26 thoughts on “Are You Being Emotionally Abused?

  • September 30, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    Whenever I read these types of articles, I ask myself, am I the problem, is this me? I was told that I emotionally torture my wife – by not being very emotional or expressive, not meeting her needs, etc. I went to therapy – for a short time as couples therapy, much longer by myself – and found out some interesting things.
    1. Reciprocity – I do and do and do. She takes and takes and takes.
    2. Wait a minute, do you mean everything is not my fault? I learned that everything is not fault and yet in a twisted way, it is. Its my fault for not meeting her needs. Forget the fact that those needs may be unreasonable, those are her needs, her reality, and I’m not meeting them, hence, its my fault.
    3. I have no self-esteem. Therapist asked me why I felt like I was nothing and the answer that popped into my head was, well, because I AM nothing. This is not new with me, even as a child I was always the quiet kid with no self esteem. I feel better about myself by doing everything for everybody and lose myself. I think my wife tries to convince me that I am something but with words and not actions. I feel that everything is for her. She is concerned about me but for her, not for me. She loves me, but for her, not for me. She supports me, but for her, not for me. I suppose that’s a wrong way to feel.
    4. I am completely isolated – I have 0 friends, all social engagements are hers, I work from home which, for someone like me, is a huge mistake but she would be disppointed if I went back to an office (which I could) but I’m also the person who is happy not going into the office. The isolation is not her fault, its mine. I’ve always been that way.
    5. Of course I minimize it all. If I don’t and start worrying about my feelings, things go badly. It will likely kill me at some point. Things are going really well right now between us but I never know when things will explode. I try to point out to her that she says the opposite of whatever I say but I do it carefully (and she really doesn’t get it). I’m more affectionate – which is not bad a thing, I guess. I try to point out when she hurts my self-esteem or when she’s crossed a boundary (ha!). She is the ultimate example of doing what you want and not worrying about what people think and not worrying. Mostly because she has me making everything work.
    I’m not sure why I even bother commenting on these stories. I think I just need to be happy but I’m just not. Why can’t I just be happy. Am I looking at these articles trying to justify my being unhappy but there’s actually not a problem besides me?

    • September 30, 2014 at 4:42 pm

      I’m not sure I totally followed you. It sounds like you feel your wife is emotionally abusive but she accused you of being that way because you’re not expressive enough and don’t meet her needs (though you find those needs to be unreasonable.) And it also sounds like you don’t feel like you can be happy in the relationship because even when it sees to be going well, it feels like that’s only temporary. And given your low self-esteem and isolation, it’s hard to find happiness overall.

      I know you said that you only tried couples therapy briefly, but it seems to me that it might be time to try again. Then you can see whether change is possible within the relationship, or if you need to try to rebuild your self-esteem by being out of the relationship.

      But this just my gut reaction, I know there are all sorts of particulars to consider (financial, children, etc.) Hopefully, you’re already considering those with your therapist?

      All the best to you,

      • September 30, 2014 at 10:31 pm

        Sometimes I ramble. My therapist and I, after about 2 years, agreed that I had the tools I needed to go it alone. I started therapy for numerous reasons and that was a huge step for me and it was going well and after awhile we turned that into couples counseling for a few months until my therapist needed to take a medical leave so we took a break and things fell apart and my wife refused to go back because nothing was her fault. So I went back for another stretch – probably around a year again. Whatever. I’ll make it work somehow.

      • October 1, 2014 at 9:13 am

        It is hard to make it work when someone doesn’t take responsibility for their role in the dynamic. That’s what couples counseling is: looking at how each person contributes to the negative cycles.

    • October 12, 2014 at 7:58 pm

      Dear ME, I read your comments a few times and feel like I could have written the same thing. It has been 20 years of the same thing. I finally realized that I have been invited to participate in my husband’s life. As long as I am happy going along with what he wants, well then all is good in the house. This is not OUR life. I gave and gave, while he put his work first. I have stopped giving and things fell apart. I let him pay the bills one month and everything is late and he is ticked off. Somehow that’s my fault too! My point is this… sometimes no amount of therapy will help. Do you really have need all that for you, or would a good dose of independence and separation help? Go to the office a few days a week. Let your other half take on the other half. You wrote that she would be disappointed if you went back to an office? Why? Would that inconvenience her? Join a gym – get the endorphins going, take up a hobby you have always wanted to. Worry about YOURSELF and take care of YOURSELF! Take a step back and stop trying so hard. My unfortunate reality is that I understand I am on my own. It is up to me to make the changes in my life to make me happy. My husband will not make any changes ever! if your wife is unwilling to make the concessions necessary so that you feel like you are being heard and loved enough, no amount of therapy will change that. I have watched so many couples where one thrives and the other all but dies. It is the one who is knocking themselves out who lose. My husband and I too are in a ‘good place’ at the moment, but I know it is an illusion. Why, because I am not arguing my needs, I am silent because I don’t have it in me to tell him for the 5000th time what I need from him to be happy. He will not change, and from the comments he has made he still believes all our troubles are my doing. Sometimes it just isn’t right, and no amount of therapy would change that. I should mention he is a very well spoken bs’ r who lies and twists stories so fluently in such a way that unless you know the entire story, you would believe every word he speaks. It has been so long that I am on to every one of his manipulative tricks. Do not lose yourself to anyone…unless you have kids. Take a vacation, attend a week long conference, something that allows your wife to see all that needs to be done. Choose a week when the bills are due, the kids need to be driven around after school, the house needs to be cleaned. This has been the only way my husband get it. Worry about your needs. I hope you and your wife move forward happily, but you cannot lose yourself for anyone. If she won’t change, you have to make the changes you need to be happy. I write this to myself just the same.

  • October 1, 2014 at 11:03 am

    It was useful to read this this morning. It has taken nearly 2 years to catch on that in fact the fellow I loved was systematically devaluing me. And… it wasn’t just me. In an effort to change what I focused on, I started trying to keep track of the positive things he said – about anyone – thinking surely I was just ignoring them. Sure enough, there were two positive things he said about others. In two years. So… it wasn’t just me. But it sure did a number. What was scary was that I kept thinking I could make it better. Nope, my side of the street. CODA and EMDR and two years away and I’m starting to do better. Yaya.

    • October 1, 2014 at 11:18 am

      Thanks so much for writing. I want to highlight the treatments you mentioned for other readers because they’re so valuable: CODA is Codependents Anonymous, and EMDR is a technique some therapists practice to help with trauma that has shown great results.

  • October 1, 2014 at 11:06 am

    I read all these articles, but what are the most likely reasons a person/spouse treats someone this way? If you love and RESPECT someone, why would you want to make them feel this way?

    • October 1, 2014 at 11:20 am

      I guess that’s the question: If someone is treating you poorly, do they love and respect you? If someone does love and respect you and is treating you this way, then perhaps they are depressed themselves or struggling with their own self-esteem. They might need help themselves. The way you can tell how they actually feel about you is whether they’re willing to take responsibility and get help in order to be a better partner for you, that they realize you deserve that.

  • October 2, 2014 at 8:18 am

    I will make my comments short because my story covers 22 years. I saw red flags when I met the woman that became my wife; drinking, explosive anger, irritability, put downs, insults…but I was naive, though I was 41 and letting my genitals do my thinking.

    After 20 years of verbal/emotional abuse, compounded by my worsening bipolar illness, I’m emotionally & physically damaged. My wife, however, has virtually stopped drinking, she meditates, exercises and is Miss Sunshine, while I feel like I’m dying. In therapy, she downplayed the way she has treated me, giving lame rationalizations. I’m just confused and sick. I’m being objective when I say she is doing better but the damage she inflicted on me has left me helpless & hopeless. Worse, I signed a prenup and though I’m on disability, it’s not enough to live independently. I’d have to go to war with her to overturn the prenup. Bottom line is that I’m emotionally paralyzed.

    • October 2, 2014 at 9:21 am

      I certainly feel for your pain, and it sounds like there are no easy answers. So my questions are: Are you still seeing a therapist? And have you seen a lawyer to figure out whether you might be entitled to spousal support despite having a prenup? Since your wife is doing better, perhaps she wouldn’t choose to inflict further pain on you by denying you some support. It seems like a therapist could work with you to reduce the helplessness and hopelessness that you feel and get you moving. And if you’re already seeing a therapist who can’t get you moving, it might be time to consider a different therapist. Sometimes a counselor is good at what they do, and might have helped you at a particular time, but now you need a fresh perspective/expertise.
      Just some thoughts. Wishing an end to the emotional paralysis,

      • October 2, 2014 at 10:05 am


        Thank you for your reply. Regarding seeing a lawyer, all I’ve done is think about doing it because it comes down to two scenarios. One is that the prenup is solid and getting support, even though I’m disabled, could be difficult OR the attorney says it would be easy to break the prenup and then I’d have to jump ship. I’m 64, can’t work because of the severity of my illness and I don’t want to find myself homeless. I sound like I’m making excuses and maybe I am. I’m scared.

      • October 2, 2014 at 2:49 pm

        It makes sense that you’d be scared, given all that’s at stake. But think of it as just exploration–you’re gathering information, and you’re not locked into doing anything. I feel like it’s best to know all your options. Also, maybe you could get support through NAMI groups? NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness and they run support groups all over the country. Possibly you could meet some people in similar situations, or find out more resources. It’s http://www.nami.org.

  • October 3, 2014 at 12:00 am

    My psychiatrist has been dismissive, telling me to ‘get over it’. Maybe she’s biased towards men. My therapist, a man, is good. I’ve been away from therapy for a couple of months due to other medical expenses but it is time to return. You’ve been most helpful and supportive. Thank you.

    • October 3, 2014 at 9:08 am

      Maybe your therapist will let you just fit into open slots he has in a given week, so you don’t have to commit to weekly, if it’s too expensive. I do that with some of my former clients (therapy as a tune-up, or just for intermittent support.) Glad I could help, and wishing you all the best,

  • October 3, 2014 at 8:30 am


    My confusion stems from the fact that my wife’s behavior has changed since she drastically cut back on her drinking, though she still is in denial about my illness and how alcoholism is rampant in her family, going back several generations. When someone is nasty, obnoxious and vicious, planning to leave becomes a real possibility, but when that person’s behavior changes, somewhat, for the better, that change doesn’t cancel out the damage that was inflicted. The victim of abuse can’t hit a ‘delete’ button and wipe out years or decades of memories nor heal the wounds. Maybe I’m angrier, now, because she ‘seems’to be doing better but she can never acknowledge her abuse towards me AND I’m now angry at myself for allowing myself to be victimized.

    I used to be confident and self assured but between my worsening bipolar illness and the emotional damage from my wife, my self-esteem is in the dumper.

    • October 3, 2014 at 9:12 am

      It makes sense that you’re confused: She’s treating you better but has failed to acknowledge how poorly she used to treat you, and how damaging that was. It’s hard to forgive someone who doesn’t ask for it, or realize that it’s needed. I imagine that it’s very painful for her, and a big blow to her self-esteem and her way of seeing herself as a person, to admit that she did what she did. I don’t know if it might be possible for you to open up a conversation with her that acknowledges how difficult it must be for her to face what she’s done, but that it would make you respect her even more for having changed if she could try to really see it from your point of view and to take responsibility and express some remorse? That might be asking too much of both of you, but I just thought I’d throw it out there.

  • October 3, 2014 at 10:24 am

    I did discuss this with my wife, at home, when we saw my psychiatrist, the again with my/our therapist and all she could say was, “Maybe I said some bad things but I didn’t think they were that bad that you would be so angry at me.” Clueless. Also extremely needy and insecure. Years ago she told me, in a joking way, “I’m in a state of constant denial.” I had to learn the hard way how true that was.

    I’m seeing my therapist next week. Also in the works, if my insurance company will pay their share, is a psych team assessment at the University of South Florida for my bipolar illness. Thank you, Holly,for your insights and support.

  • October 3, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    I’ve had a strange thing happen recently- one that evoked past abusive relationships and I wonder…

    My partner has a daughter and she and her husband and child moved in late April. Since then, I have felt excluded, in the way. I chose to do things around the house, as my partner said I could always do. And that included picking up after them. I honestly didn’t have much problem as I use housework to process the minor frustrations of the day. They were busy trying to get established and to spend time with their daughter who was very upset by the major change in her young life. But they would get upset if they were around while I was straightening up the public areas of the house. So, I stopped most stuff while they were around. Whenever the child was around me, they would call her away. Whenever my partner and I were talking or enjoying couple time, they would barge in. I watched them manipulate and use him for money, for last minute babysitting. They did not want to share the house and resented either one of us needing the same space. They would hold up the kitchen and we’d end up with our dinner at 9 pm. Things like that. Always complaining about space despite the fact he and I put our things in storage for the supposed short term and I gave up my office for them. Always complaining about other people needing to use the same things. They’d use my things and treated them with less care than they did their own. Anything I said would be responded with a remark that made me sound stupid. One example- traffic flow problems in the living room. She wanted to rearrange everything the way she wanted it. But how she wanted it would interfere with the traffic flow through the room. She thought traffic flow in a room was a stupid idea and who really thought of that? She would do little things to provoke me, like get out a cup I liked to use that I kept separate from the other coffee mugs- out of sight and in a different place. Honestly, I thought I forgot where I put it and when I asked, there she had it and tried to pass it off as “you know how it is in the morning; you’re not awake and you just grab the first thing”. Except this first thing was not with the other mugs and had to be deliberately taken to be used.

    THey fought in front of me freely- and that triggered a strange fear in me, which is probably due to past abusive relationships. I’d ask if I did something to upset them and I was told that “we’re fine”. The tension grew in the house and I thought it was because of their personal fighting over everything.
    Apparently it was not. About a month ago, my partner told me that they felt I hated them, that I was rude to them and they did not want to discuss it. It was me or them. Because of the child, he asked me to leave. I was floored. At no time did either say I did something to upset them. I wanted to resolve it, but they refused. They complained about me and I asked if he had seen anything himself. He did not.

    I feel as though he and I have been used to further their own personal agendas- taking over the house without thought to the others living there- who owned it. Getting money from him. Getting me out of there to have more access to both. And trying to break up one of the best and supportive relationships the two of us have had.

    There is a history of problems with his past relationships and particularly the daughter. They all left him. All the women were labeled “bitches” by her. To watch her interact with her father is a bit uncomfortable and at times, I felt like she was behaving like a jealous wife instead of a daughter.

    He is wandering around the house looking at me with a lost expression. He only talks to me when they aren’t around. When they arrive in the middle, his whole body changes. I have cried every day. I am moving next week, but I feel as though I have been kicked out of my home. And they won’t talk because they are so viciously wounded by me by my “tone of voice”? (I have intermittent laryngitis as well as when I get tensed up, my voice goes high. When I noticed my vocal tone was not under my control due to the irritation of the throat, I told them what was going on).

    I’ve been abused before in relationships, but I feel this time, these two abused both my partner and me. I don’t get it at all. The other two children of his and I get along very well. But they are not in the house anymore.

    Am I just being silly to feel like this? I hate seeing him be used like this by adults (29 and 39). It really got very tense when he started to put limits on them. Maybe they thought I was behind it- I don’t know. But I wasn’t. We give each other the right to make personal choices and if he wanted to do something for them, then that was his choice. And me as well.

    Just feeling hurt, confused and angry. I feel like joking- “Hey you A-Mart Abusers! Two for one deal in the seniors aisle!” Morbid humor helps.

    • October 3, 2014 at 5:56 pm

      Wow, no wonder you’re feeling hurt, confused, and angry. Your (ex)partner seems to be allowing himself to be manipulated and controlled–over and over again, it sounds like. But if he can’t stand up for himself, he certainly can’t stand up for you or the relationship. And just the way you had to behave in front of them when it’s your house, too, and that he was never defending you or the space…that seems infuriating. But the reality is, he was mistreating you, too, by permitting you to be disrespected and then ultimately ending your relationship in response to their ultimatum. So while I’m sure it was a good relationship on many counts, that is not a healthy dynamic at all.

      • October 9, 2014 at 4:09 pm

        The events that generated the alleged complaints were ones my partner did not witness himself. With his own history, he did what he thought best and he admits he did not know what to do and he handled it poorly. He is an abuse survivor himself and has the same problems with anger as I do.
        He has stood up for me in the past with one son and that child and I now get along fine. He was home for a visit and remained friendly to me.
        The way the situation is at present is stressful for both of us. We are both introverts and require space and alone time. The house has been too crowded for either one of us.
        I am assigning no blame. The husband is apparently one of those who avoids any conflict or even the possibility of conflict. And it is not his fault he acts and looks like my ex who was abusive emotionally and verbally. I am told that the throwing of objects is a form of physical abuse. And it is not either’s fault that their fighting in front of me was not only upsetting me, but also placed me emotionally back to when I was being abused. The husband is very controlling and he likes to control the house himself. I see that and it is better that I get away from daily contact with him.
        Whether or not the relationship is ended is to be determined. I am moving on Saturday and hopefully that will calm my fears from the past. I know those two will immediately take over the spare room for their own purposes and go back to ignoring him until they want something else from him. And he will probably come see me to escape himself. The closer we come together, he pulls back due to commitment issues. And then returns and it goes forward. He has progressed in learning to trust and accept near-unconditional love. Already, we are mending things between us, talking, forgiving and finding a way to move forward to get beyond this point in our lives. It will not be long before they are gone from the house themselves. We shall see how it goes.

        A healthy dynamic? Maybe not, but it is healthier than living in fear all the time and holds some hope for healing both of us.

      • October 9, 2014 at 4:51 pm

        It sounds like you’re saying it’s not a healthy dynamic but that it beats the alternative (ending the relationship for good.) I can understand that. You need to figure out for yourself what you can accept and tolerate, and for how long. Your situation is clearly a complicated one. I do think that you should re-read your last comment and see if you’re minimizing/justifying/making excuses for others. At times, it seems to have that flavor, but I could be wrong. I’m passing no judgment on whatever you choose to do; I just feel that self-awareness is the key to mental health.
        I wish you the best, and hope that your choices lead to greater happiness for you,

  • October 28, 2014 at 9:48 am

    Hi, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for over twenty years before I found the courage and support to leave my wife (we’ve now been separated for over 3 years).
    I began therapy in July 2010 after being diagnosed with ADHD at the tender age of 51. As a result of therapy I became so much more self aware and began a process of self realisation that led me to the discovery that I was and had been abused emotionally (and verbally).
    By accident I came across Amnesty International’s criteria for abuse (be it physical, sexual or emotional it’s all very similar) and I was astonished to see the stages and actions that mark the abuse. I almost couldn’t believe how they fitted the course that my marriage/life had taken.
    From being isolated from family and friends to being controlled financially (even though I was the breadwinner in the relationship) and the pattern of abuse and reward that detailed the relationship I was in.
    In July 2011 we separated and I’m still supporting my spouse financially as it was the easiest way to begin a life apart from her.
    I’m still in therapy and more importantly have reconnected with my family after being estranged for 20 years. With this support I am getting stronger and have developed a growing sense of self worth (something my spouse had eroded completely). I am undoubtedly a victim of abuse but came to a realisation that people don’t take power from you, you surrender it to them. In my case it was a morbid fear of rejection that led me to put up with the abuse for so many years and I guess everyone has their own trigger.
    I’m seeing a lawyer next week to make sure of my legal standing before I stop paying for my freedom (something that will shock my spouse to the core, even though we’re both adults with no dependants or joint financial responsibilities).
    It still feels like I’m being somehow cruel in taking this action but I need to remind myself that I’m deserving of good things and deserve to reap the rewards of my labours.
    After thirty years of working hard and long I’ve almost nothing to show for it financially as everything I earned went to keep my wife happy (she worked less and less the longer we were married and not at all for the last 8 years!).
    This is only a brief snap-shot of my life but I hope that in some way it might help others to realise the situation they are in and that they deserve to have a life a life that is happy, rewarding and free from abuse.

    • October 28, 2014 at 12:00 pm

      It’s really common not to recognize abuse as abuse for a very long time. I’m so glad you were able to put that epiphany to good use and improve your life. I think your story will bring hope to a lot of other people. Thank you!

  • July 12, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    partialy disbabled by Lymes turned down for disability, cant leave till Im able to support myself somehoe, been looking for part time work and praying a lot but he criticizes my attempt oto work (you’ll just fail and be hurt” and says Im getting too religious–I keep silent a lot cause IM tired of arguing. cat afford my meds withoiut his insurance-medical assistance wont cover them. contacted a counsellor –now what?

    • July 12, 2016 at 2:13 pm

      Have you seen a counselor? If it’s not helping, talk to him/her about that and see if maybe that person could work with you using a different style. Or maybe it’s just not a match and you want to keep looking.
      It might also be helpful to find a social worker/case manager. Many areas have local community mental health centers that are sort of a one stop shop. Someone might be able to help you to reapply for disability and get a better result (or find other ways you can get by financially.) Sometimes you qualify for programs you’ve never heard of. Finding someone who can tap you into resources, as well as giving you emotional support, could be just the thing. At least, I hope so! Good luck, and take care of yourself.


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