Emotional abuse is just as damaging to a person’s psyche as physical or sexual abuse. But it is often less understood and can be more subtle to detect. A qualified Christian counselor can help you understand if you are being subjected to emotional abuse. Your counselor can also guide you in breaking free from the destructive cycles of abuse and choosing freedom in Christ.

The Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Emotional abusers seek power over their victims. They are inherently self-absorbed and self-serving in all their behaviors. They treat people more like objects than individuals with the power to form their own thoughts, feelings, and decisions.

In an emotionally abusive relationship, traumatic bonding exists between the abuser and victim. The abuser does not act terrible all the time but uses cycles of good behavior mixed with negative behaviors to keep the victim off-balance. These cycles are confusing and traumatic for the victim. The victim may accept responsibility for actions that aren’t hers to keep the peace.

The abuser will always try to transfer blame to the victim. Often the victim starts second-guessing herself, believing that if she just tried harder, the relationship would improve. But the relationship is not healthy; it will not improve through more effort. Tough, consistent consequences are needed to turn an emotionally abusive relationship around.

Examples of Emotional Abuse

Emotionally abusive relationships exist between men and women of every age, race, class, ethnicity, and religion. Here are a few examples of emotional abuse.

  • A wife walks on eggshells around her husband. She never knows what mood he will be in when he gets home. Most of the time, he is distant and detached. But sometimes he explodes in anger over meaningless triggers.
  • A mother constantly criticizes her daughter. Her daughter feels like she can never perform up to her mother’s standards. The daughter longs for her mother’s love but also hates her mother’s endless stream of criticism.
  • An adult son manages his elderly father’s property and finances. He withholds information from his father, telling him he is not capable of understanding how to handle his finances any longer. The father worries that his son is making irresponsible decisions that run contrary to his will.
  • A woman’s boyfriend gives her the silent treatment any time she doesn’t go along with his wishes. Their relationship has peace when his wants, needs, and preferences are met. But if she speaks up for what she wants, he ignores her as punishment.
  • A young executive is eager to climb the corporate ladder. But her boss piles on more work than one person can handle. In meetings, her boss makes critical remarks in front of others about the executive.

Emotionally abusive relationships exist everywhere, including in homes, workplaces, schools, churches, and organizations. These relationships exist between married couples, families, friends, coworkers, or volunteers. The abuse is often subtle and hard for victims to pinpoint.

Signs of an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

At the beginning of a relationship, abusers will use warm, kind, and loving acts to groom their victims. During future traumatic bonding stages of the relationship, the abuser returns to this phase to convince the victim to stay under control.

You may notice the following signs of abuse in your relationship. If several of them are affecting your relationship, it’s wise to reach out to help from a compassionate Christian counselor.


All abusers try to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, feelings, moods, and desires. As a victim, you will get blamed for everything wrong in the abuser’s life, even when the abuser is clearly in the wrong.


To keep a victim off-balance, an abuser will frequently detach from the victim with silence. The withdrawal is meant to manipulate the victim to move back into the abuser’s clutches. This type of withdrawal makes intimacy nearly impossible.


An abuser will use real or empty threats to keep a victim from standing up for her rights. Typical threats include the withdrawal of financial support, destruction of property, spreading lies about the victim, and more. Often the abuser does not intend to carry out the threat but uses a threat as emotional terrorism against the victim.


Contempt is a deadly form of disgust. It is based on the abuser’s long ruminations about real or perceived faults in the victim. Contempt breeds malice, violence, and other destructive attitudes in the abuser’s mind.


Abusers often make unfair accusations against their victims. They may scrutinize their victim’s use of time, money, and other relationships. An abuser may make false accusations about a victim to cause her to question herself and deflect blame onto her.

Discounting feelings, needs, and opinions

All abusers are very selfish. They need to feel that their feelings, needs, and opinions matter more than those of others. An abuser may talk for a long time about his feelings but refuse to listen to the victim’s feelings. To the abuser, the victim’s feelings, needs, and opinions don’t have as much importance.

Ridicule and name-calling

An abuser has a twisted sense of humor. The abuser’s jokes are always at the expense of the victim, often based on ridicule and name-calling. But if the victim confronts the abuser about this, the abuser will accuse the victim of being too sensitive.


Abusers stay in charge of their relationships by withholding affection, approval, information, money, or other things. The withholding can increase over time, leading to a double life for the abuser and destruction of trust for the victim.


Even when hard evidence is presented to them, abusers will deny the truth to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. For example, a husband may tell his wife he is working late when her friends see him out with another woman. Lies like this are intended to make the victim second-guess their instincts.

Lack of cooperation

Abusers are very reluctant to cooperate with normal requests. A victim may ask her abuser to help around the house, go to counseling, enter rehab, or get a job, and is then met with defensiveness and stonewalling. This lack of cooperation causes a power imbalance in the relationship in which the victim may over-function due to the abuser’s unwillingness to participate.

Angry outbursts

An abuser in an emotionally abusive relationship uses angry outbursts to manipulate his victim. He may get loud, explosive, and perhaps even physically violent to make the victim cower and accede to his wishes. These angry outbursts disrupt the peace in the relationship and create a hostile undercurrent.

Destroying objects

Abusers destroy their victims’ objects to maintain an upper hand of control. They try to manipulate the victims with fear by defacing or trashing objects of importance to the victims. These destructive acts erode trust in the relationship.

Gaslighting and extortion

These are favorite tactics of the abuser to keep the victim off-center. Gaslighting attempts to trick the victim into believing the truth is a lie or the lie is a truth. Extortion keeps the victim subdued and trapped. These emotional manipulations can cause the victim to feel like she is going crazy, though the problem lies squarely with the abuser.

Christian Counseling Relationship Issues

Emotional abuse is a hot, sticky, tangled web of relationship problems. It is by nature difficult to unravel and understand because the abuser does everything to avoid taking responsibility. You may not be able to interpret emotional abuse yourself, but an experienced Christian counselor can help you regain solid footing.

If you suspect you are a victim of emotional abuse, please contact the caring staff at our counseling offices. We have counseled many victims in emotionally abusive relationships, and we can help you find the freedom you deserve after suffering so much. Call us today to get connected with a Christian counselor who will help you break free from abusive cycles.

“Face to Face”, Courtesy of Pixel2013, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Sitting on the Dock”, Courtesy of Sasint, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Yellow Benches”, Courtesy of Gregroose, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Yellow Leaves”, Courtesy of Heike, Pixabay.com, CC0 License


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