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“Only single girls go to parties alone.”

“Your lab partner just wants to sleep with you. It’s stupid you can’t see that.”

“Why would you wear that outfit when you know it makes me uncomfortable?”


Drop a frog in boiling water, they jump out. Put a frog in cool water and bring it to boil, they cook to death. 


Emotional abuse is a marathon, not a sprint. There is no turning point in the relationship, no single incident that defines the beginning of the end. Genuine compassion and care are slowly replaced with manipulation and control. 

Forty percent of women will experience emotional abuse at some time in their lives, most commonly during college. Emotional abuse can take many forms, such as unwanted contact, bullying, symbolic aggression, and isolation. Understanding the signs of emotional abuse can help you detect it earlier in a relationship and prevent unnecessary harm to yourself and loved ones. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to see emotional abuse beyond the curtain of proclaimed love and admiration that these abusers can create. Some of the following signs are ways to see through this charade. 

Girl Holding Her Knees
Breanna Coon / Her Campus

1. Every ex-girlfriend he has ever had is “crazy”. 

Your abuser may create detailed stories of the women he has previously been romantic with. These stories are typically defined by demonizing, or making the woman seem like she was acting out of purely malicious intent. The common denominator in all these relationships? Him. This could be his way of coping with the abuse he may have unconsciously committed. This could also represent a general aggression towards women. 

2. Everything is on his time. 

You are running late to class or your shift at work is quickly approaching, but that does not stop him from punishing you or keeping you in an uncomfortable situation. Abusers are sometimes narcissistic, which means that these scenarios will not end until they are satisfied with the conclusion. If an argument is lasting a while and imposing on previous commitments, it is not a good enough excuse to end the discussion. 

3. He does not like your friends.

Friends and family are excellent sources for whether you and your partner make a good match. After all, they might even know you better than you know yourself. Abusers are well aware of this dynamic and will try to isolate you from these relationships. This isolation is another way for you to become dependent on your abuser. He may describe your friends as “naive”, “reckless”, “slutty”, or other negative characteristics to tarnish their character and weaken the friendships. 

4. “Who are you with?” “Where are you?” “What are you wearing?”

These questions are another method of isolation. In incidents of emotional abuse, 61.7% of women admitted to partners demanding to know of her whereabouts. He might disguise this as general curiosity or worrying for your safety, but a true abuser is using this as another control mechanism. 

5. Anger leads to physical aggression. 

Heated arguments can quickly turn into throwing cell phones, destroying household items, or punching holes in walls. This is all a form of symbolic violence, which is prevalent in 57.9% of emotional abuse circumstances. It is an abuser’s way of showing that he has the power to harm inanimate objects just as much as he has the power to harm you. To a milder extent, this is also a very immature coping mechanism. Men who act out with physical aggression have poor control over their emotions, a reflection of their communication in times of conflict. 


All relationships will have disagreements and general struggles. Not all partner conflict originates from emotional abuse or manipulation, but it is important to be vigilant of the signs of intimate partner violence. One of the best ways to detect abuse is through open sharing with family and friends. Your loved one may notice the signs of abuse before you can realize it for yourself. While it may be uncomfortable to speak negatively of your partner, this can make all the difference for your comfort and safety in the relationship. 

My name is Kerry Gill, I'm a native Arizonan who's a little too proud of it. I love panicking about due dates and ignoring my responsibilities with my friends, but I think that just comes with the Pre-Med major aesthetic. My favorite flavor of Capri-Sun is Kiwi Strawberry and I serve as an emotional support animal to my neurotic weiner dog, Mabel.
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