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At its core, emotional abuse is an attempt to control another person through tactics that are not physical, but psychological. Emotional abuse can be difficult to recognize. It doesn’t leave scratches or bruises like physical abuse, but there are most certainly scars.

Emotional abusers are especially vile and calculating because they wage full-on psychological warfare against their victims. More often than not, this abuse goes undetected because it’s so easy to rationalize the behavior. In fact, you might even mistake abuse for love, making it even harder to leave this unhealthy type of relationship. Continue reading for ten of the most subtle ways that emotional abuse manifests in relationships.


One of the most subtle signs of emotional abuse is dismissiveness. When you bring something to your partner’s attention and there’s a great likelihood that they will either ignore you or downplay your concerns, writing them off as nothing.

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One of the scariest tactics used by emotional abusers is distortion or gaslighting because it eats away at your self-confidence and causes you to question your sanity as well as your perception of reality. The abuser will often refer to their victims as “emotional,” “crazy,” and “sensitive” for perfectly normal reactions to their transgressions.

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Emotional abusers are proficient at the blame game. They know how to make you feel as though everything is your fault. However, if you pay close attention, you’ll notice that in addition to making you feel as though you are incapable of doing anything right, you are also blamed for things that are completely out of your control.

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There is strength in numbers so oftentimes, emotional abusers will seek to isolate their victim from family and friends in an effort to maintain control. They want to be the most influential person in your life and they accomplish this by weakening your other relationships. This can look like your partner dictating who you can and can’t communicate with, but it can also be more subtle such as making up reasons why your relatives aren’t allowed to visit, making you feel guilty for wanting to spend time with others, and purposely relocating to areas that make it difficult for loved ones to visit.

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Some people are naturally sarcastic, but not every interaction with your romantic partner should be riddled with sarcasm.

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Emotional abusers stay in control by chipping away at your self-esteem. One tactic for doing so is public humiliation. This does not always manifest in overt ways such as your partner criticizing your weight in the middle of a social gathering. It can be as covert as your partner always making you the butt of his jokes in social settings then rationalizing it by claiming that you’re being too uptight or sensitive. It’s not “all in fun”  if everyone gets to laugh at your expense.

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Minimizing your accomplishments or taking responsibility for your success

Abusers often want their victims to believe that they need them, which is one of the ways they are able to maintain control for as long as they do. What better way to keep you in emotional bondage than to make you feel as though you haven’t accomplished anything or that you need them for your continued success?

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Some partners are okay with swapping passwords, reading each other’s text messages, and snooping through one another’s digital accounts from time to time, but emotional abusers are infamous for routinely checking up on their partners in this way — oftentimes, without their consent.

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Financial control

One of the easiest ways to keep a person under your thumb is to control their finances. Sometimes this can look like your partner orchestrating a scenario where you are solely reliant on them for money. Other times, it can be as subtle as making you answer for or explain every dollar you spend.

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Abusers also use their own emotions to keep their victims in line. They enforce “rules” by way of temper tantrums. When they can’t have their way, they throw a fit. Eventually, the people around them learn to go with the flow and essentially live their lives walking on eggshells out of fear of causing an outburst.

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