Psychological abuse (also referred to as psychological violence, emotional abuse, or mental abuse) is a form of abuse, characterized by a person subjecting, or exposing, another person to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. It is often associated with situations of power imbalance in abusive relationships including bullying, gaslighting and abuse in the workplace.
Many abusers are able to control their victims in a manipulative manner, utilizing methods to persuade others to conform to the wishes of the abuser, rather than to force them to do something they do not wish to do.
Simon argues that because aggression in abusive relationships can be carried out subtly and covertly through various manipulation and control tactics, victims often don’t perceive the true nature of the relationship until conditions worsen considerably.
Recognition of abuse is the first step to prevention.
Effect of Abuse
The most common psychological, professional, financial, and social effects of sexual harassment and retaliation are as follows:
- Psychological stress and health impairment, loss of motivation
- Decreased work or school performance as a result of stressful conditions; increased absenteeism in fear of harassment repetition
- Having to drop courses, change academic plans, or leave school (loss of tuition) in fear of harassment repetition and/or as a result of stress
- Being objectified and humiliated by scrutiny and gossip
- Loss of trust in environments similar to where the harassment occurred
- Loss of trust in the types of people that occupy similar positions as the harasser or his/her colleagues, especially in cases where they are not supportive, difficulties or stress on peer relationships, or relationships with colleagues
- Effects on sexual life and relationships: can put extreme stress upon relationships with significant others, sometimes resulting in divorce
- Weakening of support network, or being ostracized from professional or academic circles (friends, colleagues, or family may distance themselves from the victim, or shun him or her altogether)
- Depression, anxiety and/or panic attacks
- Sleeplessness and/or nightmares, difficulty concentrating, headaches, fatigue
- Eating disorders (weight loss or gain), alcoholism, and feeling powerless or out of control
Studies show that disagreements about power-sharing in relationships are more strongly associated with abuse than are imbalances of power.
Mobaraki states, “Gender inequity is usually translated into a power imbalance with women being more vulnerable. This vulnerability is more precarious in traditional patriarchal societies.”
Psychological projection is a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is habitually intolerant may constantly accuse other people of being intolerant. It incorporates blame shifting. According to some research, the projection of one’s unconscious qualities onto others is a common process in everyday life.
Victim blaming: The victim of someone else’s actions or bad luck may be offered criticism, the theory being that the victim may be at fault for having attracted the other person’s hostility.
Abusive power and control
Abusive power and control (also controlling behaviour and coercive control) is the way that an abusive person gains and maintains power and control over another person, as a victim, in order to subject that person to psychological, physical, sexual, or financial abuse. The motivations of the abusive person are varied, such as personal gain, personal gratification, psychological projection, devaluation, envy or just for the sake of it as the abuser may simply enjoy exercising power and control.
Controlling abusers use tactics to exert power and control over their victims. The tactics themselves are psychologically and sometimes physically abusive. Control may be helped through economic abuse thus limiting the victim’s actions as they may then lack the necessary resources to resist the abuse.
The goal of the abuser is to control and intimidate the victim or to influence them to feel that they do not have an equal voice in the relationship.
Manipulators and abusers control their victims with a range of tactics, including positive reinforcement (such as praise, flattery, ingratiation, love bombing, smiling, gifts, attention), negative reinforcement, intermittent or partial reinforcement, psychological punishment (such as nagging, silent treatment, swearing, threats, intimidation, emotional blackmail, guilt trips, inattention) and traumatic tactics (such as verbal abuse or explosive anger).The vulnerabilities of the victim are exploited with those who are particularly vulnerable being most often selected as targets.
Traumatic bonding can occur between the abuser and victim as the result of ongoing cycles of abuse in which the intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment creates powerful emotional bonds that are resistant to change and a climate of fear.
An attempt may be made to normalise, legitimise, rationalise, deny, or minimise the abusive behaviour, or blame the victim for it.
Isolation, gaslighting, mind games and divide and rule are other strategies that are often used. The victim may be plied with alcohol or drugs to help disorientate them.Certain personality types feel particularly compelled to control other people.
Narcissistic personality disorder
NPD is a personality disorder in which there is a long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of understanding of others’ feelings. People affected by it often spend a lot of time thinking about achieving power or success, or about their appearance. They often take advantage of the people around them. The behavior typically begins by early adulthood, and occurs across a variety of situations.
1. Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from other people
- Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
- Self-perception of being unique, superior, and associated with high-status people and institutions
- Needing continual admiration from others
- Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
- Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
- Unwilling to empathize with the feelings, wishes, and needs of other people
- Intensely envious of others, and the belief that others are equally envious of them
- Pompous and arrogant demeanor
When there is a connection and a degree of trust, the abusers become unusually involved in their partner’s feelings, thoughts and actions. Next, they set petty rules and exhibit “pathological jealousy”.
- When Love Hurts: A Woman’s Guide to Understanding Abuse in Relationships
- The Psychopathology of Everyday Life: How to Deal with Manipulative People