Emotionally Abusive Men and Women: Who Are They?

Emotionally abusive men and women work to control and overpower others. Find out what makes an emotionally abusive woman or man tick.

When someone pictures an emotionally abusive man or woman, they often picture some sort of caricature. They might picture someone of a lower socioeconomic status, a blue collar worker or an uptight housewife. No matter what picture of an emotionally abusive person you have in your head, you are wrong because emotionally abusive men and women run the gamut and no group of people is immune. In fact, if a group of people were to sit in a room, drinking coffee, you would have no way of pointing out which were the emotionally abusive men and women. There are no outward signs of an emotionally abusive person. There may even be no signs when interacting with them, as abusers tend to be able to turn their abusive behavior on and off when convenient.

Emotionally Abusive Men and Women Seek Control

No matter who the emotionally abusive person is, they seek power and control over their victim. Children are the most common victims of emotional abuse for just this reason – parents want to completely dominate and control their children into doing what is "right." Similarly, a husband or wife may abuse their spouse to control them into "behaving correctly," in the mind of the abuser.

Emotional abusers seek to have their way irrespective of those around them, assuming that their way is "best," "right," or simply most convenient for them. Ironically, many people who emotionally abuse do so because they themselves are scared of being controlled.

Characteristics of Emotionally Abusive Men and Women

Emotionally abusive men and women are of all different types but some common characteristics are found among many of the abusers. Emotional abusers tend to believe they are "owed" by everyone and thus everyone (including their victim) should give them what they want. This makes them feel entitled to give orders, control, and abuse in order to get what they want. Similarly, emotionally abusive people tend to be self-centered to the point where they feel they can, and should, tell others what they are thinking and feeling.

For men, this may be the idea that men are superior to women and they believe in stereotyped male and female roles. They often talk about being the "man of the house." An abuser also might claim to be superior due to their background or ethnicity.

Other characteristics of emotionally abusive men and women include:1

  • Low self-esteem – some abusers abuse others to make themselves feel good about themselves, although some people feel that the opposite is true in many cases.
  • Rush into relationships – some abusers enter relationships and claim "love at first sight" very quickly, perhaps fearing being alone. (Read about: Dynamics of Emotional Abuse in Relationships, Marriage)
  • Extreme jealousy – an abuser may see jealousy as a sign of love rather than possessiveness.
  • Having unrealistic expectations or demands – an abuser will demand that the victim be the perfect spouse, lover, and friend and fill every need, even when this isn't reasonable or healthy.
  • Create isolation – an abuser will work to cut off ties to the victim to keep the victim completely centered on the abuser.
  • Use of force during sex – acting out scenarios where the victim is helpless may be part of their sex life.
  • Use drinking to cope with stress – alcohol doesn't cause the abusive behaviors but abusers have a higher-than-average rate of alcohol abuse
  • Have poor communication skills – abusers may have trouble with open conversations about their feelings so they abuse instead.
  • Are hypersensitive – abusers often take the slightest action as a personal attack.
  • Appear charming to others – abusers tend to hide all their abusive behaviors in other scenarios so that the victim is the only one that sees their abusive side making it very difficult for the victim to reach out for help (Information about Emotional Abuse Help).

And although emotionally abusive people set out to purposefully hurt victims, they often minimize their role and blame the victim for the abuse. "She made me do it," or "he should have known not to talk to me when I was in that kind of mood." Abusers often claim they have no control over their abusive behaviors.

Personality Disorders and Emotionally Abusive Men and Women

It is also known that many emotionally abusive men and women have a type of mental illness known as a personality disorder. Personality disorders are estimated to affect about 10-15% of the population. In the case of a personality disorder, a person develops hurtful and maladaptive patterns of thought and behavior that are consistent throughout their lifetime.

Three personality disorders are linked to emotionally abusive behavior are:2

  • Narcissistic personality disorder – this disorder involves the perception of being grandiose and requiring the admiration of others. People with narcissistic personality disorder exaggerate their own accomplishments, have a sense of entitlement, exploit others, lack empathy, envy others and are arrogant.
  • Antisocial personality disorder – this disorder shows a pattern of disregard for the rights of others and the rules of society. People with antisocial personality disorder tend to lie, be aggressive, disregard safety, violate the law and have a lack of remorse.
  • Borderline personality disorder – this disorder involves intense and unstable relationships, self-perception and moods. People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) tend to have poor impulse control. People with BPD frantically avoid abandonment, are impulsive, are suicidal or self-harming, feel empty, feel inappropriate anger and may be paranoid.

article references

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2021, December 17). Emotionally Abusive Men and Women: Who Are They?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Last Updated: December 30, 2021

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

More Info