Emotional abuse doesn’t typically leave visible scars on the victims body. Because of this, it’s sometimes considered a more minor type of abuse.

As someone who struggled in this type of relationship for years, I can tell you that it doesn’t feel very minor. Being in an emotional abusive relationship was all consuming. It effected every part of my life. I don’t have any physical scars to show from it, but it seriously effected my mental health. It left me feeling crazy and and completely destroyed my self esteem.

What is emotional abuse?

There are lots of types of emotional abuse. Some common tactics used by emotional abusers include:

  • controlling behaviors
  • threats
  • intimidation
  • gaslighting
  • humiliation
  • criticism
  • blame
  • accusations
  • neglect

This is by no means an all inclusive list. There are lots of tactics emotional abusers use on their victims. Although they sound like they would be obvious to pick out and stop, many of these tactics fly under the radar. They happen as part of daily life and the effects don’t become obvious until it’s too late.

Aimed At Your Self Esteem

The intent of these tactics is to lower your self esteem. This harsh form of abuse is usually unrelenting. An abuser will often disguised this abuse to sound playful, but the intent is anything but.

Name calling, unwanted pet names and nicknames

Name calling is a common and direct way to insult you. It includes terms like “stupid” and “idiot” or other more inappropriate words.

It also includes the use of unwanted pet names. By this, I mean your abuser will pick something you’re uncomfortable with an use it like a term of endearment. It might be something like “my chubby munchkin.” It almost sounds cute, but it’s aimed to exploit a perceived flaw. As a bonus shot to your self esteem, these nicknames and pet names are often used in public.


Although it often said in a sweet tone of voice, patronizing is really just an attempt to show superiority. It’s condescending and meant to make you feel small and inferior. You might feel like you’re an incapable child.

It might sound something like, “aww sweetie, it’s so cute when you try to act smart.” I can actually hear the tone my ex would say this in as I type it. Ugh.

Joking and Sarcasm

You’ll always be the butt of these jokes. They’ll point out flaws and are intended to embarrass you. The sarcasm will be blatant digs vaguely disguised as jokes. Often these jokes will be made in front of other people and your abuser might encourage others to chime in.

If you comment or try to defend yourself, the abuser will likely claim to have just been teasing and accuse you of being too sensitive. Your abuse might say you don’t know how to take a joke and try to make you feel guilty for being hurt by their jokes. This is another way to exert power and control over you while making you feel very small.

Dismissive or Belittling Your Accomplishments

An abuser will often belittle your accomplishments or dismiss them all together. They might tell you that “anyone” could have accomplished that or you “only” accomplished it because of some various reason. They may even tell you that you couldn’t have accomplished it without their help.

This behavior reinforces that internal feeling of not being good enough. It instills that feeling of worthlessness. It undermines your sense of pride.

Putting Down Your Interests

Often, abusers are attempting to isolate their victims. If you show interest or passion towards something, your abuser might feel threatened. In order to undermine your interest, they’ll tell you that you’re wasting your time or that your interest is stupid or childish. They might even tell you that you’re not any good at whatever it is.

When you talk about something that’s important to you, an abuser will likely dismiss it entirely. They might roll their eyes every time you bring it up or sigh loudly to show their disinterest. You wont feel supported and you may even feel guilty dedicating time and energy toward your hobbies and interests. This is another controlling technique designed to make you feel inferior.

Character Assassination

These are going to be negative statements that are preempted by the word “always.” Your abuser might tell you that you’re always wrong or always messing up or always making them late. The statements imply that you are a problem.

You abuser may remind you that they’re “always cleaning up the messes you make of their life.” They may make you feel like you’re a burden on them. This tactic eventually makes you feel like you’re lucky that your abuser “puts up with you”. You start to think no one else would be willing to “deal with you.”

Lasting Effects

These emotional abuse tactics have a lasting effects on a persons psyche and self esteem. When you are constantly hearing these statements, constantly being put down, constantly being patronized, you start to believe that you aren’t worthy. You start to believe that you are inferior. You start to think more negatively about yourself. It’s a cycle that’s difficult to break.

If you recognize these tactics as being a part of your relationship, you may be with an emotionally abusive partner. Find support and resources here.

If you’re looking for support and guidance on rebuilding your self-esteem after leaving an abusive relationship, contact me about Survivor Mindset Coaching. I can help you reclaim the woman you were before your toxic relationship stole her away from you!