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The Recovery Expert
with Sharie Stines, Psy.D.

Are You Being Emotionally Abused?

Emotional abuse is often covert and insidious. Many people who are victims of emotional abuse are not aware they are being abused or are in a toxic relationship. It is interesting to note that the most common type of abuse is emotional; and all abuse, sexual, physical, financial, etc., is emotionally abusive.

Because emotional abuse is so unrecognized it is hard to even tell you’re being abused. Is he/she insulting me right now? Is that sarcasm meant to hurt me?  Was that a compliment or an insult? Victims of this type of abuse often feel confused. In fact, one way to tell you are being abused is because you often feel confused when around that person.

Emotional abusers have poor boundaries. They don’t respect the personhood of the other person. They will often make decisions for their partner or child because they do not see that person as autonomous. The emotional abuser is oblivious to the needs and wants of the other person.

When an emotional abuser is being controlling, he/she will dole out arbitrary rules. These rules dictate anything from the most mundane to the most serious of issues; however, it’s usually the most unimportant aspects of life that the controller likes to control. The arbitrariness of their control causes massive confusion. The point of this type of abuse is that the abuser believes he/she is superior to the victim and that it is his/her responsibility to make the decisions and be in charge.

In some cases, the controlling behavior is more than just being bossy, which is rude; rather, some controllers control to hurt the other person intentionally. This is especially true for sociopaths, who relish in other people’s pain.

Here are some behaviors that cause emotional abuse. Check off which ones your loved one displays. If you check off many of these items, you may be in trouble.

  • Blaming
  • Accusing
  • Failing to apologize after hurting you
  • Being rude
  • Master of the double standard
  • Neglectful
  • Scapegoating
  • Yelling
  • Raging
  • Giving the silent treatment
  • Stonewalling
  • Indifference
  • Name calling
  • Using things told in confidence against you
  • Playing “trump cards” (for example, having a big mistake you did as an excuse to be able to exhibit poor behavior toward you – forever.)
  • Mocking
  • Swearing
  • Implying
  • Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality
  • Put downs
  • Hostility
  • Not following through
  • Using your own children against you.
  • Controlling behavior – telling you what to do or how to think.

This list is not exhaustive, but lists examples of types of behaviors involved with emotional abuse.

Now. Let’s address how victims of abuse often manage these relationships. Over time, victims of emotional abuse lose their sense of intuition and have no idea how to trust themselves or be self-referencing. Everything a victim does is evaluated through an internal filter assessing how they believe their abuser will respond.

Because it is hard to tell if you are a victim of emotional abuse or not, I have a list here of some common experiences of those who have been subjected to this type of covert treatment. See if you have any of these experiences within your relationship. If you do, most likely you are in a toxic relationship and need to learn to protect yourself from further abuse.

  • You tend to walk on eggshells when around this person
  • Make excuses for your loved one
  • You experience abuse amnesia. That is, whenever your loved one has done something hurtful you tend to minimize it and its impact on you, to the point where you even forget something bad ever happened.
  • You find you’ve lost your sense of self-worth and self-value
  • You live in fear.
  • You often struggle with anxiety
  • You’ve become accustomed to not being heard or listened to (not mattering.)
  • You’ve become afraid to express their opinion for fear of ridicule or argument
  • You often feel all alone within the relationship.
  • You experience feelings of intimidation, and humiliation.
  • You often have financial insecurity.
  • Overtime you discover you are beginning to lose yourself completely, and have become a shell of who you used to be.

The main problem with emotional abuse is that it’s often discounted and minimized. Many believe the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” The problem with this saying is that it isn’t true. The only way psychological hurts don’t hurt is if a person learns to dissociate from their own pain. While this may be protective, it isn’t necessarily healthy.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize that if everything’s abuse then nothing’s abuse. But emotional abuse is very toxic. It leaves profound damage on a person’s psyche and sense of self. It is even more damaging to victims because of the lack of validation from others or the self that something wrong is happening to them.

It takes a great amount of discernment to determine if someone is being emotionally abusive, but if you feel that you possess any of the above characteristics and have been through the experiences listed above, then it is time for you to rescue yourself from further destruction. You can do this by:

(1) reclaiming your voice;

(2) Setting self-advocating boundaries;

(3) Trusting your intuition;

(4) Protecting yourself from additional abuse.


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Are You Being Emotionally Abused?

Sharie Stines, Psy.D

Sharie Stines, Psy.D. is a recovery expert specializing in personality disorders, complex trauma and helping people overcome damage caused to their lives by addictions, abuse, trauma and dysfunctional relationships. Sharie is a counselor at LIfeline Counseling & Education Inc., in Southern California ( Lifeline Counseling is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3) corporation. Sharie is also an abusive relationship recovery coach -


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APA Reference
Stines, S. (2020). Are You Being Emotionally Abused?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2020, from