When is emotional abuse NOT emotional abuse

10 Oct 2017

“It may be bad but I don’t think it is emotional abuse.”

Emotional abuse is always a journey that starts somewhere at least half-way good – and then descends into hell.  You and the other person in the relationship become partners in hell – inasmuch as an awful lot of hellish feelings start to get sprayed around.  Most of those hellish feelings are launched from his mouth and targeted at your vulnerability. Of course, you want to believe your relationship has a future.  So, you tell yourself that what is happening is NOT emotional abuse.

Of course, your partner’s attacks make no sense, at all.  Why would anyone want to behave like that? Why would anyone find someone prepared to love and care for them for the long haul, and then treat them like, well, dirt?

There would have to be something profoundly wrong either with the hurtful partner, or else with the criticized and belittled partner. Right?

That is where the whole notion of the Tormented Tormentor kicks in.  The reason – you tell yourself – why he torments you so much lies in his difficult childhood, his stresses and addictions. Or else it lies in his previous hyena of a partner. That’s why you tell yourself that it’s NOT emotional abuse.

This is also the time when the belief in your own un-lovableness kicks in.  He tells you – and you tell yourself – that this relationship degeneration could only happen because of some fatal flaw within you.

Everything hinges on you – your imperfections, your incapacity to love a troubled soul as sensitively and selflessly as he needs to be loved.  Allegedly.

The journey of recognition that you actually are in an emotionally abusive relationship is a slow and painful one.  It leaves you feeling like a complete and utter disaster.

Stages of recognition

First, you realize that your relationship is not nearly as good as you hoped it would be.  Your partner fails to deliver on his promises.

Then, you take responsibility for an awful lot of ugly stuff that has happened in the relationship.   Fortunately, you have a talent for taking responsibility for all the ugly stuff that happens both to you, and around you.  He already knew that.  In fact, it was one of your key credentials, in his eyes.

Next, you start to take centre stage as the failure of the piece.  The relationship is failing, and your partner becomes increasingly negative, because of your shortcomings.  Allegedly.  So, you try to make sense of the incomprehensible.

Sooner or later the light dawns that his behavior towards you is far from nice.  Fortunately, you can explain that – or more correctly explain it away.  This is not the person you fell in love with.  Rather, he has been possessed.  You get to decide whether he has been “possessed” by,

  • Past trauma.
  • Present addiction(s).
  • The influence of a horrible family member.
  • An evil spirit.
  • Mental illness.
  • Stress at work.
  • Overly tight briefs. (Only kidding!)

Eventually, you get round to asking yourself, “Is it emotional abuse?”

Take a look at yourself

Now, before we even look at the question of whether or not your partner is subjecting you to emotional abuse, you need to take a long – soft – look at yourself.

You are someone who is very used to sporting the negative labels (aka judgments/criticisms) that other people pin on you. You have long accepted those labels as your truth.  Someone like you, who is so programmed to swallow the judgments of others is just NOT someone who judges her nearest and dearest harshly.  Rather you accept their semi-divine right to judge you.

So, for you to even ask yourself whether what you are experiencing could be emotional abuse is a seriously BIG deal.

It is certainly NOT as if your partner – occasionally – said something to you that came out wrong and you first over-reacted and then went on the pity party of the century.

Nor did you simply wake up one day and read the writing on the wall.  That just didn’t happen.  Instead, you had to be bruised and battered by emotional abuse so badly that you eventually began to realise that there was no other possible explanation.

However, before that could happen, you first had to exhaust every other You have exhausted every  other possible explanation.

When is emotional abuse NOT emotional abuse?

That leads us back to the original question, “When is emotional abuse NOT emotional abuse?”

The answer is simple, of course,


It really does not matter what an abusive partner may or may not have been through.  Nothing gives him the right to treat you without consideration and respect.  Not to mention the fact that, if you really were the human disaster he says you are, then he should have shown a little decency and walked away some time ago.

Of course, your children need a father, in the same way that you need a partner. But nobody needs just any father, or any partner.  Nobody needs – or deserves – a partner (or a parent) whose input is consistently damaging and destructive.

Abuse consistently hurts, humiliates, and crushes. If that is what your interaction with a partner – or anyone else – does to you, then it is abuse.  End of story.

Outside of fairy tales, there is no magic that turns abusers into loving, respectful human beings.

No scenario in which emotional abuse is NOT emotional abuse

There is no scenario in which emotional abuse is not emotional abuse.  When you tolerate abuse of any kind, you give the abuser the message that they can keep on doing what they have just done to you.  They will.  Just like they always have.

There are no circumstances in which hurtful, destructive, deliberate behaviour is NOT emotional abuse.  Many abused women will argue until they are blue in the face that what their partner does is not deliberate.  If it is not deliberate, then it is NOT emotional abuse – they say.

This argument makes the case (a very poor case, as I see it) for his emotional incompetence and their need to be in his life to protect him, and the world from him.

In reality, they are trying to protect themselves.  From the truth.

There is no situation when emotional abuse is NOT emotional abuse.  Equally, there is no place in your life for emotionally abusive people.  Ever. When you make excuses for an emotional abuser, you enable that person to continue their abuse.


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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