5 Signs Of Emotional Abuse & How To Recover From It

September 06, 2022

The recently released Netflix movie ‘Darlings’ has been in the news for multiple reasons and has gained plenty of critical acclaim. But something I noticed when I watched it was the underlying message of emotional abuse that was apparent throughout the storyline. Alia Bhatt’s character is shown to be strong, yet vulnerable with complex conflicts that are revealed to be a result of generational trauma coupled with low self-worth. The relationship of the victim and the perpetrator has also been depicted aptly. 


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While the movie primarily focused on a romantic relationship, emotional abuse can be characterised by the conscious effort of a partner, parent, individual to hurt somebody using emotional material. Sometimes we cannot escape emotional hurt in relationships as there is conflict but on the other hand, abuse is deliberate. One should learn how to differentiate between these two. Emotional hurt is inevitable and the intention will be to move past the occurrence. Abuse happens when a length of time has passed and it is a deliberate attempt to manipulate and hurt. Another example of this is the movie ‘Thappad’ where emotional abuse was aptly depicted, in terms of subtle insinuations. 

Understanding The Signs

One of the major reasons why emotional abuse goes unnoticed, or the red flags are often ignored is because the abuse is more subtle in nature than physical abuse, it takes time to showcase itself. Secondly, the impact in itself is small and subtle changes happening within (of the victim), and the scars thus formed are masked as “overthinking” or being “too sensitive”. Even as a society we are trained at overlooking other people’s faults and criticising or putting ourselves down first. “try to understand your partner”, “they are saying it for your own good”. These statements from the people around us, often can seem confusing and invalidate our identification of the red flags. The signs of emotional abuse are subtle, along with its impact.

It can start representing itself as neglect, isolation, communication shut down- but often is masked behind “taking space”, “cool down time”, “needing a break”. While these seem to be socially acceptable terms of coping with arguments, in emotional abuse, these strategies only come in when the victim tries to confront, speak up or be assertive. The perpetrator of emotional abuse will always try to make the victim feel inadequate or wait till the victim feels guilty for their own behaviour and will usually end the argument by over-apologising.

The victim is cut off from their social support of friends and families (that happens over a period of time) and finds themselves isolated and lonely, with a sense of self that is doubtful and lacks the confidence to take any decisions.

In terms of behaviour it can represent itself as:

Direct ways: 
1) Name calling- stupid, loser

2) Character assassination: “You are ALWAYS doing this” ; 

3) Public embarrassment: picking fights, exposing secrets in front of known or unknown people;

Indirect ways:
1) Patronising: The Hollywood movie English Vinglish, was a great example of how the husband and daughter were patronising towards the main character for her lack of English and other skills.

2) Derogatory pet names: “my chubby pumpkin”, “Mera/meri kaddu”, “motu”

3) Dismissive: Your problems are never important enough or “you need to really relax and chill”

4) Sarcasm: A subtle sense of taking a dig at you, aimed at hurting you

emotional abuse - heyy

Signs Of Emotional Abuse

In most cases of abuse, we often identify the two parties as “abuser” and “victim”, it is usually not such a straight demarcation. things are more complicated than that. Oftentimes Abusers could be a victim themselves (from past relationships, conditioning etc), and even the victims can later in their life manifest these cycles of abuse that they experience. It’s also important to note that these behaviours and actions (of emotional abuse) exist on a spectrum.

Some of  the common traits that can help identify emotional abuse are :

1) Gaslighting: a psychological manipulation tactic that causes another person to question their reality and perception. It can occur in various ways: 1) questioning- abuser questioning the memory of the victim regarding a certain fight/ incident; 2) Blocking- refusing to listen to the victim, or changing subjects; 3) Trivialising: the victim’s needs are seen as unimportant

2) Inconsistency: Inconsistency in your behaviour or emotions or actions is one of the most telling signs of instability. It’s important to note your behaviours towards your friends, family, and partners. If an individual is sweet and considerate one day and resentful and bitter the other day, there is the perpetuation of the cycle of abuse.  Those who are inconsistent in their emotional behaviour towards other people have either low levels of emotional intelligence or are intentionally manipulative. On the lower end of the spectrum, it could just be continually taking out the frustrations, on the people you love. To the point that they never know what attitude or mood they’ll get from you. On the higher end, it could be a domestically abused partner unsure what could trigger another unwarranted attack

3) Controlling: Controlling is the most obvious sign of emotional abuse, starting from what the person should wear, to hang out with.

4) Stonewalling: This is a form of nonverbal emotional abuse. This can include not making eye-contact, dismissing your feelings, refusing to answer questions, and being evasive. 

5) Jealousy: Jealousy could be used as a tactic to isolate you from your friends and family- for example, asking if you prefer your friends, or even your parents, over them. 


Recovering From Emotional Abuse

It can be a slow but sure process. The important thing to realize is that you will recover and you are not trapped with that person forever. An emotionally abusive partner will make you question your reality, your coping mechanisms, and make you dependent on them. The road to recovery begins with you believing that you can be on that road. 

Building a support system of friends and family really works because they are a reminder that you are not as dependent on that person as you think. You are more than capable to help yourself, and if you falter, your safety net is there to catch you. 

The road to recovery might include a lot of post-traumatic stress and trust issues, but once you surround yourself with people who can be trusted, who genuinely care for you, and learn how to set boundaries with those you love, you will reach a place where you are comfortable with those around you and yourself. 

It is absolutely okay (and even necessary) to seek professional help in case of a severe burnout.


The Helpers and Experts at heyy, are trained Mental Health Professionals (MHPs), with great experience in dealing with workplace mental health issues like burnout, stress, depression, anxiety, anger management, and more!


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