This 1 Disturbing Sign Means Someone Is a Victim of Emotional Abuse

When pinpointing whether someone is a victim of abuse, it’s common to look for physical signs of trauma. But what about looking for signs of struggle under the skin’s surface? It isn’t uncommon for mental and emotional abuse to have serious consequences, in both children and adults. Sadly, the signs of this kind of trauma are often disregarded.

But there is one sign, however, that should set off an alarm that someone may be a victim of emotional abuse.

But first, what constitutes emotional abuse?

A woman looks sad sitting by a window.

Victims of child abuse often exhibit these signs. | Max-kegfire/iStock/Getty Images

WebMD classifies emotional abuse, or psychological abuse, as a mix of many factors. The abuser can be verbally cruel, make wild accusations, derogatory comments, and terrifying threats. The abused party may constantly be on the defensive, and become emotionally unstable. A victim may also make excuses for their abuser’s behavior, and feel trapped and unable to walk away from the relationship.

The disturbing statistics

A woman looks away from her partner.

They might have trouble leaving bad relationships. | Astarot/iStock/Getty Images Plus

According to a 2010 report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 48.8% of men and 48.4% of women reported experiencing some form of psychological aggression from a partner. Around 8.5% of men and 18.5% of women reported threats of physical harm in a relationship and 8.3% of men and 14.8% of women reported that their abuser kept them from leaving the relationship.

One unfortunate view of emotional abuse

Two men looking down at a phone.

Watch out for how they react to relationship milestones and downfalls. | Renato Arap/iStock/Getty Images

As Psychology Today points out, the term “emotional abuse” is thrown around a bit too loosely. Therefore, making it difficult to properly categorize someone as the subject of emotional trauma. For example, being sad after a difficult breakup does not count as emotional abuse. However, if an individual threatens to harm or kill his or her partner for breaking up with them, abuse is likely present.

How it occurs in adult relationships

Couple standing in the sunlight.

Their partner might be the dominant one in the relationship. | Gpointstudio/iStock/Getty Images

Domestic abuse in adult relationships takes many forms, including physical, sexual, and emotional-psychological. Emotional factors are things that go beyond the occasional argument or disagreement. If a relationship is emotionally abusive, the abuser may be so demanding that the victim isn’t allowed to talk or think a certain way, WebMD says. The victim might also not have control of his or her finances, daily routine, or social calendar.

How emotional abuse starts in children and adolescents

A sad child looks downward.

Emotional abuse might stem from childhood. | Margotpics/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Sadly, 6.9% of child abuse cases in the U.S. involve emotional abuse at the hands of a parent or guardian, according to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children. Emotional and psychological trauma can take on different shapes when it occurs during childhood. A parent that demeans, humiliates, or ignores their child can be manufacturing emotional abuse. Allowing a child to witness harm or abuse of another living thing — like domestic violence or harm toward a pet — can also emotionally traumatize a child. Emotionally-abused children may be more likely to get into an abusive relationship as an adult.

That one disturbing sign

Sad woman on the bed with husband in background.

They’ll do anything to prevent arguments. | Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images

There is a plethora of signs that elude to both short-term and long-term emotional abuse. The abused party can show sudden changes in behavior or speech. He or she may become inexplicably withdrawn from anyone outside of their abuser. But one dead giveaway that someone is the victim of emotional abuse is when that person shows fear. This fear can show in the victim breaking down in tears at the simple thought of drawing their abuser’s ire. Fear can even manifest into Stockholm Syndrome, where the victim is so terrified of the abuser that he or she tries to bond even closer and make excuses for the abuser’s traumatic behavior.

Where to get help

Male psychologist making notes.

It is possible for victims to recover emotionally. | Shironosov/iStock/Getty Images

As terrifying as emotional abuse is, there is also a boatload of outreach efforts to help victims heal. The National Domestic Abuse Hotline,, and Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness are just a few outlets that can link victims to help. The American Society for the Positive Care of Children has a long list of phone numbers that can help child victims of emotional abuse.