Recognizing and addressing emotional abuse for gen z and millennials

Hey there! It’s Jyme, your go-to certified life coach, and I’m back with some valuable insights on a topic that is deeply personal and hits close to home for so many of you—emotional abuse. 

In a world where self-love and mental well-being take center stage, it’s crucial for millennials and Gen Z to be equipped with practical tools to recognize the signs of emotional abuse and take action. 

Before we jump into it, I first want to define what emotional abuse is and is not. According to Psychology Today, emotional abuse is defined as “a pattern of behavior in which the perpetrator insults, humiliates, and generally instills fear in an individual in order to control them. The individual’s reality may become distorted as they internalize the abuse as their own failings.” 

Emotional abuse is not having an argument with a partner or standing up for yourself. It involves a prolonged form of manipulation that gradually wears away a person’s self-esteem and overall trust in themselves. 

Today, I want to guide you through five red flags of emotional abuse and how to overcome your fear or reluctance in seeking the help you need. 

Gaslighting games

Gaslighting, according to Merriam-Webster, is a type of manipulation that causes a victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and experiences confusion, loss of confidence/ self-esteem, and doubts concerning their own emotional or mental stability. 

I first encountered this term during therapy amidst the chaos of my early marriage. After feeling completely lost and blaming myself for my partner’s erratic behavior, I realized I needed support and clarity before I completely lost myself. 

My therapist explained to me that what I was experiencing was called ‘gaslighting’ and it’s a classic emotional abuse tactic used to undermine your thoughts and experiences. It was in this instant I felt a mixture of validation and fear and any semblance of safety within my home was shattered.  

In a recent article published by Forbes, Paige Sweet, Ph.D., describes that gaslighting is intended to make the victim feel unstable and irrational – doubting their own credibility.  The perpetrator may use various techniques to make the victim feel like they are in a fog, often fluctuating back and forth between warm and cold behaviors (i.e., verbal abuse and praise). 

If you’re often left feeling confused or second-guessing yourself, it’s time to pay attention. 

Trust your instincts and recognize that your feelings are valid.

Constant criticism

When a partner, spouse, caretaker, parent, or employer verbally attacks your character, diminishing your self-esteem, you may be grappling with emotional abuse. 

Ellie Lisitsa sheds light on this in her article ‘The Four Horsemen,‘ emphasizing that constant criticism is a tool designed to leave victims feeling assaulted, rejected, and hurt. 

The abuser thrives on dismantling your self-esteem and criticizing your worth and value. 

Critical statements may take various forms, ranging from straightforward remarks to narratives shared with others or even masquerading as well-intentioned ‘advice’. 

While not all criticisms are inherently bad,  it’s important to note that this type of verbal abuse is expressed in a critical or judgmental tone, aimed solely at controlling and demeaning the victim. These expressions are often framed in the form of “you” statements, such as labeling the victim as too sensitive, pointing out perceived flaws, or outright calling them stupid. 

To counteract this form of abuse, seek out a trusted support system and always remember that you are deserving of love and respect. 

Isolation tactics

Many people are familiar with this controlling tactic in the form of physical abuse but the same principle applies to emotional abuse. 

The abuser will gradually try to cut off your support system, isolating you from friends and family. They will often make up excuses to justify why you can’t meet up with friends or family. Sometimes they will impede your ability to go to work or school. 

If you notice a gradual separation from the people who care about you, it’s time to take a step back. 

Healthy relationships encourage connections, so don’t be afraid to reach out and maintain those essential bonds.

Abusive anger 

Many victims of emotional and psychological abuse understand the profound anger harbored by the perpetrator, accompanied by a palpable sense of contempt and undeniable tension.  

As Patricia Evans explains, the root of this form of abuse is hidden in the abuser feeling powerless. She states, “ [He] expresses his anger either covertly through subtle manipulation or overtly in unexpected outburst directed at his partner – with the outbursts accusing, blaming and using the victim as a scapegoat to justify their behavior.”

Consequently,  the victim finds themselves in a perpetual state of fear, constantly walking on eggshells, not knowing what will trigger the abuser.  The anger is often irrational, unpredictable, and full of blame. 

Regardless of the excuses the abuser offers for their behavior, it is imperative for the victim to cultivate self-awareness and recognize they are never to blame for this type of abuse.


The final verbal abuse technique I would like to discuss involves the manipulation of fear by the abuser. 

If you’ve ever found yourself in a vulnerable position, whether related to your gender, sexual orientation, or the sharing of deeply held secrets, and you face a threat of personal information disclosure unless you comply, you are experiencing abuse.

In extreme cases, abusers may resort to horrifying tactics, such as threatening harm to your family, pets, children, or even threatening suicide. They exploit your love and care in an effort to keep you in the relationship. 

If you notice a pattern of such threats in your relationship, and if the fear of leaving keeps you trapped, please contact the National Abuse Hotline for the support and guidance you need. 

Overcoming the fear of seeking help

As we wrap up, I want to leave you with some insight and helpful tools if you are currently facing emotional abuse or find it challenging to reach out and seek assistance: 

  1. Emotional abuse is just as dangerous as physical abuse.The abuser will engage in psychological violence to deduce your sense of security, confidence, and autonomy.  
  2. It’s normal to feel hesitant in seeking support. Start small by talking to someone you trust. Sharing your thoughts, feelings, and fears with someone you trust can provide valuable insights and encouragement. 
  3. Remember that abuse is never your fault, regardless of the justifications the abuser may use to explain their behavior.
  4. Take time to interview licensed therapists, psychologists, or mental health professionals to ensure they align with your values. Many professionals do free consultations so you can get a feel for their approach. They will also help you gain the confidence you need to terminate the relationship, if needed. 
  5. Prioritize your well being at all costs. Acknowledge your feelings and realize your emotional experiences are valid. 
  6. If possible, keep a journal so you can gain clarity and insight. Emotional abuse often feels like a dense fog, obscuring the view of your inner compass. By documenting your experiences, you can validate the reality of what is happening.

The bottom line, according to Jyme,

While not an exhaustive compilation of emotional or psychological abuse signs, it’s crucial to understand that recognizing abuse marks the first step towards safety and self preservation. 

By recognizing some of these red flags and overcoming the fear of seeking help, you’re paving the way for a healthier, more fulfilling life. 

If you need immediate support or feel you are in in danger you can contact the domestic abuse hotline at 800-799-7233 or sexual abuse hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

For more insights and tools to navigate life’s twists and turns, visit my website and check out my blog for weekly updates!

Stay curious, stay resilient, and keep moving forward!