How to notice if emotional abuse is in your relationship and what to do next.
In many relationships, conflict is inevitable.
However, there is a line between normal disagreements and emotional abuse… and it’s a line that many people who receive abuse rarely notice has been crossed by their partner.
Consider this story, I’ve heard many times from many survivors (all sexes):
When I first heard the words "I hate you" directed at me by my partner, I felt a pang in my chest, but I shrugged it off as a mere outburst. They were later followed by “I love you” or “I am sorry”… and a cycle formed. I learned to cast it off as a quirk of the relationship, not paying attention to the fact that the pangs in my chest never went away. Over time, the words grew more frequent and I learned how to tip toe around my partner and tried to keep them happy with me, sometimes dodging the hateful response and other times not. Love and hate, became the norm.
Emotional abuse is often subtle and insidious, making it difficult to recognise. It can take the form of verbal assaults, manipulation, or controlling behaviour. When a partner consistently says hurtful things like "I hate you," it can erode your self-esteem, leaving you feeling powerless and unworthy. Recognising the signs of emotional abuse is the first step towards healing and reclaiming your life.
To make it simple, the cycle I just described… that’s abuse (and so are it's cousins, "I'm leaving you", "I don't love you", "You are the problem", "You are worthless"... you get the gist).
Here’s a few more signs of emotional abuse, check in on whether they are in your life...
Demeaning language: If your partner frequently uses harsh words, belittles you, or mocks you, this can be a sign of emotional abuse. A healthy relationship should be built on mutual respect and kindness, not constant criticism.
Manipulation: An emotionally abusive partner may manipulate you by withholding affection or using guilt to control you. They may also gaslight you, making you question your own perceptions and sanity.
Isolation: An abuser may try to cut you off from friends and family, making you feel alone and dependent on them. This isolation can make it difficult for you to seek help or find the strength to leave the relationship.
Control: An emotionally abusive partner may exert control over various aspects of your life, such as your finances, appearance, or social interactions. This dominance can leave you feeling trapped and powerless.
Feelings to listen out for, again.. pause and look inside...
Sometimes we can’t see these behaviours as they have become so normal… but you can also ask yourself about how you feel, which tends to be more available if we try:
1. Do I feel afraid of upsetting my partner?
2. Do I feel relief when they are not around?
3. Do I dread them being upset?
4. Do I walk on egg shells all of the time?
5. Do I feel it is all my fault when things go wrong?
Listening to what we feel is the greatest signal that something is wrong, when it is.
What to do if you realise something is wrong?
If you recognise any of these signs in your relationship, it's essential to seek help.
Reach out to friends and family, and confide in them about your experiences. They can provide valuable support and encouragement as you navigate your way out of an abusive relationship.
Additionally, seek professional help from a therapist or counsellor – and/or your GP. They can help you process your feelings, rebuild your self-esteem, and develop strategies for moving forward.
Connect with organizations like the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, Women's Aid, Mankind, Respect and Rights of Women. These groups offer resources, guidance, and support to individuals experiencing abuse (see our signposting page).
Consider the Get Out Get Love programme, designed to build on this awareness, support next steps and to support recovery. Be sure it is safe to access a programme of this type.
If you feel suicidal, here is some help.
Remember, you deserve love, respect, and kindness in your relationships.
Recognising emotional abuse is the first step towards breaking free and reclaiming your life. No one should ever have to hear the words "I hate you" from someone they love.
Find out more about the GOGL programme (Get Out Get Love) here.