Subtle acts of relationship control can be the worst because the behavior from the emotionally abusive person can be so hard to pinpoint and describe. However, if something seems hurtful to you and you feel it may have been a covert intent to insult, it more than likely is. It's easy to dismiss subtle forms of relationship control and to believe that you're being too sensitive, overreacting and left feeling confused about the intent over what was said or done. But over time, these subtle acts of emotional abuse and relationship control tend to slowly erode away your self-esteem. This behavior instills self-doubt, and may even leave you feeling a bit crazy as a result. This is how a person ultimately gains control over you and the relationship.
Take notice when people never raise their voice and may even smile as they say things that are demeaning or insulting. Some, who are emotionally abusive, may even use insults in a form of a joke to degrade you. This is their safety net, because if you call them on it, they will claim that you're just too sensitive or that you can't take a joke. But make no mistake, this is their way to emotionally abuse and confuse you while they dodge responsibility for their own behavior and avoiding conflict themselves.
Be aware of responses when you go to people for help and they respond as if they now have power over you. These subtle ways of relationship control may be to deny you of the support you are seeking and treat you as if you're weak for not being able to tend to the situation all alone. Another tactic may be to tie conditions to the support or act they are willing to provide in a form of emotional blackmail. Sometimes these conditions are provided upfront, such as "I'll do that for you, if you do this for me first." Often, you will do what they ask, while they back out of their end of the agreement. Or maybe what they expect from you seems unreasonable and seems to cause more problems than solutions for you, creating a subtle method of mental abuse. Other times, however, they may seem happy to help you in the beginning, but then slap conditions on you later on. You may get interactions that come in the form of "I'm doing this for you, so now I expect this in return."
Watch for repeated behaviors of emotional abuse as they make themselves unavailable to you when they know you need them most, or if they put you off for an extended amount of time; especially when something important is happening. When they finally do contact you, they act as if nothing has happened to you, even while knowing that you are in need of them to be available for you. This is psychological abuse and they are enjoying having relationship control.
Take notice of responses such as, "I'm sorry you feel that way," when you attempt to share your feelings with someone. This person is implying that there is something wrong with the way you feel and usually has no empathy about the act that resulted in your feelings (especially if it's something they have done). It's much like responding with, "You shouldn't feel that way," or "You just misunderstood." These are ways of belittling your feelings and confusing you, and they are emotionally abusive.
Watch for subtle forms of emotional abuse when a person challenges what you know, what you need and what you feel during a discussion, and then seems pleased when you finally break down, cry or lose control. They may even resort to psychologically abusive comments that there must be something wrong with your mental health or your ability to handle your problems, or even make you feel responsible for their or someone else's hurtful behavior.
Pay attention if they diminish your successes by remaining silent, taking credit for your success, making the success seem insignificant, upstaging you, or stating how hard the success will be for you to maintain. These demeaning responses are just another way to gain the upper hand in a relationship through mental abuse.