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"You are too sensitive” … Recognizing Forms of Emotional Abuse

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

In relationships, love should be the cornerstone, fostering an environment where respect, understanding, and kindness flourish. However, not all relationships abide by these principles. In the shadows, emotional abuse often lurks, hidden beneath a veil of normalcy and obscured by the affection we may feel for the person causing harm. Emotional abuse, unlike physical abuse, leaves no visible scars, but the wounds it inflicts on the heart and mind could be as damaging and often far more complex to heal.

In this post, we are illuminating the insidious signs of emotional abuse, and empowering those who read these lines to identify, understand, and ultimately break free from its harmful clutches. We will explore the many facets of this type of abuse, delving into the less obvious indications that may be easy to overlook or dismiss.

The information we share here can equip you to support not just yourself but also friends, family, or anyone you suspect may be navigating the tumultuous waters of an emotionally abusive relationship. Remember, knowledge is power, and understanding the signs of emotional abuse is the first crucial step towards change and recovery.

10 Common Types of Emotional Abuse

Noted author and specialist in interpersonal communication, Patricia Evans, has detailed 10 common types of emotional abuse:

Belittlement: This encompasses verbal assault such as name-calling and derogatory comments meant to diminish the self-worth of the victim. An abuser may utter phrases like, "You're so incompetent," "You'll never succeed in anything," or "It's astonishing that I'm with someone like you."

Intimidation: This involves threats of physical violence, desertion, or other punitive outcomes. For instance, an abuser may threaten, "I'll leave you if you don’t do what I say," "I'll hurt you," or "I'll ensure you never see our children again."

Constant Criticism: This covers persistent disparagement of the victim's looks, character traits, or conduct. An abuser may insult with phrases like, "You're excessively overweight," "You're incredibly stupid," or "You can't do anything right."

Dominating Behavior: This involves attempts to regulate the victim's schedule, finances, or social contacts. For example, an abuser may order, "You're not allowed to socialize with your friends," "Let me check your phone," or "You need my approval before spending any money."

Segregation: This includes cutting off the victim from their social circle, family, or other support mechanisms. For instance, an abuser might discourage by saying, "Your friends have a negative impact on you," "Your family doesn’t understand me," or "You should only rely on me."

Downplaying: This involves treating the victim's sentiments or experiences as trivial. An abuser might belittle by saying, "You're exaggerating," "You're overly sensitive," or "That didn't happen as you remember."

Gaslighting: This is a manipulative tactic where the victim is led to question their own sanity or perception of reality. For instance, an abuser may claim, "You're imagining things," "You're crazy," or "That incident never took place."

Withholding: This technique involves avoiding communication with the victim, often as a form of punishment. For example, an abuser might give the silent treatment, or they could just walk out when the victim attempts to engage them.

Triangulation: This entails introducing a third person into the situation, often with the intent to alienate the victim from the third party. For instance, an abuser might create a divide by saying, "Your friend believes you're crazy," "Your family wants to avoid you," or "Your therapist is mistaken about you."

Blaming: This refers to faulting the victim for the abuse, often causing them to feel as though it's their fault. An abuser might justify their actions by saying, "You provoked me into this," "You're difficult to deal with," or "You're the cause of my behavior."

Subtle Indicators of Emotional Abuse

Identifying emotional abuse can be challenging, particularly when it begins subtly. However, here are several signs can suggest an abusive dynamic in a relationship.

Judging Without Understanding

One sign of emotional abuse is when an individual passes judgment on their partner's viewpoint without making an effort to understand it. This behavior originates from an intolerance of different viewpoints and can lead to more explicit dismissive and depreciative behavior.

· "You're overly sensitive & too emotional."

· "You're being dramatic."

· "You're overreacting."

Accusing instead of concentrating on progress

Another sign of emotional abuse surfaces when a partner tends to point fingers at the other for issues instead of focusing on solutions. This could serve as a control mechanism and induce feelings of guilt.

· "You're entirely to blame for this."

· “If you had just done what I said, we wouldn't be in this mess."

· "You're the reason I’m stressed."

Dictating the other's emotions and thoughts

When an individual instructs their partner on how they should feel or think, it demonstrates a disregard for their partner's individuality. This can lead to feelings of invalidation and manipulation.

· "You should feel happy about this."

· "You shouldn’t be so upset by that."

· "You're not thinking rationally."

Expressing regret without of empathy

Regret involves feeling sorry for causing pain to someone else. Empathy involves understanding the other's emotions and a desire to rectify the situation. Displaying regret after inflicting harm, without empathy, could indicate a lack of genuine concern for the other's feelings.

· "I apologize for what I said, but your actions made me mad."

· "I didn't intend to hurt you, but you need to need to learn to control your emotions better."

· "I regret hitting you, but you were being intolerable."

Retracting affection and closeness during conflicts

If a partner withdraws affection and connection during disputes, it could serve as a way of punishing the other person, leaving the other feeling unworthy of love.

· "I won't talk to you until you apologize."

· "I'll be sleeping on the couch tonight."

· "I don't want to see you at this moment."

Alleging the other is "overly sensitive"

Labeling the other as excessively sensitive is a form of emotional abuse that invalidates their feelings, causing them to question their right to feel hurt or upset.

· "You're too sensitive. You should toughen up."

· "You're always getting your feelings hurt. You need to learn to take a joke."

· "You're creating drama over nothing."

Suggesting the other lacks capability, intelligence, or resourcefulness

Such behavior serves as a domination tactic, potentially leading the other to feel insecure and insufficient.

· "You're rather clumsy."

· "You're incompetent at your job."

· "You're always making mistakes."

Considering the other as inferior or flawed

This form of devaluation, a type of emotional abuse, can result in the other feeling valueless and hopeless.

· "You're crazy."

· "You're psychologically disturbed."

· "You're not normal."

Employing sarcasm

Sarcasm is an avenue to convey aggression in a socially tolerable manner. Frequent use of sarcasm by a partner can imply a disregard for the other's feelings.

· "Brilliant idea, Einstein."

· "You're so smart, why don't you go figure it out?"

· "Eventually, you'll get it, eventually."

Treading carefully to avoid disappointment

When one feels the need to constantly watch their words and actions to prevent upsetting the other, it could be a sign of emotional abuse.

· "I'm always afraid of saying the wrong thing."

· "I never know what's going to set them off."

· "I have to be so careful not to upset them."

Bonus: Other Indicators of Emotional Abuse


Disgracing involves any action or remark deliberately aimed at making you feel shame for your identity. It can make you feel guilty for your own thoughts or actions. This might involve comments such as, "How could you possibly do that?" or it could target personal insecurities, like concerns about your physical appearance.

Inducing Guilt

Inducing guilt can be a highly potent tool of manipulation. If you're led to feel that you've disappointed someone, you're inadequate, or you're a letdown, you might modify your behavior to steer clear of such feelings in the future.


One of the more conspicuous types of emotional abuse is demeaning behavior. This might manifest as public embarrassment or private actions designed to degrade and belittle your sense of self-worth.


When your ideas, values, or viewpoints are invalidated & dismissed, it can make you feel unimportant. Gradually, you may start to doubt if your contributions have any significance.


Baseless allegations have the power to distort your actions, compelling you to overextend in efforts to please others. For instance, if a person persistently suspects you of unfaithfulness, you may find yourself going above and beyond in demonstrating your loyalty to them, or you could limit your social activities to evade potential disputes.


When your physical or emotional needs are consistently overlooked, this can be a form of neglect, a type of abuse. Emotional neglect may involve the intentional withholding of affection or employing the silent treatment as a form of punishment.

Intrusive Supervision

Invasive supervision can erode your sense of personal privacy. Instances like going through your private messages, scanning your social media engagement, and making unexpected appearances at events you're attending are all examples of intrusive supervision.

Recognizing and acknowledging emotional abuse is a crucial yet challenging endeavor. The damage is often silent, unseen, and can manifest in many ways. Always bear in mind that in any relationship, everyone has an inherent right to be treated with dignity, compassion, and empathy. If you've recognized some of the signs of emotional abuse in your own relationships as you've read this post, know that you're not alone and that help is available.

Emotional abuse can be debilitating, but there's always a way out, and there are resources available to guide you. Reaching out to trusted friends, family, therapists, or organizations specializing in emotional abuse can provide support, advice, and even a pathway to leave the abusive environment. If you’d like assistance with this, please reach out; I’m here for you.

To conclude, we'd like to emphasize that it is absolutely essential to believe in your worth, maintain self-respect, and seek help if you are dealing with emotional abuse. As challenging as the journey may be, remember, every step you take towards reclaiming your peace and emotional well-being is a victory. Life offers far more than the confines of abuse, and you deserve to experience love and relationships that uplift, encourage, and respect you. Stand strong, believe in yourself, and always keep hope alive.

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