Common emotional abuse tactics: recognizing the signs and seeking support

Common Abuse tactics

At Shelter Movers Waterloo Region, the majority of the individuals we support have experienced some form of emotional abuse. Many abusers may use subtle tactics before eventually building to more persistent abusive behaviours.

Emotional abuse involves attempts to frighten, control or isolate an individual, and may also include threats of violence directed toward you or your loved ones. People of any age or gender can abuse or experience abuse. It’s also important to note that emotional abuse doesn’t just affect romantic relationships, but the person abusing you could also be your business partner, parent or in-law, caretaker, landlord or adult child.

Potential warning signs of emotional abuse, and support available in these situations are outlined below.

Humiliation, negating and criticizing

  • Name-calling and derogatory remarks
    They may call you “stupid” or use other insults. They may continue to use nicknames as terms of endearment such as “my chubby pumpkin” even after you’ve asked them to stop.

  • Character assassination
    This typically involves the word “always.” “You’re always late, wrong and so on” – they may say these things to you and describe you to others this way as well. 

  • Yelling
    Screaming, yelling and swearing doesn’t physically hurt you, but it is an intimidation tactic. They may pound their first, throw things or even damage property. 

  • “Joking”
    When you express your discomfort about something they said, they may pretend it’s a joke and then turn it on you – “Can’t you take a joke?” “Why are you so sensitive?”

  • Negging
    An example of negging could be “If you’re lucky, I may even buy you a drink.” as an attempt for the individual to seek their approval. Those with a history of trauma or prior relationships with narcissists should be wary if they receive these types of comments and try to detach themselves from the situation.

Control and shame

  • Love-bombing
    An abuser may shower their victim with excessive praise, flattery and attention in order for their victims to become dependent on them.

  • Digital spying
    They’ll want to know your whereabouts at all times and insist on having passwords, monitoring your search history, emails, texts, etc.
  • Gaslighting
    This abuse tactic involves complete denial of specific events, conversations, arguments etc., leaving you to question your own sanity/mental health.

  • Making all of the decisions, including finances
    This may involve them insisting that you close a joint bank account or quit your job, allowing them to control bank accounts in their name and make you ask for money directly, etc.

  • Stonewalling
    During a disagreement, they may completely shut down, refusing to respond to any attempts of communication.

Support available

If you are in crisis, contact:

Crisis Line: Kitchener/Waterloo: 519-742-5894

Crisis Line: Cambridge: 519-653-2422

Assaulted Women’s Helpline Crisis Line: 866-863-0511

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