The Difference Between Emotional Abuse and Conflict

According to Koza (2017), there’s a difference between emotional abuse and conflict.

Conflict occurs in any relationship (friendships, family, romantic, and even work relationships).

Conflict provides both parties the opportunity to discuss the issue, share their emotions, and talk through whatever the problem is (Koza, 2017).

Then work towards a resolution together.

Emotional abuse takes place when one person continually belittles the other person.

Belittling can take the form of insults, put downs, or repeated criticism (Koza, 2017).

Belittling is when someone tries to make another person feel small or like they’re not important.

The emotionally abusive person is also trying to degrade or shame their intended target (Koza, 2017).

Emotional abuse can be difficult to identify. And it might even be more challenging to determine the difference between conflict and emotional abuse.

One of the key indicators of emotional abuse is when someone continues to behave in a way that makes you feel worthless. Even after you’ve spoken to them about it repeatedly.

For example, person A tells person B, “I don’t like it when you make passive aggressive statements towards me or about me.”

Person B responds, “I have the right to treat you that way. Even if you don’t like it. It’s your fault for not accepting it as ok.”

In the example provided, person A informed person B how they didn’t like to be treated.

Person B acknowledged the treatment and placed the blame back on person A. As if it was person A’s fault for their mistreatment.

Emotional abuse often occurs, as stated in previous blog posts, as a means of power and control (Koza, 2017).

Listed below are some signs of emotional abuse.

1. They are extremely critical or judgmental of you.

An example of this is when someone humiliates you or embarrasses you (Koza, 2017).

2. When they ignore the boundaries you’ve set.

As mentioned in previous blog posts, an example of this is when someone continues to talk to you in a manner that makes you feel degraded.

Even after you’ve repeatedly told them not too.

3. They are controlling or possessive.

Abusers usually try to isolate their victims from their friends and family members (Koza, 2017).

4. They are manipulative.

For example they may purposely exclude you from their social group.

5. They often dismiss you and your feelings.

For example, “I had the right to say those things to you. Because I was mad at you.”

Or, “You’re not mad about how we treat you. You’re mad because of your past.”

It’s important to be able to identify the difference between being in an emotionally abusive situation. And having a conflict with someone.

Conflict allows both parties to work together to find a solution to the situation.

Both parties’ feelings and view points are respected.

And neither is made to feel like they’re insignificant.

There’s a compromise involved.

Emotional abuse on the hand is about power and control, as stated in previous blog posts.

The person behaving in an emotionally abusive manner refuses to take any ownership for their actions. Placing all blame on their intended target.

Some people who emotionally abuse even go as far as spreading misconceptions about their intended target to mutual friends and/or family members.

For example, “She’s just sensitive to how we treat her because of her past. That’s why she’s making a big deal out of nothing.”

Again, a person’s past shouldn’t be used as a means to disrespect them.

And if outsiders are aware of the situation. But encourage the relationship to continue because they’re family, long time friends, well known in the community, etc., then they’re just condoning the abuse.

If person A mistreats person B to the point where it becomes an emotionally abusive situation.

It is not person B’s responsibility to convince person A to change.

It is also not person B’s responsibility to convince person A to stop abusing them.

It is person A’s job to accept what they’re doing is wrong and change.

And person B has the right to walk away from the situation if person A doesn’t want to change.

Because as indicated in my previous blog post, that’s the purpose of boundaries.

And boundaries are a way for someone to feel respected and loved.

Written by Eriko Her, M.A., T-LPC


R, D. (2022, August 11). 5 signs of emotional abuse. Safe Horizon. Retrieved October 15, 2022, from

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