How To Know If The Abuser In Your Relationship Is You

It may be time to take an honest look at your own behavior.

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Dating and relationships can be both exciting and difficult. There will always be a mixture of good times, as well as more challenging ones.

It's worth noting that emotional abuse, like most types of abuse, occurs gradually, often without either the receiver or the giver of the abuse realizing that what is occurring in the relationship is abusive.

Men and women alike often engage in emotionally abusive behaviors against their partners without any conscious awareness they're doing so.


Abusers seldom stop to ask themselves, "Am I emotionally abusive?"

If you struggle with low self-esteem, grew up in a dysfunctional household, or experienced situations in which you felt powerless or devalued, you are especially likely to become controlling, manipulative, and emotionally abusive in your relationships as an adult.

Individuals with pronounced feelings of powerlessness in their own lives may over-compensate by becoming controlling and overly critical of others.

This is something that can happen to anyone, and therefore, every one of us has the potential to become emotionally abusive in the context of intimate relationships.


Emotional abuse in the context of romantic relationships occurs more often than one can imagine.

According to research examined in the independent medical journal The Lancet, "The prevalence of exposure to emotional abuse in women can range from 9% to 70%."

RELATED: If Answering These Questions Make You Uncomfortable, You Might Be In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship


There's no denying the fact that romantic relationships are tough. All healthy relationships require work, love, respect, and commitment to maintaining all three from both partners.

These dynamics only become more challenging when any type of abuse — physical, psychological/mental/emotional, sexual, or verbal — is involved.

Signs of domestic violence and emotional abuse may look different from partner to partner and relationship to relationship. And in particular, emotionally abusive relationships may not always be easy to detect, as the landmark signs of this type of abuse are often less obvious and more difficult to identify than those that indicate physical violence.

There are a wide variety of causes behind emotional abuse that come from several different sources.


Reasons someone may become emotionally abusive include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following:

  • An overwhelming need to control a partner based on a fear of abandonment.
  • A need to feel in control and in charge in general.
  • A history of low self-esteem.
  • Over-compensating for feelings of inadequacy.
  • Pronounced feelings of resentment for a perceived slight committed by a partner.
  • A history of failed relationships or past personal failures in life.

If you are questioning whether you may have been or currently are being emotionally abusive in your relationship(s), the best "test" is to take an honest look at your behaviors, as well as at the way others behave around you.

RELATED: I Didn't Realize My Husband Was Abusing Me — Because I Always Hit Back

Here are 24 possible signs you are now or may have been, an abuser.

1. You are hyper-critical of your partner.

2. Your partner appears hesitant or afraid to share their thoughts and feelings with you.


3. When you and your partner have an argument, you are never wrong.

4. You use the silent treatment as a weapon or form of punishment.

5. You use things your partner told you in confidence against them at a later time.

6. You make mean-spirited jokes you know are hurtful to your partner.

7. Your partner seems anxious or nervous around you.

8. Your partner cannot make a decision without your input, either because they believe you will be upset, or because you have told them they are not "allowed" to.

9. You like things a certain way and are unwilling to compromise.

10. You yell at your partner rather than talk to them.

11. You behave differently in public than you do when you are alone with your partner, saving your "best behavior" for others.


12. You blame your partner when things don't work out the way you envisioned or hoped.

13. You point out all of your partner's flaws and faults, rarely acknowledging their many positive attributes and values.

14. You use harsh language, vulgarity, or name-calling to get your point across.

15. You belittle or berate your partner.

16. Your partner tells you that you aren’t a very nice person.

17. Your partner tells you that you're frequently "moody."

18. You become jealous and controlling when someone else talks to your partner.

19. You feel your partner can’t do anything right.

20. You withhold intimacy and/or sex when you are unhappy with your partner.


21. Your partner has turned into a partner-pleaser, never wanting to appear as though they are disagreeing with you.

22. You never admit fault or say you're sorry for your behaviors and actions, even if you know you probably should apologize.

23. You minimize your partner's concerns and feelings.

24. You gaslight your partner, making them feel "crazy" or manipulating them into believing that what they're experiencing isn't real.


Signs you are an abuser

RELATED: 13 Acts Of Emotional Abuse Commonly Misinterpreted As 'Acts Of Love'

What to do if you think you may be an abusive partner

As terrible as this may sound at first, it's important to recognize that emotional abuse serves a purpose for the abuser.

Their abusive behaviors and actions afford them the opportunity to feel as though they are in a position of power. This provides them with a sense of safety and comfort. counteracting the feelings of inadequacy they unconsciously harbor.


Like other types of abuse, emotional abuse signals an underlying issue within the abuser that hasn't yet been appropriately addressed.

Often, getting to the root cause of the abuse can help the abuser not only understand their behavior, but develop better, most positive coping skills for managing their fear of loss or abandonment, low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, and so on.

Individual and couples counseling can both be quite useful in effectively managing these negative feelings, improving communication skills between partners, and improving the overall health of relationships across the board.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation, there are resources available in your state, as well as the 24/7 National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233).


RELATED: How To Stop Being An Abusive Person

Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford is a psychologist who has engaged in extensive work and research on familial relationships, family trauma, and dysfunctions.