DISCLAIMER: I apologize for the blocks of text, but this is something I have been wanting to say.
Something that I don’t mention often is abuse, and more specifically, Psychological (mental, emotional, verbal) Abuse. It’s much harder to spot than physical abuse, but just as, if not more, destructive. Just think, there are no marks to look for, as it’s all internal, mentally and emotionally leaving bruises and scars.
It’s hard to admit when you’re in this type of situation. I admit I was raped, and that’s a type of abuse, sexual abuse, yet do you know how long it takes to admit I was in an abusive relationship? To give you an idea, I have only start to come to terms with it, and that’s only because of therapy and an outside perspective.
Emotional abuse, mental abuse A form of mistreatment in which there is intent to causemental or emotional pain or injury; PA includes verbal aggression, statements intended to humiliate or infantilize, insults, threats of abandonment or institutionalization; PA results in stress, social withdrawal, long-term or recalcitrant depression, anxiety – McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002
Psychological abuse is also referred to as emotional and mental abuses. It targets and works in a few different ways and they all seem subtle. I personally feel that it is worse than physical abuse because it affects us mentally, making us undermine and change how we view ourselves. It can happen in all aspects of life, whether it’s from family members, work mates, romantic partners, or in the case of some, school mates. So how can you start to recognize it?
Let’s break it down into some groups of the forms that this type of abuse can take.
Intimidation and Degradation
Just imagine everything that makes up who you are, your core values and your personality traits. Makes you feel good knowing who you are doesn’t it? Now, take that, and imagine if you were constantly ridiculed, belittled, or put down about whats you who you are. You are starting to question if you’re good enough aren’t you? Suddenly everything that happens to you is a joke, and if you react negatively to it, you are too sensitive. Nothing about you is good enough, your thoughts an opinions mean nothing and are wrong. Now imagine that not only does this happen privately, but more so in front of others. Feeling really great now aren’t you? Remember though, this may seem negative now, but this will just build character and make you stronger. They are only telling you that your fat because they want you to feel better and get healthy.
Passive Aggressive Behavior of Emotional Support and Nurturance
This one is a little hard to describe for me, so bare with me here as this one is one of the most subtle tactics, therefore one of the most damaging I believe. Imagine you are having a normal heated couple’s argument. In the middle of it, out of nowhere, your partner yells how their mother was snubbed the last time at a gathering, and how no one is allowed to treat their mother like that, it’s unacceptable. Random, out of the blue as it had nothing to do with what you were arguing over. Suddenly you start thinking about that, what does it have to do with this? Then it moves to, Oh god, it must have been me. That leads you to think that this must be why your partner is mad. It is your fault, this whole mess was brought upon because of you. Partner’s anger is a result of your behavior. However then your partner is telling you that they understand it’s hard for you to be polite, after all, they grew up in a loving environment, but you, you are damaged, however they love you. How could any of this be from hate, they love you, they’re understanding. (TBH, I don’t have much experience that I remember with this one, so harder for me to descibe.)
Isolation and Restricting
I think this one and the follow one are easy to recognize and go almost hand in hand. This is pretty easy to imagine. Every time you want to go to the store or just out for a walk, they are with you. They’re screening your phone calls, or not even letting you talk to friends and family any more. The extent of how and when you go outside is limited to whether or not they are with you. And if they’re not with you, you’re not going out. Pretty simple, but there are undermining ways to do this. “I’m making sure that no one bothers you and that you’re safe.” “Why can’t you do that at home, I miss you when you’re gone and it’s less time that we spend together.” “We can do that together as a couple’s bonding thing.” Yeah, I’ve heard all of that before.
Control or Domination
No, not the kinky kind you weirdo. I’m referring to the most obvious tactic that is used, controlling/dominating. You can see this usually within 4 areas, decision making, relationships, activities, and self-image. I feel that this one, and isolation go hand in hand. Think about it for a minute. In decision making, you are not longer allowed to make the decisions because you just make bad ones anyways, your opinions don’t matter. And what you are doing and with whom, well that’s already been decided, you’re not allowed to choose. This weekend you are going to be with your partners friends at the baseball game you didn’t want to go to. You wanted to go to your friend’s house and see their new baby. Nope, not allowed, after all, they were just at the hospital and might have something, and you know you don’t want to get sick. Besides, they really are a bad influence on you and don’t bring out your best side. (See how much they care about you? Keeping you so safe from the bad influences and environments your friends create, as well as making sure you’re not sick for work later.) You know that movie you and your friends wanted to see, that’s not a great idea. It’s late at night, and the subject of that movie is not what you should be viewing anyways. They make it seem like they can conquer the world, and yet you cannot handle one little issue. They’ll build you up, and then tear you right back down.
These are just some of the forms, and ways you can see psychological abuse taking place. They’re just guidelines from experience and what was provided to me from my therapists. I think the one thing to take away, be aware. This happens, and it’s manipulating. After looking back over this, I was abused my entire life, by my sister. She is the master manipulator, the queen of putting others down, and trying to control you, and I did not stand a chance. No wonder my self esteem is non existent. I mean honestly, since almost the day I was born, I have been in the way, cannot do anything right, destroy any vacation, and no one wants to be around me. She was worse than the boyfriend that was being an abuser. She makes him look like a saint.
Below is a list of things to look at if you think yourself, or someone you know, is in a psychologically abusive relationship.
- Humiliation, degradation, discounting, negating. judging, criticizing:
Does anyone make fun of you or put you down in front of others?
Do they tease you, use sarcasm as a way to put you down or degrade you?
When you complain do they say that “it was just a joke” and that you are too sensitive?
Do they tell you that your opinion or feelings are “wrong?”
Does anyone regularly ridicule, dismiss, disregard your opinions, thoughts, suggestions, and feelings?
- Domination, control, and shame:
Do you feel that the person treats you like a child?
Do they constantly correct or chastise you because your behavior is “inappropriate?”
Do you feel you must “get permission” before going somewhere or before making even small decisions?
Do they control your spending?
Do they treat you as though you are inferior to them?
Do they make you feel as though they are always right?
Do they remind you of your shortcomings?
Do they belittle your accomplishments, your aspirations, your plans or even who you are?
Do they give disapproving, dismissive, contemptuous, or condescending looks, comments, and behavior?
- Accusing and blaming, trivial and unreasonable demands or expectations, denies own shortcomings:
Do they accuse you of something contrived in their own minds when you know it isn’t true?
Are they unable to laugh at themselves?
Are they extremely sensitive when it comes to others making fun of them or making any kind of comment that seems to show a lack of respect?
Do they have trouble apologizing?
Do they make excuses for their behavior or tend to blame others or circumstances for their mistakes?
Do they call you names or label you?
Do they blame you for their problems or unhappiness?
Do they continually have “boundary violations” and disrespect your valid requests?
- Emotional distancing and the “silent treatment,” isolation, emotional abandonment or neglect:
Do they use pouting, withdrawal or withholding attention or affection?
Do they not want to meet the basic needs or use neglect or abandonment as punishment?
Do they play the victim to deflect blame onto you instead of taking responsibility for their actions and attitudes?
Do they not notice or care how you feel?
Do they not show empathy or ask questions to gather information?
- Codependence and enmeshment:
Does anyone treat you not as a separate person but instead as an extension of themselves?
Do they not protect your personal boundaries and share information that you have not approved?
Do they disrespect your requests and do what they think is best for you?
Do they require continual contact and haven’t developed a healthy support network among their own peers?
There are both short and long term effects that result from Psychological abuse:
- Surprise and confusion
- Questioning of one’s own memory, “did that really happen?”
- Anxiety or fear; hypervigilence
- Shame or guilt
- Aggression (as a defense to the abuse)
- Becoming overly passive or compliant
- Frequent crying
- Avoidance of eye contact
- Feeling powerless and defeated as nothing you do ever seems to be right (learned helplessness)
- Feeling like you’re “walking on eggshells”
- Feeling manipulated, used and controlled
- Feeling undesirable
- Low self-esteem and self-worth
- Emotional instability
- Sleep disturbances
- Physical pain without cause
- Suicidal ideation, thoughts or attempts
- Extreme dependence on the abuser
- Inability to trust
- Feeling trapped and alone
- Substance abuse
This is not a fun list at all, and can completely destroy someone. I strong capable man or woman can become a person that is barely existing. It can take years or a lifetime to overcome these problems if at all. So if you know someone that is going through this, just be there for them, and make sure that they know it’s not their fault, they’re not to blame. Help them be themselves, but for goodness sake, don’t belittle them, please.