Emotional Abuse: The Quiet Killer


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Emotional Abuse: The Quiet Killer

“Emotional violence is another kind of abuse … it’s not about words because an emotionally abusive person doesn’t always resort to using the verbal club, but rather the verbal untraceable poison.”  ~ Augusten Burroughs

It was after reading the above passage in a book I recently completed by Augusten Burroughs that I stopped dead in my tracks.  Emotional abuse?  This concept was something completely new to me.  The words settled like lead inside of my head.  What I had discovered in those precise few moments, was the exact description for the subtle abuse I was, and still am, facing from my estranged parents.  I read on:

They may, in fact, speak very kind words to you.  And appear nothing but supportive to those around you.  Their covert abuse is administered in small, cunning ways over time.  So the impact is gradual, not fist-to-the-eye immediate.

What struck me about this quote is the fact that emotional abusers are very passive, very subtle, very quiet.  I would even go so far as saying … very introverted in their approach.  This single moment led me to wonder: is this the introvert’s favored form of abuse?  And also … do I unwittingly border on emotional abuse when I’m upset with someone?  And also … who else shows signs of being emotionally abusive in my life?  I know, I know, it all sounds very intense and extreme, doesn’t it?  Guess that’s just me.

The tricky thing with emotional abuse like anything quiet and unobtrusive, is that it can be overlooked easily, blending into the background of life.  Luckily however, it can lead traces of something “not being quite right” in your relationships – something wrong that you just can’t quite put your finger on.

My hope is that this article will help introduce, or reintroduce, you to the world of emotional abuse.  If you do decide to continue reading, please consider introspecting and reflecting on yourself and the people in your life.  It could make all the difference in the world.

Emotional Abuse: The Devil’s Quiet Sister

Emotional abuse is also known as psychological or mental abuse.  It’s aim is to control, belittle, isolate and shame other people into subservience.  This happens little by little overtime, so that the victim’s sense of self-worth, self-confidence, self-concept and own ideas and perceptions erode.

Many emotional abusers operate under the guise that they are “teaching”, “advising”, “correcting”, and/or “guiding”, and therefore fly under the radar, spreading their poison for years upon years.


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Types Of Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse rarely just involves criticisms or put-downs.  I’ve listed some more kinds of abuse below that you should be wary of.  Also, be a bit careful when you read this list.  For instance, you may find one or two symptoms of emotional abuse apparent in your life, but it doesn’t necessarily make your relationships absolutely and utterly emotionally abusive.  The more symptoms you recognize, the more likely you’re experiencing emotional abuse.

1.  Control and Domination.

  • They may control your money and your spending.
  • They may treat you as an inferior person.
  • They may make you feel small by reminding you of your faults and shortcomings.
  • They may make you feel as though they’re always right, and you’re always wrong.
  • You may feel the need to “get permission” for every thing you do, or decision you have to make.
  • They may give you disapproving, or condescending looks and comments.
  • They may “chastise” you, and treat you like a child.
  • They may control where you go, who you interact with, and/or what you do.
  • They’re excessively possessive and jealous.

2.  Isolation and Neglect.

  • They may have difficulty taking responsibility for their actions.  Instead, they deflect the blame onto you.
  • They may have no regard for, and no interest in, the way you feel.
  • They may use “the silent treatment” to punish you.
  • They may withdraw affection from you to punish you.
  • They may become deliberately emotionally distant from you for long periods of time.
  • They purposely neglect to share important pieces of information with you.
  • They may neglect to give you privacy, or purposely disrespect your boundaries.

3.  Bullying and Humiliation.

  • They may call you names, or label you.
  • They may belittle your success and triumphs.
  • They may mock, impersonate or otherwise talk to you in sarcastic ways.
  • They may accuse you of things that you never did.
  • They may degrade or subtly humiliate you in front of other people.
  • They may frequently make jokes at your own expense.
  • You may feel intimidated or scared when voicing an opinion.

What To Read & Where To Go To Find Out More

If you are experiencing emotional abuse, or if you’re the one inflicting it, I’ve composed a list of resources that can help assist you with this quiet killer.

I’d appreciate any comments or stories of your own.  I read every one of them. ;)

Photo by: Andi Jetaime

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  • SolitudeSeeker

    I was married for 18 years to an emotionally abusive man. The worst of it was in the last couple of years. He was rather unique in his tactics, not quite fitting the standard mold one finds in the books on emotional abusers. When we would hug, he would draw back and tell me I was not doing it right, that I felt stiff and wasn’t melding with him the way I should be. When we made love, afterward he would say “Well, that isn’t quite what I was looking for”, because I had not maintained his demand for intense eye contact the entire time. One day he would tell me loved me, the next day he would tell me that he actually did not. He hated that I was quiet and loved to read and write. I was “boring and hiding behind books.” He stole $20,000 from our equity account, and when he finally confessed he told me he had done it because I had not been satisfying his needs. When I cried in sadness and confusion over the way he was treating me, he would tell me that I “needed to get help”.
    So I finally got out. Hard to end a marriage when you have a child and financial concerns. It’s really scary, and it takes a really long time to work up the courage to end it. But I came to realize that if I did not get away from this man, I would kill myself. I really was brought that low.
    Three years on my own now with my teenage daughter, and I know a great deal of damage was done me. But I’ve had a chance to rest and think and read about abusers, away from the fog of confusion he enveloped me in. The best word that describes my ex-husband’s methods is “gaslighting”. He had me so muddled that I thought I was going insane. Now I know that he was the insane one. He was cold, calculating, and knew exactly what he was doing.
    I am coming to accept myself now, and find deep satisfaction in my choice of a quiet life. I will not have another relationship with a man. I have a lovely daughter, a loving family, and a small group of good friends. There are other bookish quiet introverts out there to connect with when I want to, and helpful websites like this one. I’m coming back into the light, and determined to forge a life for myself on my terms, where no one can take me down again. Strong and silent, that’s me.

    • http://lonerwolf.com/luna/ Aletheia Luna

      SolitudeSeeker. Sounds as though you were married to a sociopath/psychopath (these types of people are really adept at emotional manipulation and abuse). I greatly admire you for the courage and determination you have shown. Sometimes the harshest of waves forge the smoothest of rocks.

      Always know that you are not alone.


      • SolitudeSeeker

        Thank you Luna. What a lovely quote! That one goes up on my writing desk so I can see it often.

        • http://lonerwolf.com/luna/ Aletheia Luna

          All the best SolitudeSeeker :)


  • John Doe

    I was and still am a victim by someone I believed was my father for 30+ years until I found out the truth after having my first child Talking about nightmares. All I can say is god help.

    • http://lonerwolf.com Aletheia Luna

      I should hope this article gave enough resources to assist you John Doe, or at least a foundation to begin your quest. Aside from books, there are many internet resources to help you out. But awareness is the key to change, and fortunately this door has been opened to you.

      All the best,


  • Tia

    I ended the most abusive relationship of my life in January. It was a rather quick takeover when I became Ill. I had to allow her to care for me, otherwise I was a jerk. I was in a polyamorus relationship with her and my then fiancé now husband. I had to constantly hear about how introverted she was and that she was giving up so much of her alone time to care for me. Guilt on top of guilt on top of guilt was her way of controlling me. She would not allow other people to help care for me except for my fiancé and best friend. The day of one of my surgeries, she had plans to go out with her mom, who she had not seen in a long time. I wanted her to go. I was most likely going to be sleeping and my fiancé was with me so there was no reason why my self proclaimed “biggest introvert” couldn’t be with her mom and get some alone time in that night. That night I discovered Vicodin wakes me up instead of making me sleep. I was awake and chatting with my best friend, who stopped by unexpected and my fiancé when she came “home”. (She moved herself in to my house to help take care of me. She didn’t ask, we never discussed it but she just showed up with her stuff and didn’t leave). When she found out I was awake and didn’t call her, she actually screamed at me. I tried to explain that I wanted her to have time with her mom and her much needed solo time. Well, that was totally unacceptable and how dare I want to talk about it because she saw my wanting to communicate well with her as a blatant disregard for her being introverted and an attempt to “turn her into an extrovert.” I dealt with the abuse for 3 more months after that before I had to end the relationship. I’m glad we were poly because if I were to have been exclusive with her, she would have broken me.

    • http://lonerwolf.com Aletheia Luna

      Hi Tia, sounds like a horrible experience. But I’m happy that you have broken away from such a poisonous person. Unfortunately self-awareness can sometimes bring arrogance and egotism, as in the case of your “biggest introvert” partner. People with low self-worth tend to jump to extremes once they find a justification for the way they are (i.e. being an introvert), and I’ve observed this a lot around the web. It’s really quite irritating, and gives self-acceptance a bad name.

      Thank you for your comment!


  • Danne

    An important person in my life, shared to me this article. For years, she kept on telling me that I was being emotionally abused by my parents and that I should know my own worth. She came to me during the times I was often thinking of ending my life since I feel so worthless.
    My mother back then often gave me belt lashes, humiliated me in front of other people, gave me a lot of the “silent treatment” especially when I go out with my friends, tells me that I am a very hard-headed child and lots more; my father who was busy, believes her and did almost nothing about it. They loved my sister very much though.
    When they separated, I was given the decision on who to live with and I chose my father. It was hard on me because I felt it was my fault and my mother said so, too. I didn’t have any communication with my mother and sister for about two years.
    In that two years, I became a happier person; but my father started to tell me who to mingle with, forced me to surrender the my phone to check if I was talking to people he didn’t like, have someone check on me wherever I go and the like.
    I felt suffocated again. So much, that I came back to my mother who acted as if i am the prodigal son. They told me so, too.
    Right now, they might not hurt me physically anymore but I feel that it is repeating all over again.
    I was always on top of my class for them, did the sport they told me to, cut off the friends they didn’t like. Now, I just feel so empty. I feel I have no real friends, I stay at the house a lot, I don’t know myself.
    Sorry for ranting. Do you think I need to go a counselor? I feel so hopeless.
    Thank you if you ever read this.

    • http://lonerwolf.com Aletheia Luna

      Danne, I’m so happy that your friend, whoever it was, directed you to this article.
      Simply from reading your comment, I can see that both of your parents are poisonous: your mum emotionally-manipulative, and your father controlling.

      I know that this sounds daunting and unthinkable, but for your own physical, emotional and psychological health, you need to think about separating from both of your parents, and putting them out of your life at the moment. This was one of the best decisions I made for my life: cutting ties with my emotionally manipulative family. Do you have any other family members, or close friends that you could live with indefinitely? Please consider this. You can’t see the forest if you live as one of the trees – in other words – in order to see the bigger picture of your life, and to figure yourself out, you need to remove yourself from your current environment.

      It is a sad and tragic thing to be reduced to a whimpering mess at the hands of your parents, and I too experienced this. The following articles will help you discover where you are, and identify what is creating pain in your life at the moment:


      If you need any more assistance, please feel free to private message me – I would love to help in any way that I can. For now, realize that you are not alone in your suffering, many other people experience the same, if not worse treatment from their parents. But with strength of mind, willpower and persistence, you can create the life you dream of.


  • Silja

    I experienced that being nice, helpful and listening to what everyone says makes you the perfect emotional abuse victim. Some people took advantage of me but I never wanted to hurt anyone. When I think bad about persons I don´t tell it. I try to smile although it´s hard sometimes. That´s why I prefer being alone.

    • http://lonerwolf.com Luna

      Yes Silja, well put. The ‘nice guy’ and ‘nice girl’ are two words that are often synonymous with “doormats”, which is unfortunate to say the least. It’s sad that today, in this world, being a nice person is associated with being naive, or unintelligent, or weak. (Perhaps that’s why I’ve developed a certain level of passive-aggression). But the more we become aware of issues like this, the more we can take control of our lives, and not let our fear of being used dominate us. As they say: knowledge is power.

  • Shannon

    Years of emotional abuse from narrow minded parents and family have only served to make me stronger and give me a greater sense of personal stability. I need not the words or praise from family to feel valued or happy. It all comes from within. I’d consider myself an old Soul, and often isolated myself from those my ages as I simply couldn’t relate to them. Simply knowing from a very young age that I was different and old gave me strength. I am world weary and battle worn- their often judgmental and simplistic views only highlight the grasp the materialistic life has on them. The funniest part is, at the time of writing, I am six days away from turning 16. I’m so young, but so old.
    Thank you for your time and your amazing website. I appreciate every post :)

    • http://lonerwolf.com Luna

      Shannon, it’s wonderful to hear from you, and to read of your own experiences with a narrow minded family. I admire the way in which you approach your struggles and tribulations. There are two types of people in the world, from what I have observed: those with a reductionist ( – )mindest, and those with an additionalist mindest ( + ). The former person suffers at the hand of the misfortunes that come their way. They focus on what they have lost, and tend to fall into self-pitying states. The latter tend to focus on the benefits and positives of a series of events that have happened to them. Most definitely, you sound like an additionalist person, and I congratulate you for that. It will make your life smooth and peaceful.
      Thank you once again for reading! I hope that other readers of this article gain just as much inspiration out of reading your comment as I have. -L

  • Shawnte Privott

    “AMEN” to that message

    • http://lonerwolf.com Luna

      Thanks Shawnte :P

  • introvert

    I have been through this. Took me a long time to realise what was going on.

    And I stayed in that relationship for more than a year only because I wanted to show ‘them’ I wasn’t a loner.And to prove to myself that I wasn’t such an outcast after all. I ended up becoming a soft target for a person who was abusive. Paid the price of neglecting my true self.

    Anyway it has been 2 years since then, and I am single and content. I am learning to love myself each day and accepting (rather,embracing) who I am. In the pursuit of knowledge, I found your site and it has been really helpful.

    Cheers. :)

    • http://lonerwolf.com/ Luna

      Introvert, many people will find your story comforting, especially as you had the courage to leave, move on and find happiness in your life again. That’s such a beautiful thing! Many people go into relationships feeling as though they could never exist on their own in the outside world. You’ve proved that not only is it possible, but it can eventually be enjoyable to taste freedom again, after the dark clouds of sadness and anger pass. Thank you for sharing this :)

  • Forever Questioning

    Dear Luna,
    My husband and I are also currently estranged from his parents after years and years of extreme challenges in our relationship culminating into one rather spectacular event two years ago (which was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back). I was sharing your article with him, and we believe his father has many traits from all three categories, his mother only from the second (she’s far more passive-aggressive than he).

    We both struggle with guilt over the estrangement, wondering if there were more we could have done to prevent it and if there are things we can/should be doing to work toward reconciliation. Communication has always been a struggle with them! His father likes to guilt and shame and his mother likes to manipulate with tears. They often either talk over us or turn concerns we bring up in the relationship around to use against us (i.e. “oh, so you think you’re so high and mighty, eh… let me tell you about YOUR shortcomings while we’re at it here).

    We’ve attempted a few times over the last several years to bring concerns to them, both in writing and meeting face-to-face. They refuse to accept any responsibility or admit to any true wrong doing. They would like us to treat our differences like politics and religion and just not talk about them. They would like us to “forgive and forget,” to let bygones be bygones and just “get back to loving each other because that’s what families are for.” Even now, they are using emotionally abusive tactics to guilt and shame us into taking the blame for what happened, and accuse us of being too stubborn to let this all go so we can move on. They believe ignorance is bliss, but that tends to backfire on us if we try that when they resort to using our past transgressions as ammunition against us when things get heated – meaning they’ve not truly chosen to let go themselves.
    It breaks my heart, but we still believe being cut off from such a toxic relationship with them is best for our own preservation. Recognizing the abuse and identifying the behaviours as abusive has given us insight and helped alleviate some of the guilt we feel in our circumstances, but it also leads us to wonder if we’re not the ones with the problem sometimes, too.

    Thank you for sharing what you have.

    Yours Truly,
    Forever Questioning

    • http://lonerwolf.com/ Luna

      I really appreciate your post Forever Questioning.

      This is quite a difficult position you’re in – I know because I’ve struggled with similar issues in my life. You end up wondering things like “should I continue to talk to them and try to work this out, or shouldn’t I?” At the end of the day you have to ask “why?” Why is your relationship with them so important in the first place? Why do they find it so hard to communicate with you? Why do you believe cutting off your relationship with them is for the best? It’s such an important thing to ask ‘why’ and to really analyze what you want.

      The “how’s” are also important as well. For instance: how will this better my life, my husband’s and/or my children’s? And when you reach the end of your life, how will you feel about your connection with your parents in law? Will it be something of much significance to you? Will you look back and feel regret, guilt or shame? And if so, is this justified?

      I’m not aware of all the details of the relationship you have with your parents in law, but in my experience blood is not thicker than water. Don’t feel the need to live up to dutiful ideas and expectations of “this is how a family should be” and “this is how I should be and how my husband should be”. In order to gain respect, people must give respect. Thinking that “you must put up with, as well as respect your elders at all costs” is an unfortunate trap people fall into. Why put up with petty, puerile and uncommunicative behavior when you’ve done all you can to behave like a intelligent and mature adult being? Why subject your children (if you have them) to sickly, infantile behavior?

      In the end, the smartest thing is to make an informed decision and stick to it, unless by a miraculous chance your parents change their emotionally abusive ways.

      Thanks once again for commenting, and my best wishes for your present and future harmony.


      • Forever Questioning

        Thank you, Luna, for your reply. I think where we are really trying to find the balance is choosing to remember the why’s so that we don’t end up falling victim to the same manipulation and abuse repeatedly. The big challenge seems to be in remembering for our own protection, but not allowing the memories to turn into resentment and little seeds of stored up anger. Remembering, but letting go. Forgiving, but moving on instead of going back.
        Society seems to put a lot of pressure on us to reconcile. We’ve been told several times that, “no difference is too big when it comes to family.” We’ve also been told that, “at the end of your days, none of this will really matter anyway.”
        Those are things we have absolutely considered in all of this, and we disagree. Family or not, no one has the right to treat us with disrespect.
        Peace & Love,
        Forever Questioning

        • http://lonerwolf.com/ Luna

          Thanks for sharing with me your story again Forever Questioning ;)
          At the end of the day you may even find that the emotional abusive hostility shown by your parents in law is actually nothing to do with you and your husband. There have been so many instances in my life when I took things personally, but later realized the person or people were harboring deep rooted insecurity, or low self esteem problems. Sometimes a lot of the difficulties we face come from things as simple as jealousy.

          I applaud you for coming to your own conclusions rather than conforming to society’s. It’s so easy to make blind decisions based on the rules and beliefs of the people around us, and it’s this unthinking, unquestioning behavior that causes so much pain.

          I hope your present and future is filled with peace and understanding. My very best wishes,

          ~ L