September 11, 2023

Recognizing and Breaking Free from Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse can be subtle, stealthy, and, unfortunately, all too common. It lurks in the background of many relationships, often overshadowed by its more conspicuous cousin, physical abuse. But just because the injuries aren’t always visible doesn’t mean they don’t hurt just as badly, or cause as much damage, as physical injuries do. 

Understanding emotional abuse and recognizing its signs is the first step to healing and breaking free. In this post, we will journey together through understanding, recognition, and emancipation from such torment.

What is Emotional Abuse?

At its core, emotional abuse is about power and control. It manifests when one person seeks to dominate and manipulate another, typically through tactics that demean, belittle, and instill fear. This can occur in various relationships – between partners, parents and children, friends, and even coworkers.

Signs of Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse can be tricky to spot, especially when you’re in the thick of it. Here are some hallmark signs:

  1. Criticism, Insults, Name-Calling: You’re always “too this” or “not enough that.” No matter what you do, it seems you can never please the abuser. They may call you names that they know are hurtful, degrade you or hurl insults at you, or constantly tell you what you’re doing wrong. 
  2. Humiliation: The abuser might belittle or mock you, sometimes in front of others, eroding your self-worth. They might make fun of your appearance, your interests, or even your accomplishments.
  3. Isolation: They might try to cut you off from friends or family, claiming they’re “bad influences” or that they “don’t understand.” They may use guilt, manipulation, or other forms of emotional control to prevent you from staying connected to others in your life.
  4. Gaslighting: This is a form of manipulation where the abuser makes you doubt your reality. They might say things like, “That didn’t happen,” or “You’re just imagining things,” when you know for a fact that it did happen and you’re not just imagining things. Over time, gaslighting can undermine your sense of self-trust and your ability to tell what is real from fiction.
  5. Control: The abuser might be overly possessive of you, your time, your resources, or your attention. They might check your phone (with or without your consent) or dictate what you can and cannot do. They may claim to do this because they care or want to protect you, even when there is nothing to be protected from. 
  6. Guilt-tripping: With guilt-tripping, problems or conflicts are turned around to be your fault. Often, you’re the one apologizing, even if they’ve done something that caused you harm and you brought it to their attention. You’re made to feel bad about asking for something, telling them they’ve hurt you, setting a boundary, or doing something they disagree with. 

It’s essential to note that emotional abuse isn’t always loud and glaring. There isn’t always a fight or “big moment” to point to. Sometimes, it’s more like a whisper, or a recurring pattern of subtle put-downs, criticisms, and ‘jokes’ at your expense—interactions that chip away at your self-esteem and sense of autonomy over time.

Embracing Self-awareness

If you think you might be in an emotionally abusive relationship, it’s crucial to trust your feelings. Emotional abuse can erode self-esteem, leading to a point where the victim may feel they deserve the treatment or that they’re overreacting. But your feelings are valid, and abuse is never “deserved.”

Start by talking to someone you trust about your feelings – it could be a friend, family member, or a therapist. Sometimes, an outside perspective can offer clarity, support, and help carving a path out of your abusive situation.

Breaking Free from Emotional Abuse

Breaking free is a process, one that is different for everyone. Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Acknowledge the Abuse: Recognizing that you’re in an abusive situation is the first step. It’s not about blaming yourself; it’s about understanding the dynamics at play.
  2. Seek Support: Lean on trusted friends or family. Consider joining a support group or seeking therapy. You don’t have to face this alone.
  3. Set Boundaries: Emotional abusers often disregard personal boundaries. Begin asserting your boundaries clearly and stick to them. If this feels difficult or even impossible, recruit the help of a friend, family member, or therapist who can help you identify healthy boundaries and help keep you accountable to them.
  4. Plan Your Exit (if necessary): If the situation is unbearable or deteriorating, plan your exit. Ensure you’re safe, especially if the emotional abuse is paired with other forms of abuse.
  5. Rebuild Your Self-worth: Engage in activities that make you feel competent and strong. Rediscover hobbies and passions you might have left behind. Surround yourself with positive influences and affirmations.

Educate Yourself: Understand the intricacies of emotional abuse. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to recognize and steer clear of such relationships in the future.


In the face of emotional abuse, remember this: You are worthy. You are deserving of love and respect. The journey towards healing and self-reclamation might be long, but with support and inner strength, you can reclaim the life you deserve. You are not alone in this, and you are more powerful than you think.

Therapy for Healing from Emotional Abuse in Seattle

As a trauma therapist in Seattle, I’ve worked with many people who have found freedom from emotionally abusive relationships through setting compassionate boundaries, practicing radical self-care, and finding ways to self-empower through relationship challenges.

To learn more about counseling for emotional abuse in Seattle, contact me for a free consultation to see if I’m the right fit for you. I can’t wait to hear from you!

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