Emotional abuse is a term that's more and more frequently used these days, but before we go there, let's first talk about what emotional abuse isn't. It's not emotional abuse to argue with your partner. It's not emotionally abusive if someone reacts with hurt feelings due to something you have said or done. People tend to react from their own perceptions so their actions don't always accurately define your behavior. It's also not emotional abuse to speak your mind with blunt honesty. It may lack tact but is not emotional abuse. If being brutally honest, make sure it's the honesty and not the brutally that is the source of what you say. It's not emotionally abusive to yell at your partner, but this concept can sometimes get blurry. Yelling at your partner is sometimes just a normal expression of emotion. Everyone yells sometimes. Everyone. Something that everyone does is typically not considered emotionally abusive. That being said, cultural aspects of what "everyone does" need to be taken into consideration.
On the other hand, screaming at someone hysterically, in an emotionally heated verbal assault, is considered to be emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is an attempt to control another person. It doesn't involve slaps, throws, kicks, chokes, or punches. The emotional abuser uses emotion as their weapon of choice.
It's not unusual that the emotional abuser doesn't realize they are being abusive. Commonly, they feel that they know what is best for their partner or what looks best to the outside world, so they constantly try to control your every move. They often harshly criticize when you don't do things their way or threaten you when you seem to go outside the lines. They will often verbally attack when they are argued with, because arguing is evidence that they don't have control over you. Emotional abusers often criticize the way you walk, talk, dress, interact with others, your style of living, and coping in order to gain and keep you under control.
An emotional abuser constantly criticizes in hopes that by putting you down, they will be able to control your behavior. They belittle you by putting you down when you are alone or in front of others. When you try to speak up for yourself or call them out on their behavior, the abuser attempts to make you feel like you are crazy, and that everyone knows you are crazy and no one would take you seriously. They will often blame you for their unhappiness, frequently, holding you responsible for how they feel. They rarely take any responsibility for their own choices and behaviors. They often use a double-standard when it comes to their own behavior, not holding themselves accountable for doing the exact things they criticize you about. Frequently, they call you stupid, inept, dumb, and other similar names.
When they speak to their family or friends about you, they often roll their eyes in an attempt to get them to disrespect you. They will frequently treat you with disdain and disgust. One of their favorite tricks is to not show any affection unless you do exactly what they want. When mad, they tend to be excessively cool and may go days or even weeks without speaking to you. They will also go to your family and friends to talk to them about you in an attempt to isolate you from your support system.
The following summarizes actions that are often used by emotional abusers.
1) Constant criticism or attempts to manipulate and control.
2) Shaming and blaming with hostile sarcasm or outright verbal assault.
3) The use of shaming or belittling language.
4) Verbal abuse-name calling.
5) Withholding affection as punishment.
6) Punishment and threats of punishment.
7) Refuses to accept their part in the dynamic.
8) Mind games. They can't accept personal responsibility for their own happiness.
9) Refusing to communicate at all.
10) Isolating you from your support system (friends and family).
The emotional abuse cycle is the same pattern that occurs in physical abuse. Once you figure out what is going on and start thinking about leaving or seriously call them out on their actions, the abuser suddenly becomes apologetic and caring, trying to woo you and lure you back into the fold. They do whatever it takes to make you believe what you believe to be true, is actually false. No, they are a perfectly good partner, and there is no reason to start thinking about leaving. Once you come back and actually trust that the abuse will no longer happen, the same old abusive pattern, you thought was gone, starts up all over again. Unfortunately, because you had started to believe and trust in them again, that makes much harder to leave. Emotional abuse, like all types of abuse, are ways to try and control a person. Emotional abuse is a way to control someone by playing with their emotions.
Today, many minor interaction issues are mislabeled as emotional abuse. This tends to lessen the implications involved with true emotional abuse. Emotional abuse leaves scars that cannot be seen but often have long term consequences. Love does not involve trying to control someone by playing with and manipulating their emotions.