Psychological Tactics of Relationship Abuse

October 25, 2023

*keep in mind that webpages can be tracked and if you are in danger please contact the national Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233

“Relationships are complicated.”

“Relationships have their ups and downs.”

“They/he/she isn’t always like this.”

“They are just struggling right now.”

“I have to stand by them to help them grow.”

Beyond physical abuse

Abusive relationships are often thought of as physically violent, dangerous places to be where the (most often) man is intimidating, beating, punching, and assaulting his partner. When I ask people to envision an abusive relationship that is usually the response I get. And it’s true; that is absolutely abusive and no one deserves that.

However, abusive relationships do not always involve physical violence, or at least not in the way I described above. I have worked in the field of domestic violence for over 10 years and have spoken with many survivors, poured over the data and want to share with you some of what I have learned.

The data

(The results I am about to share with you are gendered only by men and women, however relationship violence impacts all humans regardless of identity or pronouns).

According to The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey | 2016/2017 Report on Intimate Partner Violence by the cdc, about half of women and men have experienced any contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking in their lifetime.

That same report states that the same amount (about half of women and men) have reported psychological aggression from their partner in their lifetime.

“Psychological aggression includes expressive aggression (insulting, humiliating, or making fun of a partner in front of others) and coercive control and entrapment, which includes behaviors that are intended to monitor, control, or threaten an intimate partner.”

It is not spoken about nearly enough or at the same magnitude of physical violence, but it is just as prevalent.

When I was working as an advocate, part of my job was supporting survivors who were leaving their abusive homes and seeking shelter. Many of these women had experienced severe physical abuse that they needed medical treatment for. However, 9 times out of 10 the reason they returned to their abuser was due to the psychological abuse and manipulation they experienced.

On average a victim leaves and returns to their abuser about 7 times before finding safety and leaving for good. This is not the fault of the victim, and is solely due to the psychological warfare that the abuser is using and threatening with.

The tactics

The most unspoken aspect of relationship violence is psychological abuse. Emotional and financial manipulation are some of the top tactics used by abusers to control their victims. The main reason why we can’t leave when we are in the relationship is fear that the abuser will hurt themselves, or use our vulnerability against us.

Abusers weaponize love

“No-one else will love me, no-one else cares about me.”

They make you feel as if you have no-one else. They will isolate you from friends, and family. Make it seem that the world is out to get him, and you as well. “It is us against the world.” They will love bomb you (the act of overcompensating loving feelings, giving gifts, compliments, and gestures) that you then recall  (“They/he/she isn’t always like this.”) when they manipulate you, call you names and degrade your sense of self.

Abusers weaponize your kindness and caring and their mental health

“He said he was going to kill himself without me”

If someone is threatening to kill themselves, they need help and support that you can not be responsible for. They need increased mental health support and possibly even psychiatric care. Abusers know they have your love and will often threaten self harm in order to keep you in the cycle of abuse. And most of us are empathetic kind humans who wouldn’t want to see anyone hurting so we stay.

If they were having a heart attack, would you be able to help? Probably not either, because you are not a trained medical doctor or if you were it is unethical to treat your own family/friends. You do not have the resources available to help. Mental health is no different. If someones life is at risk we need to take it seriously and get them proper treatment.

( If at any time you are concerned for the life of another person, call 911 and ask for immediate medical support)

Abusers weaponize your livelihood

“Even if I leave it wont matter, he will show up to my work, school, and just make things harder for me

Financial abuse if prevalent in almost all of abusive relationships at some point. Because we live in a capitalistic society you can not leave if you do not have a way of sustaining yourself financially. Abusers are aware of this and will sabotage your work day, by calling repeatedly, or showing up and causing a scene.

Or they will sabotage you before a big presentation by starting an argument or not letting you sleep. They will try to convince you to not go to work or to drop classes or skip an exam to be with them.

You deserve safety

Although physical violence is often what we see portrayed on TV or in the news, psychological abuse is just as prevalent and can often lead to continued exposure in the abusive relationship. Being aware of the tactics of psychological abuse can help you to spot red flags before entering into a relationship, or can be the catalyst to working with a therapist or crisis counselor to get help and support. There are programs that exist to support survivors of financial and psychological abuse, get help and find freedom.  You do not need to endure this alone.


Learn how you can take steps toward healing with our latest blogs

Two people helping to heal trauma through close relationship

A Guide to EMDR Therapy: Helping Your Loved One Heal from Trauma

How to help a loved one who is Experiencing Trauma Recently someone told you that your family member or friend is undergoing EMDR Therapy. This can be surprising and confusing at first. Know that you are a trusted person in your friends life and they felt safe sharing with you. I’ve created this guide to […]
EMDR therapy session with male and female sitting across from one another.

Preparing for EMDR: Essential Insights and Readiness Tips

If you are wondering what to expect from EMDR, you’re not alone. Many of my clients express worry or fear about the process. I’ve compiled the most helpful suggestions for preparing for a EMDR cycle. EMDR Therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is an 8 phase therapy intervention that helps reduce symptoms of trauma. The […]