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Relationship Abuse

Relationship Abuse

Relationship abuse is a pattern of abusive behavior in relationships of any kind. Abuse can take many forms, including but not limited to: emotional, physical, sexual and financial. Sometimes people wonder if abuse is too strong of a word to describe what is happening in their relationship. Recognizing abuse is about recognizing how the relationship makes you feel. If you feel as though you are isolated, unsafe, don’t feel like you can speak up, communicate your concerns, or get out, you are likely in an abusive relationship.

Warning Signs of Abuse

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse can occur in any type of relationship: romantic, platonic, familial, or sexual. It can also take place in relationships involving a power dynamic including the workplace or school. Emotional abusers control others by silencing, isolating, and discrediting them. Emotional abuse can create a cycle where the victim feels they can’t endure the relationship anymore, but are too afraid or worn down to leave. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to recognize emotional abuse because it often takes form in subtle ways.

Elements of an Emotionally Abusive Relationship


One form of emotional abuse is undermining. It can be seen in a variety of ways, such as consistently dismissing your opinion, disputing your point of view, and gaslighting. Sometimes, abusers will be extra kind to you after being hurtful in order to bury their abuse, and undermine your ability to express concerns.


There are a variety of ways that an abuser can guilt a victim. This ranges from emotional blackmail (threatening to hurt oneself/having a disproportionate reaction to criticism) to the silent treatment. Abusers can withhold affection or time as a way to manipulate you into accepting their behavior.

Rule Making

Since emotional abuse is centered around control, extreme expectations and standards can turn into abusive behavior patterns. Rule making consists of someone restricting any of the following or more:

Constant Criticism

Criticising your appearance, character, decisions, or anything else to a point where it damages your self-esteem can be considered a form of emotional abuse.


Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic used to make you question your memory or reality. As a result, gaslighting can be difficult to both recognize and escape. Here are some examples of gaslighting:

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse - in romantic and/or sexual relationships - can be defined as a pattern of violence, aggression, coercion and assault. Often, physical abuse and emotional abuse are intertwined with one another, making it harder for the victim to escape an abusive relationship. If you are in an abusive relationship remember that it is not your fault and their abuse is not a reflection of you.

Facts & Figures

Develop a Safety Plan

If you have identified that you are in an abusive relationship, it might be a good idea to develop a safety plan that can be put in effect if your situation becomes more dangerous and/or you want to try to leave that situation.

Resources for Survivors

If you have recently left an abusive relationship, or plan on doing so soon, it is important that you prioritize your mental and physical wellbeing.


RAINN: Call 800-656-4673

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233

Self care after an abusive relationship

Start developing some routines that prioritize your emotional and physical wellbeing. Consult RAINN’s guide here.


One of the best ways to process a traumatic experience, such as an abusive relationship, is to talk with a mental health professional or join a support group. If you are interested in starting therapy, speak to a trusted adult and/or your doctor about finding a good therapist for you. Another way to find a therapist is to call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s treatment referral helpline at (800)-662-4357, and they can refer you to a mental health professional in your area. You can also use the administration’s locator tool to find a local treatment center.

Sources: Relationship Abuse, Psychology Today, RAINN The Hotline