Emotional Abuse: Power Comes From Knowing What Signs To Look For

April 28, 2020 O'Connor Family Law Family Law

Physical abuse gets the most attention legally, but emotional abuse can leave scars that run just as deep, even though they cannot be physically seen. Most emotional abuse doesn’t start in a manner that would cause you to believe you are a victim of abuse. It generally starts with your partner getting you to question your own sanity and thought process – to confuse you so you have less ability to question what they say and how they say it. There is a term for this, and it’s called “gaslighting.” It is all about power and control. When a person does not trust their own perceptions, it is more likely that they will remain in an abusive relationship that will usually continue to get worse.

Here are some examples of the different types of gaslighting to look out for. If you hear yourself or your partner using these types of phrases or tactics, it’s time to have a conversation about putting an end to those conversation techniques or getting out of the relationship.


“I have no idea what you are talking about.” Most partners are going to want to understand why something is bothering you so they can do their part to fix it. When someone cuts off communication by refusing to listen to what you’re saying or trying to convince you that you do not make sense or that you’re talking “crazy” – well, that’s a problem.

“You’re wrong. That’s not what happened at all. You never remember anything correctly.” When the abusive partner constantly attempts to dismiss what you are saying by making you think you may be mistaken – this is also a problem.

“What self-help book did you read to come up with that?” Sometimes an abusive partner may try to discredit any ideas or questions that you have, no matter how valid they may be. This helps to change the subject away from the behavior or problem you’re raising and tries to make you the problem – like you’re always making an anthill into a mountain.

“God, you’re so sensitive about everything? You’re going to let that get you upset?” These are questions that make the partner’s needs or feelings unimportant or trivial. This line of question again turns the feelings you are experiencing against you as a negative.

“I never said that.” “You said x, y, z.” This is a response you may get when you remind the abusive partner of what was said and they either say they never said it or they say that you said something different. This can be extremely frustrating if you don’t have what was said in writing. But, even if you do have it in writing, it’s not uncommon for the abusive partner to completely deny it still.

“I’d do more for you if you actually had morals and acted like a reasonable person.” This is when your abuser takes things that are important to you -your children, your friends, your family, or even your self-worth, and tries to make you think you are not good enough, but if you were better, things would be better for you. Someone who loves you and cares for you is not going to put you down in order to lift you up.

“I’m doing x.” This is the blatant lie and can happen in many ways, and it’s always told with a straight face. It can be about important things or very menial things that you cannot imagine why they would lie about. Sometimes, they even begin to believe their own lies and question your sanity when you question them about it.

“Go ahead. Ask your mother. She is going to side with me. She thinks you’re crazy for what you’re doing.” Gaslighters are masters at using references to the people you care about in an attempt to use them against you. This is done to make you question who you can turn to so, eventually, you stop turning to anyone but them.


There are many other ways emotional abuse happens. Communication is the key to any good relationship, and if the communication that is taking place is being done in a way that puts you down or tries to control you – that is not good communication and you should seek help. If you’ve noticed that you have a tendency to use any of these tactics as a retort when someone calls you out on your behavior, you may want to really undergo an examination of your motives and whether that is how you want to be within a relationship.

Unfortunately, some people are brought up in a relationship where this is how their parents talk to them so it’s what they learn is normal. Fortunately, this is behavior that CAN change. But you have to want to change if you’re the person who is utilizing gaslighting techniques.

If you’re in a relationship or a marriage where you have been subjected to this ongoing form of abuse and you are ready to get out of the situation, please call our office so we can work together to devise a plan to help remove you and your children from the situation in a safe way that also protects you legally in the future.