Reeva Steenkamp texts to Oscar Pistorius teach us about emotional abuse


Here are texts Reeva sent to her boyfriend three weeks before she was killed.

I’m not posting this to make a comment about the legal side of the case but rather to help us learn how to spot the signs of emotional abuse in a relationship.
In particular notice her comment, “I’m scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me and of how you will react to me. ” 

This is very important.

If you are frightened of your partner and how they might react to you then you are in an abusive relationship.

This is intimidation and is one of the main aspects of an emotionally violent relationship. 

Emotional abuse is an attack on your personality and your character in order to control you. It can be really confusing if you are in a relationship with an abuser and you might keep trying to make things work.  If you change your behaviour because you are scared of how your partner will react you are being abused.



Here’s another text from Reeva to Oscar…

“I didn’t think you would criticize me for doing that especially not so loudly that others could hear. I might joke around and be all Tom boyish at times but I regards myself as a lady and I didn’t feel like one tonight after the way you treated me when we left. I’m a person too … I am trying my best to make you happy and I feel as thought you sometimes never are, no matter the effort I put in. I can’t be attacked by outsiders for dating you and be attacked by you — the one person I deserve protection from.”

Reeva talks of how she is trying so hard to make Oscar happy even though nothing she seems to do works. Classic signs of someone being abused are when they are trying to appease the abuser and always monitoring their own behaviour. Reeva is trying to reassure and placate her abuser. This is symptomatic of an abused partner tip toeing on eggshells and trying not to make their partner mad and keep the peace.

This is not a healthy relationship. 


Oscar was mean to his girlfriend, picks on her, puts her down -especially in front of other people. Reeva feels, “picked on … incessantly… I get snapped at and told my accents and voices are annoying … Stop chewing gum. Do this don’t do that…”

Oscar critisizes how she speaks, belittles her and tries to control her actions..

Control is the hallmark of an abuser. It is meant to make you question your own thoughts and feelings. These comments undermine her sense of self and also serve to isolate her from her friends. By creating scenes when she goes out with her friends he has started the process of isolation.

Many abusers publicly humiliate their partners, it’s a way of reducing their partners self esteem by making them feel small and humiliated. This is verbal abuse and you do not have to put up with it. This is an early red flag if you are dating an abuser. They might be charming most of the time until the mask slips down for a moment and they put you down in front of friends of family. Pay attention to this! This is the beginning of a slippery slope! If they publicly humiliate you this will not get better over time!

You might start to believe these put downs about yourself as your self esteem is gradually attacked and eroded more and more over time…  Consistent criticism from someone you love and admire might make you start working super hard to try and “improve yourself” for your partners approval as you internalise their criticism and start to blame yourself. This is a no win situation.

Sure, self improvement is important in a healthy  relationship of flexible give and take with a partner who is your EQUAL but trying to “fix” your supposedly terribly flawed self for the never ending lofty expectations of an abuser is a unbalanced game you can never win.

You will never be good enough for a person who chooses to abuse and you will lose yourself in the process of trying.

In a loving and healthy relationship your partner will want to boost you up not drag you down and put you down about petty things. If you feel pressured to fix yourself  to meet your partner’s high standards then you are not in a healthy relationship.

This is a very typical statement from an abused partner…. “But perhaps it says a lot about what’s going on here. Today was one of my best friend’s engagements and I wanted to stay longer. I was enjoying myself but it’s over now.” Reeva starts out by explaining her needs but then backs down and says it’s too late now. She’s not standing her ground or standing in her power because emotional abuse tears down that power and disempowers you. You lose the anchor of your selfhood and are left floundering.

Reeva also says that Oscar always talks about his various women he’s been with but if she mentions one long term boyfriend he gets very angry with her. She then mentions his tantrums. This double standard, possessiveness and jealousy is classic text book abusive relationship.

You can see that Oscar is very jealous and deals with that by controlling his girlfriends actions. It’s normal for people to feel a little bit jealous in a relationship however it is not normal to make their partner manage and hold up their jealousy and change their actions to deal it. If you’ve never done anything to make your partner suspect your devotion to them, never lied about seeing someone or cheated on them- then them dumping all this suspicious jealousy onto you, shaming your behaviour or attachments with friends is a big red flag for abuse.

I want to include examples now of how an abuser uses jealousy, possessiveness and isolation in an abusive relationship from the standard counselling text books to illustrate my point.

Controlling or manipulating her by controlling what she does, who she sees & talks to, what she reads, where she goes, limiting her outside involvement. 

Using jealousy to justify actions, using jealousy as a sign of love instead of insecurity. Unfounded accusations of cheating, unfaithfulness, infidelity.

Abuser treats her as if he owns her; he doesn’t want her to share her time/attention with anyone else.  Isolating the victim – controlling her schedule, limiting her involvement in activities, limiting access to telephone/internet, limiting access to enroll in certain classes, controlling her access to resources (e.g., health care, medications, car, friends, school, job, etc.).

Abuser seeks to destroy her social support system-not allowing her to spend time with family or friends, criticizing her friends, so she won’t spend time with
them, discouraging her from being close with anyone else.

Isolation is intended to make the abuser the center of the victim’s universe, as well as to limit purposefully the victim’s access to others who might attempt to help her/him escape.

(As females statistically are more likely to be victims of dating violence, these items are addressed toward female victims. Please note males can be victims of dating violence as well.)

You can forget that these texts are anything to do with Reeva or Oscar Pistorius for a minute. I’m a psychotherapist not a legal expert!

This story is all about the language that underpins emotional abuse in an intimate relationship.

Recently, I read these texts to a client who recognised the words as if they were her own.

If you have a friend who is being critisized so much by their partner that their self esteem is disappearing then please reach out for help.

If you are in a situation where someone is making you feel small, controlled, worthless and like you can’t do anything right and they critisize you for small, petty things like how you dress, housework, how you talk, how loud you laugh or you feel trapped, afraid and powerless then please get in touch.

There is a way out.




Warning Signs you’re in an Abusive Relationship


Warning Signs

Domestic Violence is a pattern of abuse that a partner uses to establish power and control over another. Not all abusive relationships involve physical violence, however emotional abuse almost always precedes physical violence in a relationship. Emotional abuse has long-term psychological effects and can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and PTSD. Take your time dating a new partner and maintain healthy boundaries. Try to spot these signs early on.

Does your partner

Love bomb’ you and rush your relationship. Did they shower you in romance or pressure you to move in together quickly? Obviously romance is not a sign of abuse on its own, however an abusive partner needs you to trust and love them because then its much easier to control you.

Use religious or spiritual beliefs to pressure you into a relationship fast. Do they use terms such as “twin flame” or “it’s part of God’s plan” to rush through the dating phase straight into the committed phase? These terms can make you feel obliged and guilty to your abuser. Do they tell you they’ve been in love with you for years or months before you started dating? A healthy relationship takes time to build and these sentiments can be used to keep you feeling sorry for them and not leaving the relationship when you first start spotting early red flags.

  Make decisions for you without consulting you? This is a sign of things to come.

Uphold sexist ideas.They may have a very traditional and conservative view of gender or sometimes joke about you their being property. Notice how they talk about women in their life. Do they speak about their ex-girlfriends, mother or other women in their life with disdain and barely disguised venom?  (Note- I’ve written this section as if the abuser is male but abuse happens to same sex couples and to men as well.)


Tell you what to wear and what to do? Or do they constantly check up on you and your whereabouts? Exhibit possessiveness and jealousy but masquerade these as love?

Make fun of you, put down your accomplishments, tease you in a belittling way? They may insult you publicly in front of others with the effect of you becoming a shadow of your former vivacious self. Have they made nasty remarks about your body? By reducing your self esteem they will have more control over you.


Overreact or make a huge deal out of very small things? As the relationship progresses youll feel reduced and diminished for every tiny mistake and youll start feeling like you cant ever do anything right.

Gaslight you to erode faith in your own memory and sanity? You feel confused and off balance and later helpless


Isolate you? Maybe they try to stop you seeing your friends or family or stop them coming to visit. They could also prevent you going to work or school or doing other activities. 


Use finances to control you? They keep you in the dark about finances or wont pay their share.


Use intimidation and anger to make you comply with their wishes? Hits walls, slams fists on objects, shoves you, grabs, stands over you, destroys your possessions, drive dangerously or do other things to scare you. This will inevitably escalate and should be taken very seriously.


Ignore you by cutting you off, refusing to communicate or using silent treatment? These are passive techniques to establish rules about when and what can be contested. This could include withholding sex as punishment.


Pressure you sexually before youre ready to engage in unsafe or unwanted sexual behavior? Do they refuse to wear a condom? Dictate what birth control methods you use? Pressure you to get pregnant before youre ready? Do you only have sex when they want to never when you want to?


Threaten to commit suicide if you want to leave the relationship. Or minimize their abuse; It wasnt that bad. Its not like I beat you up.


If you have recognized even one or two of these warning signs then I urge you to leave your relationship or prepare a getting-out-safely plan. Its not your fault if your partner abuses you. Your partner chooses to abuse. Abusers rarely change. Control  and isolation is not love. You may need help through counseling to build up your self-esteem before you have enough strength to leave.

Book a session with me if you’re worried you’re in an unhealthy relationship.


Cat O Dowd