When emotionally abusive behaviour is mistaken for love, it is easy to misread the signals and stay stuck in a toxic relationship as a result.
But how do you know when these “acts of love” are actually signs of emotional abuse?
While behavior that’s abusive can seem like love at times, if your partner wants to own you and take control of you like a possession, that’s a sign you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship.
Real love, on the other hand, is unconditional. You can be your true self and feel loved for the person you are.
When you are holding out for someone to love you, it’s easy to confuse neediness and possessive — or even abusive — behavior as being “wanted” by your partner. You may not even think you’re in a toxic, emotionally abusive relationship because your partner seems caring and loving toward you … until you do not comply.
An abusive partner can be extremely loving when you make yourself available to meet all their needs and give them your undivided attention. It is when you stop meeting the needs of the abuser, however, that they use tantrums, tears, insults, silent treatment or other forms of punishment, like gaslighting, to get their way.
In many cases, an emotional abuser is co-dependent on their partner to make them feel good about themselves and make up for all their feelings of childhood rejection and emotional abuse they’ve endured.
It is when you do not fulfill their unmet needs that you suffer punishment. You end can end up being punished for the pain caused from the abuser’s past, and being expected to make up for it.
An emotionally manipulative person knows how to provoke you in a way to get you to respond to their needs and control you, even if it means putting you down, hurting you, or causing fear, as a way to emotionally control you so you will not leave them.
The truth is that the emotionally manipulative person puts their own self-doubt and insecurities onto you. Deep down, they fear you will leave them because they do not feel good enough.
The more they fear that they are losing you, the more abusive they become in order to keep you from leaving the relationship.
To protect themselves from feeling rejected or alone, the emotional abuser will find ways to control you, so you end up feeling worthless about yourself.
Here are 13 signs of emotional abuse that are easy to misinterpret as acts of “love” in toxic, emotionally abusive relationships:
1. They’re extremely jealous and insecure
Is your partner jealous and insecure about you talking to anyone? Do they control who you are with? Do they monitor what you do?
They might accuse you of things you haven’t done. Say you cheated or want someone else, even when the accusations are disproportionate to the real situation.
They make you feel guilty so you won’t go out with your friends and want you there exclusively for them.
You are accused of rejecting them when you do things for yourself.
2. They’re controlling
They control you to avoid feelings of insecurity or rejection. They treat you better when they have you all to themselves but abuse you for going out with others.
If you do the things that make you happy, they punish you or make you feel bad, as if you’re rejecting them.
They find ways to hook you into staying in the relationship, and even make you feel guilty through suicide threats or being told you will lose your children.
3. They throw tantrums
Your partner who gets upset when you do not comply to their every need and respond by sulking so that you drop everything for them, or otherwise you get mistreated in some way.
They have abusive tantrums if you do not comply, or threaten you so that they get their way.
4. You’re manipulated by punishment
You’re forced endure the silent treatment or criticism, if you are true to yourself, and you’re held responsible for their feelings and expected to make them feel better about themselves.
You’ve probably gotten into the habit of pleasing them or complying by giving into what they want, to avoid being punished or emotionally abused
Has your partner punished you when you do not accommodate them? Perhaps they used your own fears against you, by threatening divorce or taking the children from you, as a way to emotionally manipulate you into staying.
If they feel rejected, they always get back at you.
5. They put you down
They tell you that no one else would have you. That you can’t survive financially without them in order to rob you of your independence and selfhood.
They attempt to put you down so you don’t feel good about yourself, or think you deserve any better.
6. They blame you for everything
They misconstrue what you say, so you become the bad person, who has to pay for it, or you’re wrongly accused for saying things that you haven’t said.
7. They force you to comply
You feel like you’re losing yourself by accommodating them, to the point that you are becoming withdrawn or depressed. The more you please them, the more you reinforce the emotional abuse.
8. They ignore your needs
They make the relationship all about serving their needs and your opinions or feelings don’t matter to them.
9. They expect you to “behave”
You’re expected to do what they want and always meet their needs. You’re abused for not complying.
10. They take away your wants
It feels as though you have no rights as a partner, since asserting yourself leads to abusive treatment, so it’s easier to avoid conflict by giving up yourself to avoid being emotionally abused.
11. They make you doubt yourself
When you express yourself, they suggest you’re mistreating them so that you back down. They belittle and confuse you, so you lose your sense of self.
12. They make you “lose” yourself
Have you slowly stopped being yourself? Have you learned to negate your own needs to please them?
You probably walk on eggshells around their emotions to accommodate how they feel, or tell them what they want to hear to avoid getting into trouble. They’ve likely turned you against your friends and family in order to isolate you.
You fear saying the wrong thing, so you say nothing. You feel guilty for being responsible for how they feel, so you think you are the problem and make it up to them.
13. They force you to make excuses for them
They draw you into feeling sorry for them so you don’t realize they’re abusing you.
Somehow, you believe that you’re causing them to get hurt, so you try to please them so they don’t get angry at you.
You end up feeling responsible for how they feel and try hard to make it up to them, as if it is your fault.
Those with emotionally abusive behavior can cause their partner to suffer when they don’t comply to their emotional needs. When feeling insecure, the abusive person presumes that their partner caused them to feel this way, so they hurt them for it.
This type of response, called a “talionic impulse”, means that even if you never do anything wrong, your abuser will continue to blame and attack you for their pain.
So what can you do if you spot these signs of emotional abuse in your relationship?
The first step is recognizing and letting go of the blinding fantasy that you are being “loved”.
Real love is not making up for someone’s insecurities or being responsible for how they feel.
The emotional abuser must work through these feelings and repair themselves, instead of making others pay the price for their feelings. If you recognize that you are being emotionally abused, you need to build healthier boundaries.
You may be surprised to discover that you do not value yourself, which allowed you to let someone treat you this way. You may need to learn to listen to yourself and build a stronger sense of self, so you can take better care of yourself and foster healthier relationships in the future.
Real love comes from loving yourself so you can set your own standards on how you would like be treated, rather than putting up with things that are abusive toward you.
Someone who truly loves you will not abuse you.