It can be easy to overlook subtle signs of emotional abuse. Here are some signs of emotional abuse you need to look out for:

1. Lack of Privacy
Does your partner demand access to all your accounts or passwords? Abusers don’t respect your need for privacy. To them, everything is inherently their property, and they can take ownership over what they want, when they want. As a result, abusers might make it seem like you are overreacting if you have a problem with their behaviour. They might even accuse you of having something to hide should you set a limit. This controlling behaviour may extend to stalking your whereabouts or install tracking software onto your electronics.

2. Perpetual Blaming
Ongoing blaming is a significant red flag because it continuously places you in a lose-lose situation. On the one hand, you tend to feel defenceless and discouraged. It feels pointless to try to stand up for yourself when they’re already primed to show you why you’re wrong. On the other hand, it can become easy to internalise their blame. For instance, if you already struggle with low self-esteem, you might believe their accusations are actually true. And after a while, no matter how confident you feel, their harsh behaviour will likely tear you down.

3. Emotional Coercion
Maybe your partner doesn’t make direct threats, but you feel like you must do what they want. Or, even if they don’t outwardly tell you to do something, you just know what you can and can’t do. If this feels familiar, your partner likely uses some form of blackmail to control you. For example, they might drop many comments about how much they dislike a certain friend of yours. As a result, you feel guilty spending time with that friend and start turning down their invitations.

4. Fake Apologies
Fake apologies may include justifications and more blame. The abuser will often only use them to show remorse and attempt to move on. The apologies often lack substance or accountability. The abuser won’t recognize they have done anything wrong. Even if they do show some responsibility, they will be quick to defend their choice and still attack your character to protect their ego.

5. Contempt
Contempt can happen in a relationship when your partner looks down on you. In other words, they basically believe that they’re more intelligent or capable than you. As a result, they don’t respect you, which can lead to ongoing criticism, mocking, sarcasm, and insults.

6. Intentionally Triggering You
Does it seem like your partner or family member knows exactly which buttons to press to irritate you? Worse, does it seem like they sometimes enjoy pressing those buttons? An emotional abuser might intentionally trigger you by:

Acting as if the relationship doesn’t matter at all to them
Stirring the pot by discussing controversial issues when you’re with friends or family
7. Forgetting Important Details
This is one of the classic subtle signs of emotional abuse. Your partner didn’t pick up the kids after work because they forgot. Anyone can be forgetful but pay attention if this is a recurrent trend. It could mean that they aren’t really paying attention to you or your needs. Some abusers are even more insidious. For example, when they don’t do something important, they will insist that you never told them about it. This behaviour is a form of gaslighting. Their comments are intended to make you second-guess yourself and question your reality. Indeed, you might want to give them the benefit of the doubt, causing you to ask yourself, Did I really tell them? Maybe I forgot…

8. Isolation 
Isolation isn’t always as extreme as people assume. It doesn’t mean you’re literally locked in a cage in your bedroom while your partner abuses you every day. That said, isolation can certainly feel like you’re trapped in prison. Isolation usually starts slowly. An emotional abuser might comment how they don’t want you working. They may even have a convincing argument. For example, they will emphasize how much they know you hate your job. They will also point out that you deserve better working conditions and pay.

9. Walking on Eggshells
Maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you always feel anxious around your partner. You worry about saying or doing the wrong thing. You feel like their behaviour is unpredictable, and you’re always trying to gauge how they might react.
If any of this sounds familiar, it could indicate that you’re in an abusive relationship. Your partner may use a combination of abusive techniques like coercion, threats, gaslighting, and emotional outbursts to maintain power over you. No relationship is perfect, but you should never feel unsafe or emotionally violated. Healthy relationships are built on a foundation of mutual trust and empathy- both parties should strive to be the best versions of themselves.

Subtle signs of emotional abuse rarely go away on their own. Many times, they worsen as the relationship progresses. Unfortunately, once an abuser knows you aren’t going anywhere, they have little incentive to change their toxic behaviour. Emotional abuse can quickly spiral and lead to other forms of sexual, financial, and physical abuse. In these instances, ending the relationship and avoiding all contact is your best strategy for moving forward. The best thing you can do for yourself is to claim your healing and stop doubting yourself over your decision to restore your life.