How to Prevent Emotional Abuse

Two Parts:Recognizing AbuseAddressing Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse can take a variety of forms, from humiliating jokes to degrading comments, and it's not always easy to spot. It is important to recognize the signs, and remove emotionally abusive behaviors from your relationship.

Part 1
Recognizing Abuse

  1. Image titled Prevent Emotional Abuse Step 01
    Notice common forms of emotional abuse. Not all abuse happens to the same degree, or in the same way. However, there are a few clusters of behavior that usually constitute emotional abuse, including:[1]
    • Humiliation, invalidation and criticism: You feel like you're constantly being put-down, judged, or told that you're being too sensitive.
    • Domination, control and shame: You feel infantilized, and you find yourself asking "permission" to engage in regular activities.
    • Denial and unreasonable demands: The other person cannot accept blame or apologize, and he or she consistently denies or embellishes facts.
    • Isolation and neglect: You're subjected to the "silent treatment," and denied affection or attention as punishment.
    • Codependence: Your personal boundaries are consistently violated, and the other person relies on you as their sole emotional support.
  2. Image titled Prevent Emotional Abuse Step 02
    Be aware of gaslighting. Gaslighting is the slow process of being led question your own sanity or reality. It's a particularly subtle form of emotional abuse, but it can have extremely damaging consequences. You might be suffering from gaslighting if:[2]
    • You constantly second-guess yourself.
    • You're always apologizing, even for insignificant or non-existent errors.
    • You know something is terribly wrong, but you can't put your finger on it.
    • You struggle to make simple choices.
    • You find yourself wondering if you're too sensitive.
  3. Image titled Prevent Emotional Abuse Step 03
    Familiarize yourself with the characteristics of a healthy relationship. It can be difficult to recognize abuse if you have no idea what a positive relationship looks like. If you feel like you're missing out on the majority of these things, though, you might consider the possibility that you're being emotionally abused:[3]
    • Good will and emotional support
    • The right to your own feelings and opinions, even if they differ from the other person's
    • Encouragement of your interests and accomplishments
    • A lack of physical or emotional threats, including angry outbursts
    • Respectful language that steers clear of name-calling or put-downs

Part 2
Addressing Emotional Abuse

  1. Image titled Prevent Emotional Abuse Step 04
    Bring up the problem in a calm environment. Throwing down an accusation of emotional abuse in the midst of a heated argument — even if your claim is perfectly legitimate — is a recipe for disaster. Instead, consider these less confrontational alternatives:
    • Ask the other person if you can have a calm discussion. Instead of bringing up the term "emotional abuse," say that you think there are things that both of you could work on to make your relationship better. Use plenty of "I" language, such as "I feel like I'm being infantilized when I have to ask permission to go out," instead of hurling accusations that start with "you."
    • Write a letter. If you feel like a reasonable, relaxed talk is out of the question, put your concerns to paper. The benefit to this method is you can make sure that you're saying exactly what you mean in a way that's constructive as possible. Write out a few drafts, and try to avoid directly accusatory statements that will ignite the other person's anger. For example, instead of saying "You make fun of me and I hate it," try "I feel like I'm being mocked and humiliated."
  2. Image titled Prevent Emotional Abuse Step 05
    Ask for support. Having a trusted friend or family member weigh in on the situation can help you feel like you're evaluating it objectively, as well as validating your feelings. Additionally, if the emotionally abusive relationship breaks down completely, it'll be nice to have someone to lean on as you transition out of it.
    • Don't choose a mutual friend. Someone who feels obligated to the other person in the emotionally abusive relationship is not a good choice for this role. Instead, try to confide in someone you know well, but who doesn't have any particular obligation to your abuser.
    • Avoid the pit of despair. It's absolutely legitimate to vent to a close friend when you're having a tough time, but don't make that the sole focus of your relationship. Otherwise, this person will think you're just using them to complain, and you'll have another toxic relationship on your hands. When you feel like you've crossed the line between venting and wallowing, shift your attention to something more uplifting.
  3. Image titled Prevent Emotional Abuse Step 06
    Seek professional help. If the situation has escalated to the point that you can't address it by yourself, contact a licensed mental health professional. Find a therapist or counselor that specializes in emotional abuse, and make an appointment as soon as possible.
    • If money is a concern, look up state-administered mental health services available in your county. Or, if you're a university student, contact the student health center.
    • Whether or not you want to save the relationship, it's important to see a professional. If your abuser isn't interested in participating, then you can simply focus on healing your own wounds and moving forward.
    • If you feel like you're in a dangerous situation, leave the abuser's environment immediately. Stay with a friend or family member, or contact a local abuse shelter.
  4. Image titled Prevent Emotional Abuse Step 07
    Break the cycle. As you move forward, avoid repeating the behaviors that were so prevalent in the emotionally abusive relationship.
    • Be wary of allowing yourself to be abused by someone else. If you find yourself falling into the same victim-like patterns, stop immediately.
    • Don't adopt the actions of your abuser. You might find yourself needing to exert power and dominance over other people so that you don't feel victimized, but resist.


  • If the abuse becomes physical, do not be afraid of collecting evidence. You can keep digital information safe by encrypting it. Contact authorities when you feel safe and try to get a restraining order. Under no circumstances physical abuse is an acceptable behaviour in a relationship.
  • If you can't turn to the authorities because your abuser is a police officer, a politician or anyone who has a lot of power in the system, plan your exit carefully. Save some money before going, hide it from your abuser and then relocate across state lines. Choose your new state carefully for having the best laws to deal with your separation and divorce laws regarding community property. If possible move in with supportive friends and family so you're not alone in your new place and get a good lawyer even if you have to use Legal Aid.
  • If you cannot leave the abuser because of family reason — e.g. your kids like their parent very much, even though they make a rotten partner — remember that you are doing good in keeping your family together and you are making that sacrifice and you are a good person, do not despair. Seek help from twelve step groups like Al-Anon (good for codependency even if there isn't alcohol involved) or counseling. Insist on marriage counseling as a condition to stay with the abuser. Even if you have moral or personal reasons to stay married, such as being Catholic or not wanting to deprive the kids of their father or mother, you can separate temporarily and insist on counseling. It does help.


  • Emotional abuse can turn into physical abuse. Once there is physical abuse, it is much more complicated. Seek police help and make a diary. Keep a written record in a safe place and document every incident with its date. Use your phone or another camera to get photos of any injuries and date the photos on the back. If you get a friend to take the photos, get the photographer to sign the back of the photos and date them too as witness.

Article Info

Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | Abuse