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The Many Faces of an Emotional Abuser Part 1

Updated on April 2, 2013

The Many Faces of Emotional Abuse Part 1


Emotional abuse is behavior that attempts to negate another person's safety, worth, or self-determination. It sets out to make another person feel dependent, afraid, guilty, confused, embarrassed, unworthy, and incompetent. Abusers use a myriad of tactics to achieve these ends.

These tactics include verbal harassment, put-downs, intimidation, excessive criticism, and blame.

This particular type of abuse may be obvious or quite subtle. It can occur in conjunction with physical abuse but the more accomplished abusers will never leave a bruise on the victim. It can be compared to intentional brainwashing; it usually leaves its victims weak, depressed, angry, and numb with unclear thinking. Despite this, the victims often remain loyal to their abusers, hoping the behavior will change.

Emotional abuse is used to weaken others' resolve and to increase the abuser's power. If your partner regularly lies, is extremely critical, or attempts to isolate you from your friends or family or alienate you from your children then s/he is an abuser! It may appear in a relationship in any of the following patterns:


Blaming usually takes the form of an accusation. The abuser will state that his partner is responsible for anything that has gone wrong. He might accuse his partner of lying, cheating, or doing something she has not done. The emotional abuser routinely shifts the responsibility of his own behavior onto his victim of choice. The abuser might also accuse his victim for something she could not possibly affect such as the weather.

Confusing Behavior

A classic tactic of the emotional abuser is to elicit confusion in his victim. Kindness often follows cruelty. It keeps the victim on unsteady ground when she does not know when to expect kindness and when to expect emotional or physical assault.

People who abuse via confusing can be extraordinarily attentive and sensitive; they can also be cruel and callous. In the initial phases of a relationship the emotional abuser is usually exceptionally kind and charming. He is a true romantic! His abusive nature does not reveal itself until after the UNSUSPECTING victim is charmed. Lying is a common type of confusing behavior. The emotional abuser routinely makes false statements or omits the truth to mislead, confuse, or manipulate others, and create doubt.

The abuser who uses confusion tactics acts unpredictably and impulsively. He often acts irresponsibly and expects others to take care of the consequences of his actions. Confusing abuse might also keep others in a continual state of chaos by creating conflict, blowing mistakes and actions out of proportion, and being argumentative.

The emotional abuser denies his abusive behavior and minimizes the extent of his abuse. He might suggest his victim is crazy and unlikable to others but loved only by him!

If your partner denies or minimizes abusive behaviors, lies, attacks you and then offer gifts then be very cautious. He is displaying behaviors of an emotional abuser!

Control and Dominance

The emotional abuser rules others by tactics that establish and maintain his dominance and control. He might cite male privilege and insist upon making all the family decisions. He insists upon choosing the house his partner lives in, the car she drives, vacation destination, and all financial decisions. He controls by intimidating with words, deeds, weapons, threats or orders. An abuser might control his victim through isolation, withholding affection or attention, or by leaving or threatening to leave the relationship.

Destructive Criticism

The emotional abuser often uses consistent, negative criticism to inform his partner that she does not meet certain standards - those of the abuser! He criticizes his partner's looks, behavior, clothes, cleaning, cooking, parenting, family, and friends.

Destructive criticism is different from honest or constructive criticism. It does not seek to build; it is a continued attempt to undermine the thoughts, worth, and self-esteem of the victim by creating unrealistic, often immeasurable standards that she cannot or does not want to meet.

This discussion of emotional abuse will be continued in Emotional Abuse Part 2.


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    • Mary Stuart profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Washington

      Hi A Guy,

      I wish more people would write from the perspective of a man who experienced such treatment. I know we share some of the same experiences as recipients of domestic abuse but I am sure that the whole experience is different enough when it is female on male that I would not represent you well. I would miss the nuances. I wish you the best and will hopefully find some blogs in which men describes their experiences. There are many male victims and they need to tell their stories, too.

      I wish you the best!

    • profile image

      A guy 

      5 years ago

      Informative, I would like more these pages to use He less, as a man who was a victim :(

    • Mary Stuart profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Washington

      Hi Letty,

      It certainly sounds like you are in an abusive situation. Since we are not in the same town and I cannot meet with you I suggest that you contact a local women's shelter. They can better advise you on your options and give you the help you need. I wrote an ebook called Can I Stay or Must I Leave. It gives some tips on making your decision. perhaps some of the ideas in that book will help. It is available through Amazon and is only $2.99. All of the proceeds go to a local Abuse Recovery Group. You might want to read it. It is very short, gives practical tips, and the proceeds go to a good cause. Please keep in touch. I would love to hear that you found safety and peace.


    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Hi, I am confused in this situation about mentally abuse. I have been with my husband for over 11 years and he constantly tells me to leave. Any time we have a discussion he just remind me that he is giving a place to stay, and that I do not do anything for him because he is capable of taking care of himself. Also, he stremedely jealous with anyone that get close to me, even my children. He doesn't give me anything because he says that he doesn't have children with me, therefore, he doesn't have any responsibility with me. I feel often confused and I do not know what to do, can you please advise me?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I came to make a comment because I was very uncomfortable with this page's stereo typing of the the emotional abuser as a man.

      I see someone has already made a comment to this effect and I think Mary has responded appropriately.

      I came across this page when I was researching possible causes for some emotional and behavioural problems that I am experiencing particularly acutely at the moment. (I'm 48 and have been struggling with "depression" since my teens.) I have quite a large collection of a variety of self help books that I have read over the last 25 years.

      I think we are all attracted to the possibility of finding a reason to not blame ourselves, which usually means finding someone or something else to blame. Despite spending colossal amounts of time trying to understand the causes of my problems, (in the hope of then being able to do something about them, although I don't think this would necessarily be possible even if I could identify some causes, but it might give me some peace.) the theories I have developed still fluctuate widely. At times I think it's just my cards in the genetic lottery. At others I try to look at choices I have made and why I might have made them. What brought me here today was looking at the possibility that my mother was emotionally abusive to me.

      I am able to build up quite a convincing theory in my mind around this last one. I believe that abuse is often passed down through generations and that the abused will frequently become an abuser.

      My maternal grandmother was the second youngest of 11 children and was put into an "workhouse" at the age of 11 because her parents couldn't afford to feed her any more.

      (A workhouse was a Victorian institution in the UK for orhpans, the destitute and the mentally ill. These institutions were notorious for their harsh regimes and what we have later called "abuse".)

      As an example of the abuse my Grandmother experienced at the workhouse, food was in very short supply and my Grandmother told me how her Mother would visit her and try to give her extra food, passing it through the locked railings. If this was witnessed by the "authorities", it was taken from her and trodden into the ground.

      This is turning into a far longer post than I intended so I'll cut this short. Basically I can quite imagine how the controling behaviour experienced by my Grandmother manifested itself in my Mother's behaviour as emotional manipulation by the use of guilt and "silent treatment" and withdrawl of affection.

      These behavioural patterns continued in my relationship with the mother of my son. We separated 11 years ago when my son was 3. I consider that she was abusive to me and that we had "selected" each other because we both had learned behavioural patterns that meshed with each other: Hers to be abusive and mine to feel that I should accept it.

      If you talked to her, you would obviously get a different side to the story and I feel sure there would be elements of truth in both stories.

      Until I met my ex, I didn't really make gender distinctions. I saw people as people and assessed them on their individual qualitites. After 10 years within an extremely difficult realtionship her and 11 years "out" of it, ( I can never be completely out of it because we share a son) I have found myself thinking of and identifying traits in her behaviour that I can ascribe to females in general. This is called stereotyping. Stereotyping is a necessary strategy that we have evolved as human beings to enable us to attempt to understand and cope effectively with the incredibly complex world we live in. It's the, frequently subconscious, thought processess that makes us wary of a youth in hoodie in certain surroundings.

      Stereotyping is also unacceptable in our modern, politically correct, world.

      I suppose what got me writing here today was another stereotype. I was "triggered" by the words of a female that appeared to make the assumption that an abuser would be male. My stereotype in this is that I see a frequent hypocracy amoungst "feminists" that disavow any stereotyping of women by men yet in their quest for equality between the sexes, they make use of and propagate their own stereotypes of men.

      Well this has been an interesting exercise in trying to understand myself, my ex, my mother.. and (my)life!

      What other thoughts has this brought up in me?... That relationships are frequently about power and that abuse is a term that describes the misuse of power (power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely) I have often asked myself why my ex behaved to me in the way she did and one of the answers I came up with was "because she could". I have to take some blame for allowing her to do it. She was and is a very capable, intelligent woman. That was a huge part of my attraction to her. I guess it's just unfortunate that in pursuing her desires and goals, she found it useful emotionally to undermine me. Is labelling her an abuser just a way of crying "hey that's not fair!" in this game we call life?

      Although I left the relationship, I didn't want to and I still find myself in pain over it. I go from feelings of anger and injustice to feeling that it was probably all my fault, and back again. I think the happiest place for me to be is in the middle, where it was neither of our faults but patterns of behaviour beyond our control that have their origins in several generations past. I feel like I'm there quite often, but 11 years on from separation, definitely feel like I should have moved on...

      Time to bring my ramblings to an end. Reading back through this, I don't think it is particularly relevant to the original article, but it might provoke some thought/comments that may be useful to someone. Writing it has be useful for me in trying to organise my thoughts and increase my understanding (of my emotions. As a scientist I yearn to "understand" something in an casusitive way... this happened because of this)

      I'm getting off on one again...

      I guess that most people reading this will be doing so because of difficulties and unhappiness in their life. I'd like to wish everyone well in finding as much happinesss as they can in their life.

    • Mary Stuart profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Washington

      It is not at all uncommon that an abuser accuses his significant other of the very thing he is guilty of. Stay under the radar, so to speak, and make your plans. Do you need to leave? If so, begin making plans for your future. If he is texting other women and lying to you then you need to begin planning your future. There is a slim chance that great counseling and a strong support group might help him make the changes he needs to make. It is more likely that a great domestic abuse support group can help you make future plans without him. Be good to yourself.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      i just read this arcticle and my boyfriend does some of these things nearly everyday.ive told him how he acts confuses me, especially being pregnant with his kid then finding the multiple msgs on his phone to random chicks asking them to meet up. yet the whole time he was doing it he was accusing me of the very thing he was doing to me. im also starting to pick up on a few more lies and im that stressed out im constantly worried that hes not where ahe says he is.

    • Mary Stuart profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Washington

      My guess is that he is severely abusing you both emotionally and physically. I advise you to seek local help. there are likely women's shelters and domestic abuse counseling available in your area. You need far more help than I can offer online. Please seek help before it is too late. You deserve better than he is giving you.

    • Mary Stuart profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Washington

      I do not assume it is always the guy. Abusers come in both genders! The genders differ statistically in the type of abuse they inflict on others but women can be abusers, too. I write from a woman's perspective so I refer to my abuser a "he." That is not to say that your abuser might not be a "she."

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Hahahah... this article just described my GIRLFRIEND.. don't assume it's always the guy!

    • profile image

      6 years ago

      See I am not sure if I am being emotional abused or not. I am flaky and I don't do things right and don't think things through all the time. My husband is extremely intelligent and is a member of Mensa and everyone loves him. People don't seem to like me...I have been married to him for 12 years since I was 17 he 18. He has always been angry with me. First because I had him marry me instead of going to college, then because I wasn't an intellectual speaker that he could have around his friends. His angry is just worse and worse now. Everyday is something new. but I am in charge of the house now that I am not working and I forget some bills sometimes and we get late fees and I can't seem to get time to do the house work and yard work every week and I buy things for myself when I know we don't have much money. He said its like he is raising a kid always having to tell me what I did was wrong. But now he is choking me and getting really angry and it scares me. I wonder if I am beyond emotionally abused and don't know it or I am just that difficult to deal with. He said he wants me to leave but that I am too stupid to take care of myself and should just kill myself like my mother did. But we have two kids too and he is the absolute best father I have ever seen and is never mean to them or other people. People think I am crazy when I tell them how mean he is. Is it just me? How do you see the difference?

    • profile image

      abser abuse more than one at a time in intimate relationship or is trying to hurt me 

      6 years ago

      Okay I have bn with this man for over six years we usually do fine until I get fed up and try to leave more than once and always take him back and lost my kids over it and he went jail and broke it off each time but always fell for it again now he is married to my friend and he has cheated on her with me and just left so saying nothing but u will regret that I can't sleep stop thinking about got out raged to find out he back w her after lying out his what wrong with this he doing this her as well or is he planning coming back for me?

    • Mary Stuart profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Washington

      Thank you for your comment, Kazza.

      I did not stay with my abuser. I finally found my way out. It was tough to do so but it had to be.

      I do wish you the best in your escape. Life will be hard going for a while but there is hope if you are no longer with your abuser. Your abuser will kill all hope of a bright future if you go back to him. Be brave and make your own beautiful life!

      Please write back with updates from time to time. I really do wish you the best.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Please do not stay with him you are young you have your whole life ahead of you and he is trying to control it.Living with his mother will not help you. I am a great beliver in moving on. Cut all ties and let the wounds heal. You will miss him no doubt but you need to love yourself more than you love him. I have found myself in a similar situation at present. I am Irish I am writing from Italy. I am four months pregnant. My ex came on holiday with me got me to pay for the car, food and accommodation and when i asked for the money back he refused. He left me pennyless in Italy with a car I am afraid to drive. He accrued fines for parking while on holiday and his solution was to cut the card up. He called last night to invite me for dinner security were called. This is my last holiday befour the baby and he ruined it. He was driving drunk down a hill and nearly crashed. He is closer to the apes than the apes actually are. He shouted at me demanding an apology for getting in a lift without him. He tries to make me feel guilty for not wanting sex and tries to force himself on me. That is actually attempted rape. His children come to my house and he does not discipline them he is usig them as pawns in a battle with his ex. In final summation the man is a psycho. An unevaluated life is not worth living move away from his mother and evaluate your life good luck.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      One of the sure signs of this is the 'confusion' that one is left with. That is a red flag that something is not right. A healthy relationship does not include dominance over another person and supports the clarity and truth of the situation-not the opposite.

      Great hub/ voted up and U/I

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      ive been with my boyfriend since I was 15 (im now 19) when we got together I was in a really bad place with no friends or family around me at all and no home but since then we finally got a home together have a child together. things would be perfect apart from the fact that I just dont feel good enough for him, every time I try to talk to him he'l just roll his eyes or huff n puff n tut n say im doin his head in. when we arrange to do things he'l change his mind last minute or if hes meant to be meetin me he wont show up n when I ask him why he'l say he just fell asleep no big deal n that im over reacting if it bothers me. most days he wont even look at me or even notice that im there n every time I try to show him attention or affection hel go in a mood n push me away n say hes just tryin to chill. he wont kiss me n when he does he always pulls away abruptly n says something like there now leave me alone. every time I try to spend money for new clothes for me n my daughter he says that im selfish that I dnt care abwt stuff. it get so bad I feel constantly frustrated n like our whole relationship is a battle. im on medication for depression n anxiety im so confused iv broken down in front of him a few times askin why hes bein like this n his reaction his you need help, your crazy, your parranoid, just sort your self out! which just makes me feel ten times works..hes blatantly turned alarms off knowin that iv put them on cuz iv had to go out early to take my daughter to appointments n when I asked why he just give me some random excuse that he just turned them off because they were goin off n that's that. im just so confused iv told him to leave because he obviously aint happy with me but he refuses to n says that im the one with the problems not him. I feel like a nervous reck because of this he just wont seem to budge either way.....

    • profile image

      Ms J 

      8 years ago

      Its been 9mths since I divorced my husband of 16yrs. I was abused and didn't know it. He has a military background and yes I know about walking on egg shells, alination from family and friends and many many incidences of infidelity; majority I knew new nothing of. He would break down and cry when I found out promise to change start going to church and taking me serious. But he was never really there (I mean present in the marriage) I thought he would change and I nearly destroyed me. And yes no one talks or thinks about emotional abuse and the terrible scars. It leaves you with FEAR, real fear, even fear of living! Get out as soon as possible. Anyone who intimidates with passive fear, controls finances, makes you feel that you are nothing, never validates or celebrates your personal vicotories and withholds themselves in anyway is NOT NORMAL! This is not a normal existence, WAKE UP!!

    • ljsmarketing profile image

      Linda J Smith 

      8 years ago from Google

      My partner belittles me continuasly. I had a severe head injury and was in a coma. He is always using that against me,calling me mental case, stupid, retarded. He hurts and really wears out your self-esteem.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Hello Miss P,

      Not sur if its too late for you for a reply.

      But i have gone all these things for 5 years...which includes mt abortion done and my husband doesn't want ot have children and will take away all my money...

      I have moved out now ....because his behaviour was getting worse..

      I ddi a lot of research on this ..and it says that these people normally get this attitude from somewhere their family. it means his parents have not shared a good relationship, and that's the reason he feels thi is the way to behave with a girlfriend or wife.

      what i read was that these kind of people dont change because of the environment they have got. but still before you decide on something talk to a counsellor and see if such peole can be changed. Again the basic requirement is that he should be willing to change and work on it.

    • profile image

      Celina to MISS P 

      9 years ago

      I didn´t read what you posted until after I had posted my question, but as I mention, I was a victim of emotional abuse for 28 years. We have 3 girls and lived a quite wealthy life. One year ago I left with 2 of my girls and three pieces of luggage; the oldest is 26; "for a summer vacation" at my parent´s. I never intended to go back. I didn´t care leaving everything behind. I have no money and still no job but for the first time in my life I am not anxious, scared, etc ALL THE TIME.

      I don´t believe in lost causes, but I must tell you that the way things are going between you and your husband, it´s only a matter of time before you break up. It´s basically a matter of how much more you can bare. You will never stop being scared and FEAR takes away your freedom to make decitions. He IS AN ABUSER and he abuses BECAUSE HE CAN, and he knows it. As long as you have fears (ANY kind of fears; losing him, leaving and then regret it, money, ANYTHING), he´ll keep abusing BECAUSE HE CAN.

      I´m sorry to break it to you this way sweety, but when someone loves you, they love you JUST the way you are, AND PRECISELY for being the way you are. You are NOT WRONG. HE IS SICK and will tear you appart if you stay. Don´t take my word for it......... you have FOUR YEARS that tell you that he´s not going to change. Don´t fool yourself saying that things are better because he doesn´t call you names anymore. He never should have!! Do you? He still makes you cry, makes you feel like trash, etc. Does he talk to friends or people at work the way he talks to you? I bet he doesn´t because if he did, he would loose those friends, employees or whatever. He does it to you BECAUSE HE CAN.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Seeing the swollen, bloody, bruised face of a victim of physical abuse crushes your heart, you want to sit next to her forever to make sure nothing ever happens to her again, makes you feel rage, etc. But victims of emotional abuse are completely neglected (even by themselves) because their wounds are not visible.

      If you break an arm, you immediately get medical attention and have it taken care of however, for the terrible wounds caused by emotional abuse you don´t ever even put a boo - boo bandage on because YOU yourself can´t see them either, and they accumulate unattended over years; 28 years in my case.

      Has anyone ever done a "representation" on a drawing or photograph to try to SHOW what a victim of emotional abuse, who has accumulated wounds over many years would look like if they were visible as in th case of physical abuse?

    • profile image

      Miss P 

      10 years ago

      I am in a young relationship and many of these descriptions fit the treatment. I am 23 he is 26 and we've been together for four years. He used to get really bad during arguments. He'd call me names, scream at me, throw things or me, grab me and come so close to hitting me. I never left, but I never said it was okay. It came to a point that I turned to his mom. (She was in an abusive relationship and he was the result. She ran when he was two.) He since has refrained from calling me names, but he gets so angry still. He critisizes me and I often feel like I am walking on eggshells.

      I try to discuss it with him and according to him I don't remember things right or it is me that is trying to control things. He can never give specific examples and expects me to just know what he is talking about. I often chose to express humility and own up to my wrongs of the situation and he never really does.

      I work with him at his company along with six other people. I feel like the company would fail if I left and that I have an obligation to the other people. I also love his family very much. We live together and have three (kids) dogs together. So we are very heavily involved.

      Is it possible he is not calculating all of this and this is just how he thinks? Do I need to leave him or can his positive efforts result in my forgiving him? I love him, but.....

      I've been staying at my mom's for two weeks now. We spend time together and it is usually good, but it can still get ugly (no names lots of tears). I don't know what to do. I feel trapped, scared, lonely, and not great about who I am right now.


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