I've heard it said that emotional abuse is a big fat grey line. We all cross. In my flags post, I recognized somr of my own behaviors in the past. Some are just unhealthy ways to deal with conflict/anger.
I am sure we can all think of an argument when we gave or received. Not all people who do some of these things are abusers; rather they can behave in abusive ways occasionally when feeling threatened.
I used to put my STBX in the latter category until I realized this was systematic and not ignorance.
To answer your question, the difference I believe is in these points:
-behavior would be different if onlookers.
-no remorse - when non abusers cross that big fat grey line we feel awful, usually as soon as anger subsides.
-no rational prompt to outburst, inconsistent, sense they are looking for fight
-justifies, rationalizes, and may offer apology eventually if no room to maneuver anymore
-lack of personal responsibility for feelings, behavior, failings, etc. is root of most abusers. People who are comfortable with being fallible and wrong do not use toxic methods to protect themselves, systematically weaken another's sense of self
-V's point about little care for your feelings or empathy should be well taken. My H used to study psychology and could mechanically say he 'understood how xyz could make you feel that way" if I would ask him if he could understand. I had to pull some semblance of empathy out of him. After a great deal of back pedaling, twisting, word salad. An abuser will not lead with an apology or remorse or make up in any way unless they think they are about to lose something they want.
-with that said, beware of over the top apologies and gifts...a cycle of abuse and then being bought off. A safe person isnt ifyen creating situations that demand this level of 'remorse.' What is real remorse? I would say it is quiet, dignified and above all addresses the hurt done to another. It is thoughtful, not showy or full of drama.
- sense of escalation, or when one boundary is enforced a new method of control and unbalancing will manifest
- an increasing sense that no one would believe who you actually live with from what they 'know' about person
-flexible rationality especially in crazy-making psych abuse. Partner demonstrates great logic in public, situations going their way. Logic is inverted as needed for control. But you have come to see them as very wise, reasonable, loving, kind .,,so the first time this alternate reality is used, you have doubt. This isn't the same thing as someone who is upset and stuck in their point of view, either. This is a very patronizing 'don't you understand why, how...'
Toots has a great reading list too.
Mid 30's Psych-abusive M with violent tantrums from XH D 9/15; NC forever on