How to Recognize Emotional Abuse & Rise Above It

Emotional abuse can be difficult to identify. Unlike other forms of abuse, there are no physical wounds. It is subtle, making it difficult to pinpoint the problem. Since, there appears to be a lack of evidence, the person who acts abusively, often denies any type of trauma has taken place. This rejection of reality, can cause long lasting damage to a person’s self-esteem and mental health.

Similar to physical and sexual abuse, emotional abuse is cyclical. This means you will experience a period of emotional abuse followed by what “seems” like a normal relationship.

What is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse is a way to control another person through the manipulation of communication or action. Some overt forms of abuse are criticism, rage or making threats. Others use covert forms of abuse such as withholding communication, money or love.

People who act emotionally abusive seek to dominate all aspects of the relationship. This can include making all of or changing up plans, telling you what you wear and who you spend your time with. They will demand respect and loyalty, yet show you none. It is their way or the highway.

I have experienced both overt and covert forms of emotional abuse from family members, a grade school teacher and people who I thought were friends. When you experience emotional abuse at an early age, you are more likely to experience it as an adult, until you heal the pattern. Here is what I have learned and what I teach others:

Why Empaths are Vulnerable to This Type of Abuse

Many empaths are born to care deeply and find themselves being raised in emotionally restrictive or explosive families. Since, there is a lack of healthy feelings being expressed, the empath becomes the feeler of all the feelings in the family system. You not only carry everyone’s emotions energetically but also feel responsible for them. Talk about exhaustion! Your reactions go into soothing and comforting others, while walking on eggshells. This also reinforces the faulty thought; since you feel other’s emotions, you are supposed to do something about them.

It is not your job to fix others. As children, many empaths, are told they have the power to make others happy by doing what they want. No one asks what makes the empath happy, not even themselves. This is how you get accustomed to others manipulating you, while you become the ultimate people pleaser, at any cost.

How to Rise Above It

Separate Yourself from Those Who Use Emotional Abuse: When someone tries to shame and guilt you, don’t take the bait. Know you deserve better. Spend less time with this person and if the person refuses to take responsibility for their actions, end the relationship.

Learn about the Various Kinds of Emotional Abuse: Education builds your awareness to identify overt and covert signs of abuse.

Step into Your Own Power: Apply empathy and healing to your own wounds. Spend time building your self-esteem and confidence.

Where do you give your power away? Those who act abusive often play on your needs or areas of vulnerability. This can include financial help, how much you value the idea of a relationship or experiencing a sense of belonging and approval.

Forgive yourself for not seeing or recognizing the early signs of abuse and for not knowing better at that time. Remember, this is the most difficult kind of abuse to identify and many people often miss the signs.

If you are struggling, remember you are not alone. Seek out psychotherapy to help you heal past patterns of abuse and find a safe way to leave a current abusive situation.

Lisa Hutchison LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist and writing coach who helps sensitive souls not just survive but shine. She is the Amazon bestselling author of I Fill My Cup: A Journal for Compassionate Helpers and the kindle book Setting Ethical Limits for Caring & Competent Professionals. Get a FREE 10 page E-book; 8 Simple Things That Release Chaos from Your Life Now at

44 thoughts on “How to Recognize Emotional Abuse & Rise Above It

  1. β€œThose who act abusive often play on your needs or areas of vulnerability.” β€” Thank you for raising awareness, Lisa! I am grateful for your insights and empowered guidance. πŸ’™πŸ¦‹πŸ’™

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I meant to reblog this on Sacred SoulSongs, but it reblogged to my old blog instead. Sigh. Now it won’t let me reblog to my other site. I give up for today…. πŸ™

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t think you mean “It is not your job to fix others” as a blanket statement, but to be clear, surely there are situations where it is one’s job to at least TRY to “fix” another, e.g. a loved one dealing with drugs or alcoholism who is unable to overcome their habit without help. I recognize that this may depend on circumstances in individual cases — I’m simply saying that if you’re able, and in a position, to try, it MAY be your job to do so.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I do mean you can’t fix others and here is why. There is a fine line between supporting and fixing. This discussion may be more complex than answering a blog question, I will do my best.

      I saw first hand, being a drug and alcohol counselor, for two years, trying to change someone does not work. A person has to want to be helped and not go into treatment because others want him or her to do so. (No matter how much this person may need treatment.) This is the most heartbreaking piece for families, letting go, as their family member hits rock bottom.

      You can offer to be there for the person and give him or her resources (various sources of treatment information and help).

      Some other ways to support others are through prayer, getting your own support and also educating yourself on the illness, etc.

      Thank you for asking me to clarify this point. I believe others may have the same question.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Thanks for the clarification. I know a mother whose 20-something year old daughter recently died of a drug overdose. I didn’t know the daughter but tried to help the mother (with both financial and empathetic support), but it all went for naught. Still. I could not NOT try to help.

        Liked by 1 person

        • You are welcome. Sorry to hear about your friend and her daughter. πŸ˜₯ This is a very sad situation.

          To offer support financially or emotionally, without expectation, is an unconditional gift you can choose to give to another person. This is positive.

          When we give with the intention to fix a situation or person, this is where it gets sticky.

          Thanks for stopping in to comment and sharing your personal experience.

          Many Blessings,

          Liked by 1 person

  4. This is definitely the most difficult form of abuse to identify since this abuse can mask behind as if innocent requests and turn into something intolerable.
    People usually do not think that sometimes the closest people can make one’s life a hell.
    And you are right about help: there are lots of people, who simply will see the help as intrusion in their private life or even worse.
    This also includes making somebody extra dependent, to the point where that other person practically cannot exist on their own and, therefore, they are a subject of continuous mental abuse.
    Some abusive partners will make sure the abused person is completely isolated and, thus, there is nobody else to turn to.
    This is a very complex subject, probably worth an extensive book, but it’s great to turn peoples’ attention to this issue and provoke some thoughts. Very good article!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Inese.

      Yes, you are correct, on all points and it can be those who we trust the most initially, who hurt us. I agree this is a subject that could be a book or weeks of good therapeutic work with someone.
      Many Blessings,


  5. Another well written post Lisa, and so agree…. Empaths are often subject to emotional trauma I know speaking from my own experiences as a child. living in a volatile family where verbal abuse and violence often spilled over led me to be physically shaking inside when hearing other people argue … And what has always driven me to be mediator and peace keeper..

    Seems what ever I pressed before Lisa, I have now found my way back to your blog site πŸ™‚ so forget what I replied on your comment recently of losing my way lol… I am found>> haha.. πŸ™‚

    Much love ❀ Enjoy your weekend ❀

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Sue!

      Many sensitive people have become peace keepers from these early experiences. When I was young, I felt overwhelmed and lacked the skills to speak up. To not rock the boat, I kept quiet. The only respite at that time was going to a friend’s house. Thank God for this. I can understand the chaos you observed.

      As time went by, I felt the injustice of it all and began speaking out in my teenage years. I haven’t stopped since. Luckily, I learned some assertiveness skills and did a lot of healing along the way. In fact, I still keep up with receiving healings. πŸ™Œ

      I see you have found me/my blog and for that I am grateful!

      Much love and many blessings to you, Sue. πŸ™πŸ’•

      Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, this one really hit home: “Many empaths are born to care deeply and find themselves being raised in emotionally restrictive or explosive families. Since, there is a lack of healthy feelings being expressed, the empath becomes the feeler of all the feelings in the family system” – That’s me! And I’m still living the dream, even though my emotionally abusive sociopathic narcissistic mother has passed. I still carried all the same crap with my siblings. I did something a year ago that I’ve never done with them. I slithered away and I still feel bad that I did it. I still haven’t reconciled this with myself. But one thing is for sure, when I stopped being the caller, my phone never rang. Love your posts and videos Lisa ❀

      Liked by 2 people

      • Dear Debby,

        Abuse affects an entire family system. People sometimes get really stuck and rigid in the roles they play. (hero, scapegoat, lost child etc) Through a lot of healing, I stepped out of my roles, for the most part. Subconsciously, it is easy to fall back into old patterns again. This is where compassion for ourselves is vital.

        I have also had to disconnect from certain family members and give up the illusion I can make it work. A relationship cannot work when it is one person putting in the energy or someone who refuses to see you as a person rather than the role or part you played in a dysfunctional system. Sometimes we don’t even see it, until we take a step back.

        Even when you choose to step away, the guilt, manipulation etc still play like a bad track in your head. This is where we can do further healing. For the others, if they choose their own healing great. In my case, I am not holding my breath. I have a life to live. A part of my new life was moving on and finding a new family (in the form of friends) who loves me unconditionally.

        Thanks for sharing your experience Debby. I am glad you are resonating with my posts and blogs. πŸ™

        Much Love and Blessings, ❀

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks so much for your feedback Lisa. I think you just captured it in one sentence: “someone who refuses to see you as a person rather than the role you played in a dysfunctional system” Spot on! That’s me! I suppose I’m sorely in need of some further healing because stepping away hasn’t freed me. Thank you Lisa, I appreciate you. Love and blessings back to you. ❀

          Liked by 2 people

          • My pleasure, Debby,

            Growing up, I knew how things operated in my family was wrong and it needed to change. No one else saw this because the system benefited them in some way, therefore they weren’t invested in changing it. I did a lot of reading but what really helped me is having professional healings. Educating myself healed the mental field but I also needed to heal the emotional and spiritual fields. I began my own counseling in my 20’s and studied to be a counselor to help others. Now well over 25 years later, I maintain regular spiritual healings. I find being an empathic helper, there is a lot to process and a lot to let go of. Having a trusting support, who is not directly involved helps enormously. My human mind often feels frustrated when those pesky family issues resurface again and again. My soul knows, it is for my highest and best growth. I am happy our paths have crossed Debby and look forward to a continued connection.

            Many Blessings to you!
            Lisa xoxo


      • I think so too Debby 😁 there is only one sister whom I’m very close with, she and I ring each other every week. She said I was her mum when growing up.
        I ring my brother birthdays and Christmas. He never ever rings me.
        My two other sisters as you know stopped speaking when my mother did. I greived their loss of communication long ago. You know the story of my mother.
        Sometimes we have to break the Cycles of always being the giver. It took me along while to learn that. And realise family is a collection of souls, who congregates together for a particular experience. It’s up to each one if they learn from them. And we are not responsible for them.
        Love and blessings. πŸ’šπŸ’–πŸ’š

        Liked by 2 people

        • Beautifully put, Sue!

          It is difficult to break the cycles of abuse. I have also had to grieve the loss of communication with certain family members in the past and again after my Mother’s death.

          Thanks for sharing, Sue! πŸ™
          Many Blessings,
          Lisa ❀

          Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you for your always wise words Sue. And yes, of course I know a bit of your dysfunctional life as we exchanged a few stories when we first met – hence our friendship plus common bonds. ❀ Yes, it took me longer than you it seems, but when someone feels so insignificant around others I thinks it's self-torture to keep hanging around ❀ ❀ Blessings to you too Sue xox

          Liked by 2 people

  6. Wonderful post, Lisa, to help raise awareness about this horrible type of abuse. It is awful because there are no physical wounds. I haven’t experienced this, but my heart breaks for those who have and for those who feel there is no other option but to stay in the harmful relationship. I’m so sorry to hear you have endured abuse but am grateful you have been able to heal the pattern, as you said, and also are able to teach and help others. You are a blessing!

    Much love to you and wishing you a great weekend,
    Lauren πŸ’•

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Lisa this is so helpful for me right now as I am dealing with a very difficult sister. I would so appreciate any useful feedback you could give me. I wrote this post today..(see below) I struggle with so many complex feelings around her.. at times she is abusive in a very covert way, for example I learned from a family member she smeared me behind my back a few years ago.. I kept giving the benefit of the doubt because I felt she was being kinder lately… its a hard thing to know I cannot help her at all.. seeing her go through shock treatment is so hard when I know there is another way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am glad this blog has been helpful to you. Our relationship with our siblings is very complex and would require more of a deep dive than a blog comment. I speak here in more generalities than your situation but you may connect with some of it. There are many dynamics at play in family systems with siblings; competition for resources and jealously, to name a few. It is never okay to be abusive. Sibling relationships are messy/complex due to differing expectations and the family roles we grew up in.

      It is normal for relationships to go through a period of what seems like a normal relationship and then abuse again. We cannot change how other people treat us but we can change how we respond and if we choose to interact with them.

      You sister is very ill right now. When we are ill,we are more vulnerable to stress. If you feel you need to, revisit any conversations, at a time when she is more stabilized.

      For now, take good care of you!

      Many Blessings,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s