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9 Silent Signs Your Partner Is Emotionally Abusive

Abuse can happen even without physical violence. In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, watch for these signs of emotional abuse in a relationship.

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You don’t feel in control

Control is a common theme throughout the answers to a survey on emotional abuse conducted by the Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness. Feeling like your partner is controlling to the point where you lose your independence is a red flag for emotional abuse. (That doesn’t mean all partnerships are perfect, of course—check out these myths about happy relationships.)

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You no longer hold the purse strings

Having a degree of financial independence and flexibility is important in a relationship. “In emotionally abusive situations, there might be some economic abuse as far as keeping all the victim’s money,” says Colleen Schmitt, director of Day One, a network of domestic violence and sexual assault community programs in Minnesota. These other behaviors are subtly sabotaging your relationships.

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You’re being isolated

Emotionally abusive partners may try to cut you off from the world, whether they keep you from social events, interfere with your relationships with family and friends, or literally keep you moving from place to place. “Those that are abusive want to make sure that they keep the secret within the family and others don’t know about it,” Schmitt says. “So they use tactics to get victim/survivor away from others so they can’t tell anyone what’s going on.” Check these 11 signs that you can trust your partner—or not.

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Your self-esteem has taken a hit

If your partner consistently puts you down and doesn’t value your thoughts, he or she could damage your self-esteem. “Abuse survivors can really get down on themselves,” Schmitt says. “The victim might feel very humiliated, so then they start blaming themselves for what’s going on and feel shameful.” Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. is a victim of domestic violence. These facts about intimate partner violence are unavoidable.

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You get subtle nonverbal threats

“Sometimes it can be by a look or a gesture that shows they don’t approve of what you’re doing,” Schmitt says. This kind of behavior can escalate into swearing and telling you that you’ll be physically hurt. “Whether they carry out that threat or not, it’s very real if you have to hear that day in and day out.” This is how a survivor of domestic violence protects American girls. 

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Your children have become pawns

An emotional abuser might put down or belittle a victim in front of her children as a way of retaining control over her. “Saying the victim/survivor is no good in front of their children is a tactic often used,” Schmitt confirms. (Here’s what not to do after an argument with your partner.)

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You’re cut off from friends and family

In the research paper Abuse in Intimate Relationships: Defining the Multiple Dimensions and Terms, Vera E. Mouradian, PhD, of the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center, “preventing a partner from socializing” is noted as a sign of emotional abuse.

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They throw objects around you

Throwing and breaking things is a violent act, even if nothing is thrown directly at you. According to Dr. Mouradian, hitting or kicking a wall, furniture, or doors, or throwing objects are clear signs of emotional abuse. (Read the story of how one woman gained strength from her mother’s domestic abuse.)

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You’ve googled “emotional abuse”

Schmitt’s Day One network assists survivors of physical abuse but it’s actually emotional abuse that comes up more often. “Emotional abuse is the number-one topic that folks are looking at on our website,” Schmitt says. If you’re spending time looking up the signs of emotional abuse, that’s a red flag that something probably isn’t right. Check out these other key signs of a toxic relationship.