Seven Forms and Signs of Emotional Abuse and Example Scenarios

Sign #1: Humiliation, Degradation, Discounting, Negating. Judging, Criticizing:
  • Does anyone make fun of you or put you down in front of others?
  • Do they tease you, use sarcasm as a way to put you down or degrade you?
  • When you complain do they say that “it was just a joke” and that you are too sensitive?
  • Do they tell you that your opinion or feelings are “wrong?”
  • Does anyone regularly ridicule, dismiss, disregard your opinions, thoughts, suggestions, and feelings?
Sign #2: Domination, Control, and Shame:
  • Do you feel that the person treats you like a child?
  • Do they constantly correct or chastise you because your behavior is “inappropriate?”
  • Do you feel you must “get permission” before going somewhere or before making even small decisions?
  • Do they control your spending?
  • Do they treat you as though you are inferior to them?
  • Do they make you feel as though they are always right?
  • Do they remind you of your shortcomings?
  • Do they belittle your accomplishments, your aspirations, your plans or even who you are?
  • Do they give disapproving, dismissive, contemptuous, or condescending looks, comments, and behavior?
Sign #3: Accusing and Blaming, Trivial And Unreasonable Demands Or Expectations, Denies Own Shortcomings:
  • Do they accuse you of something contrived in their own minds when you know it isn’t true?
  • Are they unable to laugh at themselves?
  • Are they extremely sensitive when it comes to others making fun of them or making any kind of comment that seems to show a lack of respect?
  • Do they have trouble apologizing?
  • Do they make excuses for their behavior or tend to blame others or circumstances for their mistakes?
  • Do they call you names or label you?
  • Do they blame you for their problems or unhappiness?
  • Do they continually have “boundary violations” and disrespect your valid requests?
Sign #4: Emotional Distancing and the “Silent Treatment,” Isolation, Emotional Abandonment Or Neglect:
  • Do they use pouting, withdrawal or withholding attention or affection?
  • Do they not want to meet the basic needs or use neglect or abandonment as punishment?
  • Do they play the victim to deflect blame onto you instead of taking responsibility for their actions and attitudes?
  • Do they not notice or care how you feel?
  • Do they not show empathy or ask questions to gather information?
Sign #5: Co-dependence and Enmeshment:
  • Does anyone treat you not as a separate person but instead as an extension of themselves?
  • Do they not protect your personal boundaries and share information that you have not approved?
  • Do they disrespect your requests and do what they think is best for you?
  • Do they require continual contact and haven’t developed a healthy support network among their own peers?
Form #6: Exploiting or Corrupting

Exploiting or Corrupting Abuse can be in the form of actions toward the person directly or indirectly through someone related to the person.

Exploiting and Corrupting can include teaching, encouraging, or forcing to develop inappropriate or illegal behaviors, which may include self-destructive or antisocial acts such as teaching someone to prostitute.

Form #7: Terrorizing

Terrorizing can include actions toward the person, someone related to the person, or something related to the person.

Actions include threatening (such as placing rigid or unrealistic expectations with threats of harm if not met), bullying, creating a climate of fear or discomfort, or subjecting to a dangerous or chaotic situation.

Three Categories of Emotional Abuse


Aggressive forms of abuse include name-calling, accusing, blaming, threatening, and ordering. Aggressing behaviors are generally direct and obvious.


Aggressive abuse can be in a more indirect form and may even be disguised as “helping.”

Criticizing, advising, offering solutions, analyzing, probing, and questioning another person may be a sincere attempt to help. In some instances, however, these behaviors may be an attempt to belittle, control, demean, or enrage rather than help.

The underlying judgmental “I know best” tone the abuser takes in these situations is inappropriate and creates unequal footing in peer relationships.


Denial entails acting as if the abuser has not been abusive, not been controlling, not caused any harm. Therefore the abuser believes there is nothing to be responsible and accountable for.


A form of Denial that seeks to distort or undermine the person being abuse's perceptions of their world. Invalidating occurs when the abuser refuses or fails to acknowledge reality. For example, if the recipient confronts the abuser about an incident of name calling, the abuser may insist, “I never said that. I don’t know what you’re talking about.“


Also known as The Silent Treatment, withholding is a form of Denying. Withholding includes refusing to listen, refusing to communicate, and emotionally withdrawing as punishment.


A form of Denial that occurs when the abuser views the person being abused as an extension of themselves and denies any viewpoints or feelings which differ from their (the abuser) own.


A less extreme form of Denial. The abuser may not deny that a particular event occurred, but they question the recipient’s emotional experience or reaction to an event. Statements such as “You’re too sensitive,” “You’re exaggerating,” or “You’re blowing this out of proportion” all suggest that the recipient’s emotions and perceptions are faulty and not to be trusted.


A subtle form of Minimizing that occurs when the abuser suggests that what you have done or communicated is inconsequential or unimportant.

Gender Differences in Emotional Abuse

"An emotionally abusive woman controls her partner by manipulating his dread of failure as a provider, protector, lover, or parent: "I could have married a man who made more money, I had more orgasms with my last boyfriend, you're not a real man, and you don't know the first thing about raising kids."[2]

"An emotionally abusive man controls his partner by manipulating her fear of harm, isolation, and deprivation; he threatens or implies that he might hurt her, leave her, or keep her apart from the things she loves."[2]


  1. Bogdanos, M. (2013, 02 20). Signs of Emotional Abuse. Retrieved from PsychCentral:
  2. Stosny, S. (2008, 08 26). Effects of Emotional Abuse: It Hurts When I Love. Retrieved from Psychology Today:
  3. Tracy, N. (2012, 07 24). Psychological Abuse: Definition, Signs and Symptoms. Retrieved from HealthyPlace: