While many state and federal programs bring attention and aid to those who suffer from domestic violence, little attention is given to emotional abuse or its impact on mental and emotional health. Overemphasis on physical abuse has subsumed the importance of this type of violence, because it leaves no apparent marks.
However, one of the best ways to combat this cycle is to urge those who may be involved to recognize the signs. In the article below, we’ll touch on five of the ways you or someone you love can assess their situation.
Isolation as Control
Emotional abuse is part of what is known as The Cycle of Abuse. The first thing an abusive partner will do is isolate their target from family and friends. This can be accomplished by preying on the love bond that exists in intimate relationships, insisting that a relative or friend isn’t good for a person, pointing out flaws, and heightening interpersonal tensions to create divisive conflict. In some cases, they may actively prohibit their partner from interacting with friends and family or making new connections. The ultimate goal is to remove any support network or possibility of outside assistance for the target, so the abuser can exploit them without interruption.
This may present initially as a subtle devaluation of opinions or aspirations. The abusive partner demeans the goals and abilities of their target, subtly at first, but with increasing aggression as the relationship progresses.
Once the pattern is established, a predator may also embarrass the target in front of strangers or friends, further undermining self-confidence and rendering the victim reliant upon them.
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The third aspect of this behavior is name-calling. Abusers use intimate knowledge of insecurities to hone in on the most effective insults to completely erode confidence in ones self, judgment or ability to accomplish even the simplest tasks.
The final escalation of this is a manipulation of perception of reality, also called Gaslighting.
This will present subtly, with an abusive person co-opting the small choices. They work to accustom their target to them making all the decisions by first making all the small decisions—where to have dinner, what to have for dinner, where to spend recreational time. As the cycle progresses, they will make more and more of the decisions, including those that have nothing to do with them, such as the choice of clothing, personal time with friends or how the home is decorated. They crave absolute control over their target.
Because financial independence represents a threat to their control over a partner, an abuser will often seek to control them through money. Even if they are not the primary earner in the household, they will dominate their partner in matters of money. In many cases, they steal money from a partner, using it for their own personal gratification. They may then blame their partner for the fact that the rent was late or the electricity was shut off due to non-payment. While this may seem more a factor of irresponsibility or lack of self-restraint on the part of an abusive person, be assured that it has a defined goal. Leaving the relationship without a means of self-support becomes increasingly difficult.
Most abusers are, in truth, cowards. While they may escalate to physical violence against a partner, it’s more common for them to use violence or the threat of it as a tool. Once they strike their partner, they run the risk of exposure. Hence, they often threaten violence by destroying personal property. They may also threaten or use violence against children or pets, then blame their actions on their target. In some cases, they threaten to kill themselves if their partner leaves them, counting on the vestiges of personal care for them to forestall ending the relationship.
While we often focus on visible abuse, it can be argued that what goes unseen does more damage. Emotional manipulation, violence, and prolonged denigration function to impair judgment, self-worth, and even produce clinical depression. Emotional abuse is not something to be taken lightly; the impacts can extend to the physical health of those impacted, and something we must all work to end.