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Emotional Abuse and Healthy Relationships

We all want to be in a healthy, rewarding relationship, but that can be a hard thing to come by. Emotional abuse may be hard to recognize at first, since it doesn’t leave the obvious marks of a physically abusive relationship. Emotional abuse is characterized by manipulation and the invalidation of their partner. It can happen to anyone, regardless of sexual or gender preference, and can do just as much (if not more) damage than physical abuse. Emotional abuse often starts out very subtly, and progresses gradually over a period of time. Emotional abusers are highly manipulative, and can deceive your friends and family, as well as their own. Here are some of the warning signs to look for in your relationship.

  • Unpredictable responses. If your partner gets angry or upset in a situation that normally would not warrant such a response, acts angry certain times but not others, or if you feel you have to “walk on eggshells” around them, has drastic mood swings or sudden emotional outbursts, or likes something you do one day and hates it the next.
    Unpredictable responses. If your partner gets angry or upset in a situation that normally would not warrant such a response, acts angry certain times but not others, or if you feel you have to “walk on eggshells” around them, has drastic mood swings or sudden emotional outbursts, or likes something you do one day and hates it the next.
  • Verbal assaults. If your partner makes fun of you in front of others (or in private), constantly finds flaws with you, belittles, criticizes, threatens, calls you names, and uses subtle (or even blatant) sarcasm and humiliation towards you.
  • Abusive demands. If your partner is aggressive towards you, requires constant attention, or makes unreasonable demands of you.
  • Dominating. If your partner must have their way – always - even if it hurts you to get it, holds you directly responsible for their happiness, manipulates the relationship so that the only feelings and opinions that count are their own, or disregards your personal standards or beliefs, and tries to persuade you to do things that you don’t want to do.
  • Being aggressive. If your partner is judgmental towards you, accuses or blames you for things, threatens you, or orders you. This is usually under the guise of helping you out, or “teaching” you.
  • Drama. If your partner enjoys having the focus on themselves, deliberately starts arguments with you and/or others, and changes their personality and their treatment of you depending on whether or not you are alone together or in public.
  • Denial and invalidation. If your partner tells you that you are being too sensitive or too emotional when they hurt your feelings (or accuse you of misunderstanding and hurting them, too), denies your personal needs with the intent of hurting, punishing, or humiliating you, refuses to listen or communicate (silent treatment), withdraws emotionally, or refuses to accept any viewpoints, perceptions, or feelings that differ from their own. This can include distorting the facts or your perception of the events, or failing or refusing to acknowledge what actually took place between you, and can cause you to doubt and question the legitimacy of your own feelings and perceptions.
  • Minimizing. If your partner uses a less extreme form of denial by trivializing your thoughts and emotions, or saying things like “You’re exaggerating” or “You’re making a big deal out of nothing.”
  • Emotional blackmail. If your partner “pushes your buttons” in order to get what they want, threatens to end the relationship or withdraws affection, or uses other control tactics to achieve their own ends.

The most important thing is to trust your own feelings and perceptions. You can feel when something isn’t right, and regardless of the love you have for that person, what they are doing is not healthy and they need help. If you are afraid of your partner then something is obviously off, and recognizing abuse is the first step in ending it. You can suggest resources for them if you feel safe in doing so, but it is important that you do not stay involved with someone who can do damage to you.

Healthy relationships do not hurt. Communication is not a one way street, and both partners need to share and listen to each other and offer each other support. No one is perfect, and bad days and mistakes happen, but there are lines that should not be crossed and it is up to you to decide what those lines are and maintain those healthy boundaries in your relationships.
For student resources, counseling, and information on emotional, or any other type of abuse, please contact Student Health and Counseling (SHAC) at 503-725-2800 or stop by their offices at 1880 SW 6th Ave. (at the corner of Hall Street). Visit SHAC’s website at
You can also contact the Portland State Women’s Resource Center at 503-725-5672 or stop by at 1802 SW 10th & Montgomery (Montgomery Hall basement). If you need to talk to someone after hours, or at any time, about sexual assault or domestic violence,
please call the 24-hour Portland Women's Crisis Line
toll-free at: 888-235-5333.

Written by Natalya Seibel


Brigham Young University. (2010). Warning signs of emotional abuse. Retrieved July 24, 2010 from

Smith, M., & Segal, J. (March, 2010). Domestic violence and abuse: Signs of abuse and abusive relationships. Retrieved July 25, 2010, from

Let's Talk About It

My husband and I have been together for 10 years and married for 5 of those. Let me tell you, relationships are not easy. They require a lot of hard work and commitment and you really get out of it what you put in. Communication is huge. I can’t tell you how many times my husband said something to me and I took it to mean something totally different than how he meant it, thus leading to a fight because of the miscommunication.
Communication can become even more difficult when there is conflict. People deal with conflict differently and so couples deal with conflict differently. I know that when my husband is really upset it is best to let him cool down before we talk. Then we are able to talk about the issue without being overly-emotional. There is no one-size fits all solution when it comes to talking with your partner, but it is important to be open and honest. Keeping communication open can make it easier to deal with small problems before they become too big.

Written by Kari Anne McDonald

Clothesline Project: Teen Dating Violence Facts

  • Females ages 16-24 are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence than any other age group – at a rate almost triple the national average.
  • In a study of gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents, youths involved in same-sex dating are just
    as likely to experience dating violence as youths involved in opposite sex dating.
  • A study of 1,600 juvenile sexual assault offenders nationwide indicated that only around 33% of the juveniles perceived sex as a way to demonstrate love or caring for another person; 23.5% percent perceived sex as a way to feel power and control; 9.4% as a way to dissipate anger; 8.4% percent as a way to punish.

The Clothesline Project is a travelling display that bears witness to violence against women. During the display a clothesline has t-shirts hung each with a message written by a survivor or for a victim they knew. The Clothesline Project can usually be seen on campus during Take Back the Night in April.


Resource Available on Campus and in the Community

The Women's Resource Center's Interpersonal Violence Program provides support, advocacy and assistance to students who are dealing with dating or sexual violence. This program serves PSU students of all genders. Advocates are available in the WRC by walk-in and appointment and meetings, all meetings are confidential.


Portland Women’s Crisis Line
If you are in need of immediate assistance or would like to talk to an advocate about resources please call.
PWCL Crisis line is open 24/7
Or visit them on the web