Emotional Abuse: How to Detect It and What to Do About It

Ah, love.

Love, they say, makes the world go round. It is the epitome of human connection, a uniting force that all of us can relate to. It’s a sensation so deeply felt and pronounced yet so indescribable and alluring. It is the slight flutter in the pit of your stomach or the sweeping flash of heat across your cheeks.

Love, they say, is the light at the end of the tunnel. It is a guiding force that supports you and guides you through the darkness that life throws our way. It is both savior and salvation all wrapped into one: a miracle of our waking world.

Love, they say, conquers all.

But sometimes, it doesn’t. Sometimes, it conquers you. However, not in the all-consuming intensity that is depicted in every Nicholas Sparks novel or plastered on the silver screen ‘conquering’. It is the conquering of the Incas by the Spaniards. It is the side of colonization that is wiped from history textbooks; the story revealed only upon examining the remains of the conquered.

I’m not delusional enough to believe that the picture-perfect idea of love presented to us is real. As much as I do truly still believe in the powers of love, I know that love isn’t always clean and tidy or the solution to life’s problems. Sometimes, love is arguing over where to go to dinner and storming out of the room because you grudgingly agreed to get Mexican, but you actually wanted Thai. Love is complex, it’s nuanced; and sometimes, for lack of a better word, it sucks.

Not all relationships are healthy. When a good day for you is one where your significant other isn’t guilting you into doing something you didn’t want to do or isn’t screaming at you for not spending enough time with them, there might be something twisted about your love. A black smudge, per say.

If you’re having doubts over how your partner is treating you or, more likely, your friends and family have informed you about their worries regarding your situation, it could be that these “small tiffs” you perceive as normal are far less normal than you think. Emotional abuse is a real problem yet is harder to detect due to the lack of physical evidence. Emotional abuse is not black eyes and bruised wrists, it’s a game of manipulation and control.

Here are some of the common warning signs that you are stuck in an emotionally abusive relationship:

1. You find yourself “walking on eggshells” or changing your behavior to avoid your partner’s moods

2. They blame you for the problems in your relationship and never themselves

3. They try to control your life: telling you what you can and cannot do

4. You find yourself trying to prove to them your affection as they deem it insufficient

5. They constantly name-call, criticize, or insult you

6. They withhold attention or refuse to see/talk to you instead of discussing your problems

7. You are fearful or intimidated by your partner and what they might do/say if you do something against their wishes

8. They alienate you from your friends and family either/both physically and emotionally

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If the majority of that list hits a little too close to home, you might want to take a step back and reflect. Reach out to friends and family and get their input on the situation. Seek professional help from a therapist or a relationship counselor. But, go into this knowing that their answers might not be what you want to hear. No one wants to hear that the person they love is mistreating them. You won’t want to believe them. You’ll try to convince yourself that they don’t understand your relationship like you do. Now, while the latter may be true, you must realize that you wouldn’t be reaching out to them for their opinion unless you knew somewhere deep down something is wrong. Plus, all they care about is you and your wellbeing. They have no ulterior motives in telling you to leave. However, it’s up to you to gain the courage to act. You need to be the one to realize that you are not getting the love you deserve.

You want the love that appreciates you and treats you with respect. The love that prioritizes you and is willing to place your needs over theirs. The love that not only tells you but shows you how much they care. You want the surprise pancakes at midnight “just because” kind of love or the kind of love that’s an emptied dishwasher after a long day of work. You want the love with no black smudge. Leaving behind an abusive relationship is no easy feat, but you have to remember that the best things in life are hard. All you have to do, is to take the leap of faith. And remember, you are not alone.


If you need emergency help, please refer to these resources:

Emotional Abuse Hotline: crisistextline.org

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233