birthday, and cracking jokes about her in the presence of her friends. When she tried communicating about her displeasure, he would call her immature, irritating, disturbing, humorless, etc. It would hurt her, and she would cry, but he would never apologize. Instead, he would continue to blame her for difficulties in their relationship. These things got worse day after day. After a year, she decided to break up, but her boyfriend got too emotional. He threatened to harm himself if she left him, begged her to give him another chance, and promised her that he would not repeat this behavior. But, after a month again, the same pattern started. By this time, even she started to believe that it was her mistake, that their relationship was not working and that she was a bad person. She would remain stressed at all times. Her sleep was disturbed, and she suffered from anxiety now until one of her close friends explained to her about her emotional abuse and asked her to get out of it and explained that she is a good person and deserved better.

What Are the Reasons Why Someone Is Abusive?

There may be many reasons why people behave this way. Abuse is typically a learned behavior. A few people would have witnessed it in their families. Some learn it from their friends, culture, or due to the structural inequities in the society, difficult family environment, insecure abusive past, childhood, and personality factors.

How to Identify Emotional Abuse?

There are certain signs of emotional abuse like controlling behavior of a partner, restricting freedom, being suspicious, manipulation, frequent insulting comments, blaming behavior, keeping you from socializing, disputing your feelings, dehumanizing you, making you feel unimportant, micromanaging your finances and spending, and disregarding your opinions.

What Can Be Done About Emotional Abuse?

Here is what you can do:

We often ignore emotional abuse in the hope that our partner will change one day or our love and support will change him, but it rarely happens. It is very difficult to change abusive people's behavior without any professional help. We let others decide the course of our lives and continue to tolerate others' bad behavior in the name of love. But, to all my readers, love is not about only one person. Begin to recognize emotional or psychological abuse.

  • Learn to say no.

  • Set personal boundaries.

  • Start to respect yourself.

  • Start finding ways to decrease your interactions with this person.

  • If the abusive behavior still continues, it is time to plan your exit from the relationship.

  • Stop self-blaming yourself, and you need to keep in mind that you do not deserve abuse, no matter what the situation is.

  • Try to prioritize your needs. You are responsible for your physical and mental health so take care of your physical and emotional needs.

  • Give yourself some time to heal and recover. Try to focus on your needs. You can create a new self-care routine or take help from a professional to guide you through your recovery.


Love is basically respecting each other when you do not get that, and then there is no point in still staying in such an abusive relationship. However, leaving an abusive relationship is quite challenging, but taking help from a professional will help you sort out an exit plan to end the relationship safely. In spite of trying the above things, if life gets difficult and you find no way out, take professional help. Do not allow yourself to be a victim of emotional abuse.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Is Psychological Abuse?

When a person tries to control another person by using emotions, it is considered psychological or emotional abuse. Regular, deliberate use of words and actions to emotionally manipulate, frighten, hurt or weaken a person emotionally and mentally is characteristic of psychological abuse. It is difficult to identify psychological abuse as it seldom leaves any visible signs. Psychological abuse is more than just verbal assaults or bullying. It causes long-term effects on the victim's physical and mental health.


How to Recognize Psychological Abuse?

Psychological abuse includes the following:
- Emotionally stopping the victim from being socially active, accessing services, seeing friends or relatives, or uptaking any social or educational opportunity (forcing social isolation). 
- Removing communication aids.
- Preventing the victim from going out.
- Repeated verbal abuse.
- Interfering with one’s freedom of religious or cultural belief.
- Emotionally preventing the victim from expressing views and opinions.
- Repeated invasion of privacy.
- Intimidation and harassment, using threats and humiliation.
- Bullying.
- Addressing the victim in an infantilizing way.


What Are the Key Signs of Psychological Abuse?

The most important signs that a person is psychologically abusing the victim include:
- The abuser is judgemental or hyper-critical towards the victim.
- The abuser ignores boundaries and invades the victim's privacy.
- The abuser controls and acts possessively (demanding total attention and love).
- The abuser manipulates the victim.
- The abuser dismisses the victim and their feelings on all occasions.


What Are the Warning Signs That Some One Is Being Psychologically Abused?

The warning signs that the victim is being psychologically abused include:
- The individual is visibly upset or agitated.
- The individual becomes withdrawn and unresponsive.
- Individuals avoid certain people or are timid, nervous, or scared around them.
- The individual appears insecure or indecisive.
- Unusual behavior such as rocking or biting.
- Subtle signs such as being overly apologetic or quieter when the partner is around or checking one’s phone constantly.


Can Psychological Abuse Be Difficult to Identify?

Emotional or psychological abuse is one of the difficult forms of abuse to recognize, as it can be subtle, overt, insidious, and manipulative. The victim's self-esteem is lost, and they doubt their perceptions and reality. Most victims do not understand that they are being abused as there is no physical abuse or violence involved. Some downplay or dismiss emotional abuse as they believe it is not as bad as physical abuse.


Which Type of Abuse Is the Most Difficult to Detect?

Emotional abuse is as devastating as other forms of abuse, such as physical or sexual abuse. Emotional or psychological abuse involves a collection of behaviors or patterns that are difficult to recognize as abuse. Other forms of abuse, sexual or physical, have obvious evidence to refer to. However, emotional abuse does not have any proof or physical evidence, further confusing the victim. Thus, emotional abuse is the most difficult to identify and recognize. Emotional trauma due to abuse can cause serious physical and mental health issues; thus, it is crucial to recognize the emotional abuse and seek therapy or a safer environment.


What Is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a type of emotional abuse usually seen in abusive relationships. It is a tactic in which the abuser manipulates and misleads the victim, creates a false narrative of a situation, and makes the victim believe it. The victim of gaslighting becomes uncertain of the reality, questions their judgment, and wonders if they are losing their ability to perceive reality. For example, the abuser keeps insisting that the victim's thoughts and actions are irrational, slowly making the victim self-doubt and believe it must be true.


What Is Psychological Trauma?

Emotional or psychological trauma results from extremely stressful events and emotional abuse that shatters a person's sense of security and makes them feel helpless. The person becomes disconnected and struggles with upsetting memories, emotions, and anxiety. Psychological trauma can occur due to the following:
  - One-time events: Accidents, injury, childhood trauma.
- Ongoing stress: Emotional abuse, domestic violence, or neglect.
- Overlooked causes: Surgery, death of a relative or friend, or disappointing experiences.


Why Do People Become Emotionally Abusive?

Abusers who manipulate their partner or another victim emotionally believe they have the right to control the victim's life. They might enjoy exerting power and believe their needs and feelings must be prioritized. They become emotionally abusive due to the following:
- They have a psychological disorder or a personality disorder.
- They were abused and gained dysfunctional behavior.
- They had additional exposure to abuse.
- They have anger issues.
- They have control issues.
- They do not understand boundaries.
- They are afraid. 
- They lack empathy.
- They are exhausted and lash out at their partner.
- They are defensive.


How Can We Overcome Emotional Abuse Effects?

To overcome the cycle of emotional abuse, the victim must:
- Familiarize themself with what constitutes emotional abuse.
- Recognize the qualities of a healthy relationship.
- Know and understand that it is not okay.
- Understand that abuse is a cycle, and they must come out of it.
- Reach out to family and friends for support.
- Seek the guidance of a professional and seek therapy.
- Stand up for themselves.
- Be confident and know it is not their fault.
- Prepare with reasons why emotional abuse behavior is not appropriate.
- Find and do things that make them happy.


What Mental Illnesses Result From Emotional Abuse?

As the victims of emotional abuse deal with the emotional effects, they also start feeling its impact. These include long-term effects on the mind and body. Emotional abuse has been associated with low-self esteem, difficulty concentrating, alcohol and drug misuse, anxiety, and depression. The victims can develop mental illnesses:
- Borderline personality disorder.
- Depression.
- Anxiety.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


What Are the Long-Term Impacts of Emotional Abuse?

The long-term effects of emotional abuse include moodiness, aches and pains, muscle tension, and difficulty concentrating. The longer the abuse, the more prolonged the effects become. According to recent studies, severe psychological abuse is as damaging as physical abuse and leads to low self-esteem and depression. It also leads to chronic medical conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome (a disorder of unknown cause characterized by extreme fatigue) and fibromyalgia (widespread muscle pain and tenderness). The victim might also experience loss of sleep, chronic pain, loneliness, social withdrawal, guilt, and anxiety and eventually feel that the abuser is right and they are no good.
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Dr. Vandana Patidar
Dr. Vandana Patidar



interpersonal relationsemotional abusepsychological abuse
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