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Emotionally Abusive Relationships - Common Behaviors and Tactics Abusers Use

By Rachel M Edwards

There is currently not a single, clear-cut definition of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is instead defined by a set or combination of traits, acts or behaviors that are designed to control and dominate another human being through the use of fear, guilt, intimidation, humiliation or manipulation.

It is important to remember that a single incident does not constitute abuse. Abuse is a pattern of behavior that occurs over time. It is repetitive, sustained and usually progressive.

Emotional abuse is silent, insidious and extremely dangerous to the victim. It slowly and systematically wears away at the victim's soul. It erodes self-worth, confidence, trust, faith and the ability to have confidence in one's own perceptions.

Emotional abuse is also harmful to a person's physical health. Typically people in abusive relationships don't eat or sleep properly and can suffer from stress-related conditions such as chronic fatigue, anxiety attacks, depression, high blood pressure, peptic ulcers, poor immune function, migraines, alcoholism and smoking-related respiratory aliments.

Here is an extensive list with brief notes about common behaviors and tactics abusers use to control and manipulate his/her partner. It is important to understand that you don't have to experience ALL of these to be abused. ANY of these behaviors, either alone or in combination, which are part of a "repeated pattern", are abusive!

> Extreme jealousy: not only of other men/women but of friends, family, work and even children

> Isolation: keeping you from family, friends and other sources of emotional support

> Emotional withholding: will not share his/her feelings and is not aware, receptive or sensitive to yours, the silent treatment

> Lack of intimacy: doesn't hold your hand or cuddle

> Verbal abuse: insults, yelling, name-calling, shame, sarcasm, or threats

> Humiliation: public criticism, reminding you of embarrassing moments

> Threats: verbal threats such as "you will be sorry", physical threats such as throwing or breaking things > Lies: including withholding information, telling half-truths or rearranging the facts

> Mixed messages: tell you he/she loves you, but treats you badly

> Dependence: threats of loss of financial security, or tries to convince you that you are no good without him, nobody else will want you

> Fear: an unspoken understanding that there will be bad consequences if you don't do what he/she wants > Raging: yelling, screaming, punching walls, breaking things

> Sexual coercion: using guilt, shame, physical force or drugs in order to have sexual relations

> Blame: says it's your fault when he/she mistreats you, says you are responsible for how he/she feels

>Secret-keeping: acts differently in public than in private

>Spiritual abuse: using religious teachings to justify demands for submission or conformity.

>Physical violence: slapping, punching, kicking, grabbing, pinching, pushing, biting, choking

See Also:

Emotional Abuse: Why Is It So Damaging?
Emotional abuse is the most common and most damaging kind of abuse but it is often down played, if you reach out for help, people will often wonder what all the fuss is about. People who have suffered physical or sexual abuse often report that it was the emotional abuse that caused the most damage.

Spousal Abuse, Mental Abuse, Types of Aggressive Behavior
Domestic abuse can come in different forms including physical aggression, or threatening the spouse thereof; sexual abuse; emotional abuse; being in control or domineering; intimidation; constant stalking; covert or passive abuse (e.g. neglect) and depriving one of money. Drinking and mental conditions are often co-morbid with IPV, and are additional obstacles when present together with patterns of abuse.

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About the Author:

Rachel Edwards is a researcher in evolutionary genetics. She was raised in an alcoholic home and moved from that directly into an abusive marriage. With the combined knowledge gained from many college courses in psychology, addiction, and social/behavioral sciences and her own experiences in therapy and on the road to recovery she just recently left her abusive marriage after 25 years. You can visit her blog at

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