How to recognise emotionally abusive behaviour … PART A.

… both the charming and the ugly. 

Emotional abuse most often occurs covertly and usually escalates over time – that’s why any one of us can confusingly find ourselves stuck in the manipulative web of emotional abuse. Few of us will recognise the dynamics of emotional abuse initially – it will be well cloaked in what appears relatively harmless or even loving behaviour, and if we are good, kind people, we give the yet to be identified ‘abuser’, the benefit of the doubt, allowing them to incrementally increase their questionable behaviour. If you try to speak about your hurt or distress, you often receive a good dose of guilt tripping or manipulative pay-back, further shutting down your voice as you desperately try to create peace and harmony within your relationship. 



The first, and often the most challenging step, of gaining freedom from the dynamics of emotional abuse, is to recognise what’s really going on in your relationship. To decipher the hidden, covert, insinuated messages. To bring these into the daylight. With the help of a skilled counsellor you can then explore, not just how you truly feel in these situation, but also, what you are needing, and whether the other party might also genuinely wish to change this toxic dynamic. (Whilst the behaviour of emotional abuse is abhorrent, the person is not always so, but they have definitely learnt toxic ways of trying to get their needs met.)

So first let’s recognise what emotional abuse can look like – both the charming and the ugly!

  • They ‘love bomb’ you, insinuating themselves into your life in seemingly sweet ‘acts of love’ that later leave you feeling overwhelmed or smothered.
  • They shower you with gifts that you feel you must accept to not offend them – those gifts can later be trotted out to guilt trip you into doing something they want, because you feel you ‘owe’ them!
  • They constantly text or call under the guise of caring, but really to check up on you.
  • Your phone, email and social media are checked by them, under the assumption of loving transparency.
  • Your feelings are dismissed or invalidated – instead you are accused of being too sensitive, too difficult or for even being paranoid.
  • You are ‘gas-lighted’ – you are made to question your perceptions and beliefs and forced to accept theirs, to keep the peace.
  • They need to know what you’re doing, but are hazy about what they have been up to.
  • You are called names, belittled, humiliated, shamed or treated with derision.
  • You can become the brunt of sarcasm and snide comments that can even be sneakily hidden in a compliment.



  • You are rarely praised but repeatedly blamed and condemned – your feelings, thoughts, words and actions judged as inadequate.
  • You are ignored, excluded, scape-goated or ostracised, making you feel lonely and vulnerable and desperate for your abuser’s attention.
  • You feel restricted and have to justify what you can wear, where you can go, or who you can see or talk with.
  • They accuse you of all manner of disloyalty – until you are guilted out of doing what you would like to do. 
  • They may repeatedly lie and perhaps be unfaithful leaving you feeling unloved and insecure –  rather than them owning their untrustworthiness, you’re told that you have a trust issue.
  • You are stonewalled – the other person denies, avoids or minimises the problem no matter how you try to raise it.
  • Your friends and family are rejected by the abuser and you feel forced to be secretive if you want to maintain those relationships.
  • You feel like you have to keep the peace and need to walk on eggshells to do so – soothing their anger or enticing them out of a sulk.
  • You are doing all the emotional work in the relationship – it’s not reciprocated.



  • Their manipulative behaviour becomes so ‘normal’ that you begin to feel extremely anxious and  insecure, acting in codependent crazy and embarrassing ways, that then leave you feeling even more ashamed and humiliated – permitting the abuser to point the finger at you, whilst ignoring their own poor behaviour. You really begin to doubt what’s going on because other people don’t see (and maybe you don’t either) the covert emotional abuse you are being subjected to – they might even see the other person as an absolute charmer, so well disguised is the emotional abuse.

Do any of these behaviours seem familiar?

Then you will want to know what to do about this situation you find yourself in!