Recognizing and Overcoming Emotional Abuse in Relationships

Gain insights into the tell-tale signs of emotional abuse in relationships and learn how to break the cycle of codependency. Recognize the red flags and take control.

Understanding emotional abuse is crucial for anyone who may be experiencing it. This blog post aims to equip you with the knowledge to identify the signs of emotional abuse and ways to overcome it.

Emotional abuse is much more difficult to understand or interpret. It is often very subtle. Many victims of emotional abuse don’t realize their partners are abusing them. Yet, they live in fear each day of upsetting their partner. A partner who commits abuse, physical and/or emotional, is doing so for one reason. Control. To an abuser, control is everything. 

We usually think of an emotional abuser as a romantic partner. However, keep in mind that a friend, a relative, or a co-worker can show signs of such behavior, as well.

Signs Your Partner May Be an Emotional Abuser

Emotional abusers manipulate, intimidate, and isolate their victims. The abuser often disguises these tactics as love or concern, which makes spotting the abuse challenging. They might call you names, belittle your achievements, or make you feel guilty for their actions.

Does your partner:

  1. Belittle you and constantly criticize you yet won’t hear a word of criticism about him or herself. 
  2. Act overly jealous, even when there is no reason, then defends him or herself by saying it’s because he or she loves you so much
  3. Humiliates you when other people are around and pretends he or she is only joking.
  4. Limits your access to friends and family.
  5. Is in complete control of your financial situation.
  6. Uses threats to get what he or she wants.
  7. May explode in a temper tantrum at any time for no apparent reason.
  8. Destroys property that is precious and meaningful to you.

Belittling Behavior

The ultimate goal of any abuser is to destroy your self-esteem. That is exactly what continual criticism will do. They rarely discuss anything; instead, they yell and present you with ultimatums. Or they are joking and sarcastic, as in, “Honey, I can’t believe you didn’t know better.” The abuser presents their methods in a way that makes you feel like you can’t do anything right. This is frequently accompanied by the word “always.” You are always embarrassing him. You are constantly late, etc.

The abuser often humiliates you publicly, usually as a “joke,” to make you uncomfortable and embarrassed. For example, “Can you believe she only reads romances?” is designed to make everyone laugh at you. But there is nothing funny happening. The only one amused is the abuser.

Controlling Behavior

Abusive behavior can involve more than attempts at embarrassment. Abusers are masters at maintaining control.

  1. Does he or she threaten to commit suicide or do some other harmful act if they don’t get their way – and blame you? “This is what you are forcing me to do!”
  2. Are you being constantly monitored with text messages or phone calls? Does the abuser get upset if you don’t respond immediately? Does he or she check your phone and computer regularly? Many abusers demand to know your password but will not give you theirs.
  3. Abusers make all the decisions in a relationship. That can include speaking with your supervisor about the hours you work or canceling a hairdresser or doctor’s appointment without explaining to you.
  4. Finances are a major issue to an abuser. It is the perfect object with which to control. Do you need to account for every dollar you spend?
  5. Abusers do not discuss – they give orders—dinner at six o’clock on the dot. No argument will be brooked. 
  6. Abusers provide long lectures on how your behavior isn’t acceptable, how you embarrass them, and how you need to improve. Conversely, they view their own behavior as perfect.
  7. Does your partner gaslight? In other words, does he or she decide what your reality is? (Yes, I am stupid. Yes, I am fat. He or she says so.) 

How do Abusers Maintain Control?

Emotional Abusers have control down to an art form. Here are some of the things they do to make you feel inadequate and anxious.

  1. They throw temper tantrums over the slightest annoyance.
  2. They treat you as if you needed decisions made for you – they will tell you what to wear, what to eat, and who to be friends with.
  3. They keep their behavior unpredictable. The behavior that earned a tantrum yesterday may get praise today. Keeping you on edge is what an abuser does best.
  4. Abusers will not only deny abusive behavior, but they will also accuse you of being the abusive one. 
  5. The abuser trivializes his or her behavior by claiming you can’t take a joke and need to lighten up. They will remind you that their behavior is your fault.
  6. Emotional abusers will keep you from communicating with your family. They will make sure you are isolated and alone.


Abuse should not be tolerated in any form. However, some people may be codependent with their abuser, in effect becoming dependent on the toxic behavior that they live with. In some way, they may be encouraging it. In a codependent relationship, two people are engaged in a circle of destructive behavior. Both partners bring his or her part into the mix.

Consider the following:

  1. Do you neglect your needs in favor of your abusive partner?
  2. Do you neglect your friends and family to keep your partner happy?
  3. Does your life involve around getting your partner’s approval?
  4. If given a choice, would you rather endure the abuse than being alone?
  5. Is your relationship one-sided: you do all the giving, and your partner does all the taking?
  6. Do you feel responsible for your abuser’s abusive behavior?
  7. Are you not convinced that you deserve to be treated any better?
  8. Do you change your behavior to please your abuser?

How to Handle Codependency

If your life is in danger, call emergency services. Otherwise, here are steps you can take to become less codependent:

  1. You may want to help your abuser, but you need to accept that you will not be able to change him or her. Set your own boundaries. Decide what behavior you will and will not accept.
  2. Abusers rarely change. Control is their drug of choice. If your partner does not see a therapist, you may need to leave the relationship. 
  3. Reach out to friends and confide in them.


Happy relationships have their arguments, just like abusive relationships. The difference is in how disagreements are handled. If you are confused about the state of your relationship, a professional therapist can provide you with a great deal of insight.

National Hotline for Domestic Violence: 800-799-7233

For Miami-Dade, Florida Domestic Violence Victim & Related Services:

24 Hour Florida Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-500-1119; TTY: 1-800-621-4202

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233); TTY: 1-800-787-3224

Florida Department of Children & Families: 1-800-96-ABUSE (22873),

DV Shelters:

Victim Response Inc/The Lodge (305) 693-1170,

North Dade Victim Center (Safespace Shelter North) (305) 758-2546

South Dade Victim Center (Safespace Shelter South) (305) 247-4249

Coordinated Victims Assistance Center (CVAC): 2400 S. Dixie Hwy, Miami, FL 33133; (305) 285-5900

Survivor’s Pathway: 1801 Coral Way, Miami, FL 33145; (786) 275-4364

Clerk of Courts (DV Division)

Lawson E. Thomas Court House Center (main / downtown courthouse): 175 NW 1st Avenue, Miami, FL 33128 (mezzanine / M floor): (305) 349-5813

Hialeah Courthouse: (305) 520-4002

South Dade Government Center: (305) 252-5807

North Dade Justice Center: (305) 354-8736

Joseph Caleb Center: (305) 636-2415

The legal process can get difficult, which is why we always recommend that you seek the assistance of counsel; or at least have a consultation. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today to review the issues of your case, the legal options you may have, and certain rights that pertain to your unique situation.

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