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How to recognize signs of emotional abuse

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Some can be subtle and evolve over time. Learning to recognise them in your own or a friend’s relationship is important.

Photo by Keenan Constance from Pexels

Emotional abuse, unfortunately, is still prominent in Canada when it comes to women and the pandemic hasn’t helped. Especially in cities and provinces with prolonged and multiple lockdowns and even more so in cities like Montreal where curfews are in place. According to Justice Canada, 3 in 10 women who have been married or in a common-law relationship have been assaulted physically, sexually or mentally.

So it’s important to recognize the signs and be confident in taking steps to remove yourself from the situation. Emotional abuse, just like physical abuse, is about control and power. Says Dr. Lea Lis, M.D. a board certified adult and child psychiatrist “It can range from very subtle things, like criticism, to more destructive abuse like manipulations, intimidations and bribery.”

Over time, psychological and emotional abuse can alter one’s sense of reality, much like the objective of gaslighting. This can make it difficult for the abused to see what’s happening to them and thus be able to take action. Emotional abuse isn’t necessarily just in a partner relationship either. It can be parental, siblings and sometimes even a child to a parent.

The long term repercussions of emotional abuse can lead to anxiety, severe depression, eating disorders and issues such as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) according to Psychology Today.

Signs of Emotional Abuse

Here are some of the more common signs of emotional abuse.

  • Monitoring and controlling behaviour, such as who one spends time with and where they go.
  • Demeaning, shaming and humiliation
  • Constant criticism
  • Always ridiculing and teasing
  • Not letting someone spend time alone
  • Finding ways to obstruct someone’s goals or career ambitions
  • Extreme jealousy, accusations and paranoia
  • Telling someone how they should feel
  • Making someone feel that love is based on conditions
  • Extreme attention seeking

And since we’re in the digital age, similar signs can be someone demanding access to a person’s social media accounts, smartphone and emails. Over time, such abuse can lead to low self-esteem and avoidance of conflict or situations that may result in an attack. One can also develop a sense of hyper-vigilance, which places strain on the body and mind due to constant stress.

So what can you do? The first thing is to recognise that you didn’t do anything wrong. Ever. It’s just not your fault. Some experts suggest obtaining therapy to help you prepare to leave. Also, the federal government has an online resource here that also lists resources by province. Most every province has shelters and homes for women.

You might also find this article on gaslighting and what it is and means helpful.


  • Alex Hurst is a writer for HUM@Nmedia covering Optimyz and Silver magazines in print and digital editions and is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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