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

It can be hard to realize you're in an emotionally abusive relationship.

woman lying on bed pondering life's questions B-D-S Piotr Marcinski / Shutterstock

By Nancy Carbone

An abusive partner can be extremely loving when you make yourself available to meet all their needs and give them all your undivided attention. In fact, it is when the partner stops meeting the needs of the abuser that tantrums, tears, insults, silent treatment, or other forms of punishment are used to get their way.

In many cases, the emotional abuser is co-dependent on their partner to make them happy and make up for all their feelings of childhood rejection and emotional abuse that they’ve endured. It is when the partner does not fulfill their unmet needs, that they suffer brutal punishment.


It can be hard to acknowledge the signs of an emotionally abusive and toxic relationship when you're in one, but ask yourself these deep questions to really think about the direction your relationship is taking — and whether or not it's time to form an escape plan.

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If answering these questions makes you uncomfortable, you might be in an emotionally abusive relationship:

1. Do you have a partner who gets upset when you do not comply and respond by sulking so that you drop everything for them, or otherwise you get mistreated in some way?

2. Do you endure the silent treatment or criticism, if you’re true to yourself?

3. Are you made responsible for their feelings and expected to make them feel better about themselves?

4. Are you accused of rejecting them when you do things for yourself?

5. Have you got into the habit of pleasing them or complying by giving in to what they want, to avoid being punished or emotionally abused?

6. Are you losing yourself by accommodating them, to the point that you are becoming withdrawn or depressed?

In fact, the more you please them, the more you reinforce the emotional abuse.


7. 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. Perhaps they made out that no one else would have you.

8. Do they tell you that you can’t survive financially without them, to rob you of your independence and selfhood?

9. Do they attempt to put you down so that you feel not good about yourself, so you do not feel you deserve any better?

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 so you will not leave them. They often make their partner suffer to get them to do what they want, by hurting them or causing fear, as a way to emotionally control them, to get what they want from them.

The actual truth is, that the emotionally manipulative person puts their own self-doubt and insecurities onto you because deep down they fear you will leave them or do not want them. The more they fear that they’re losing you, the more abusive they become to control you or hook you into the relationship.

Therefore, they find ways to control you and keep you feeling worthless about yourself, because deep down they rely on you to make them feel better and avoid their own insecurities.


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10. Are you accused of things that you have not done wrong and have been made to, pay for it?

11. Do they make the relationship all about serving their needs, so much so that your opinions or feelings do not matter?

12. Are you expected to do what they want, while meeting their needs? Are you abused for not complying?

13. Does it feel as though you have no rights as a partner while asserting yourself leads to punishment? Does it feel easier to keep the peace and avoid conflict by giving up yourself to avoid being emotionally abused?

14. Is your partner jealous and insecure about you talking to anyone, do they control who you’re with? Do they monitor what you do?

15. Do they have abusive tantrums if you do not comply? Do they threaten you so that they have their way?

16. When you express yourself, do they project that you are mistreating them so that you back down? Do they belittle you? Do they confuse you, so you lose your sense of self

17. Do they guilt you, so that you do not go out with your friends? Do they want you there exclusively for themselves?

18. If you do the things that make you happy, do they punish you or make you feel bad as if you’re rejecting them?

19. Do they find ways to hook you into the relationship so you stay?

20. Do they feel better when you serve their needs?

21. Have you slowly stopped being yourself? Have you learned to negate your own needs?

22. Do you walk on eggshells around their emotions to accommodate how they feel?

23. Do you tell them what they want to hear to avoid any trouble?

24. Do they split you against your friends and family, so that they can have you all to them?

25. Do you fear saying the wrong thing, so you say nothing?

26. Do they misconstrue what you say, so you become the bad person, who has to pay for it?

27. If they feel rejected, do they get back at you, give you the silent treatment, or end up punishing you?

28. Are you wrongly accused of saying things that you haven’t done wrong?

29. Do they draw you into feeling sorry for them, so that you do not realize the abuse?

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The emotional abuser causes their partner to suffer when they do not comply with their emotional needs that were deprived in childhood. The partner becomes punished for not meeting them.

When feeling insecure within themselves, they presume that their partner caused them to feel this way, so they set out to hurt them for it. The partner becomes blamed for their insecure sense of self and pressured into making them feel better. In this way, the partner is perceived to be causing them to feel bad about themselves, and expected to make up for it, or otherwise, they get punished.


Perhaps your abusive partner encourages you to feel sorry for them, so you lose sight of yourself. They can guilt you for being responsible for how they feel so that you think you’re the problem and make it up to them.

Do you notice signs of emotional abuse?

A person can bury childhood feelings of emotional abuse and protect themselves so that no one can hurt them again, by getting revenge on those they perceive hurt them. Their anger becomes misdirected toward loved ones.

It is easy to misconstrue that loved ones caused them to feel this way. So, the emotional abuser punishes loved ones, as if they’re responsible for how they feel. The partner gets blamed and all the emotions that are projected onto them.


In this way, the abuser repeats the emotional abuse that was done to them. Perhaps they were abused emotionally for not meeting the needs of a caregiver, otherwise, they were unloved or abandoned. So, when they feel rejected or insecure, they abuse their partner emotionally to get the love they wanted.

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James Masterson defined the term Talionic Impulse for those, including Borderline Personality Disorder, as a way of inflicting the same abuse done to them, by reacting towards others as if they had abused them. In this way, they take out revenge on those they perceive to have hurt them.

What to do if you find yourself being emotionally abused?


If you notice signs of emotional abuse, then you may be expected to make up for the past hurts of your emotionally abusive partner. Inflicting abuse on you is an attempt to escape these insecure feelings they have about themselves.  

The emotional abuser must work through these feelings and repair themselves, instead of making others pay the price for their feelings. Once they acknowledge how they feel, they do not need to project their feelings onto others or make their partner responsible for changing how they feel.

If you recognize that you’re being emotionally abused, you can see a therapist to assist you to build healthier boundaries and not feel responsible for other people’s emotions by recognizing what belongs to them and what you are responsible for.


You may be surprised to discover that you do not value yourself, to let yourself be abused this way. You may need to learn to listen to yourself and build a stronger sense of self so that you can take better care of yourself and foster healthier relationships.

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Nancy Carbone is a writer, relationship therapist, and marriage guidance therapist who offers therapy for all kinds of relationship matters.