What is psychological and emotional abuse?
Psychological abuse is not something that is visible on the outside, but leaves serious emotional wounds and scars behind on the soul. It is difficult for these wounds to heal, especially when the abuse has taken place early in life. Psychological abuse can go unnoticed for a long time by the victim, as well as by the outside world. This is what makes this type of abuse so damaging.
Children and adults
If you grew up under these kinds of circumstances, it probably took a long time before you realized that this type of behavior coming from a parent wasn’t normal. The unsafe home environment was always ‘normal’ for you. When psychological or emotional abuse by a parent or a trusted person is presented as normal behavior, a child will then believe that. If the child is punished or ignored when he/she tries to stand up against the harmful behavior -neglect, humiliation, insults, contempt or criticism-, this will then result in the child believing that he/she is the cause of the problem.
When a child has no healthy role models, doesn’t learn what is normal or is not allowed to speak up for him/herself, this can also result in the child never learning how to develop an own identity and create a healthy life. This can then be the cause of many problems later in life.
Psychological abuse can not only be committed by a parent/caregiver, but also by a partner, child, teacher, employer or colleague. Are you someone who is living with the consequences?
For instance, are you always in conflict with yourself, uncertain, feeling unsafe, experiencing unexplainable sadness and not knowing what you want? Perhaps also experiencing difficulties with relationships, fears, addictions, physical complaints, feeling numb and apathetic? This can all indicate that you are, or have been, a victim of emotional abuse.
Psychological abuse can break apart your personality and cause you to lose a part of yourself. As the abuse is taking place your ‘self’ is being damaged. The victim of abuse becomes a prisoner in a web of deceit, powerlessness and uncertainty, through which self-confidence is steadily eroded.
It is also possible that a parent, partner or child has an undiagnosed personality disorder such as, narcissistic, borderline, anti-social or histrionic personality disorders, all of which fall under the category cluster B disorders. Although it is not recognized as a disorder in the DSM-V, the term Machiavellian is often used to describe the behavior of people with NPD and anti-social personality disorder.
What about emotional abuse?
Alcoholics can also be emotional abusers, as well people who have experienced some kind of brain damage, possess low aptitude or mental-health issues. The term COPMI-child refers to Children of Parents with Mental Illness. This practice, along with others in this field, specializes in helping people who fall into this group. While it may not always be clear which diagnosis someone may have, harmful behavior towards another can be considered psychological abuse.
Types of psychological abuse
It is in no way the intention of this website to demonize people with a personality disorder or (social) handicap. Often, though not always, these people have themselves been victims of psychological abuse/neglect and have been emotionally damaged during childhood. They are, in fact, sometimes both victim and abuser. However, by no means do all individuals who have experienced psychological abuse become abusers themselves, which makes things quite complex.
Victim of emotional abuse
While the victim might actually feel compassion for his/her abuser, these feelings should never be used as an excuse to justify or condone such behavior, or allow it to continue. The fact remains that everyone involved suffers considerably. Every abuser must claim responsibility for his/her actions and only then is it possible to treat them, depending on their level of insight in themselves and motivation to change their abusive behavior.
If you find it difficult to frame their behavior as psychological abuse, give it another name, for instance, ‘an unhealthy relationship’. Try to be aware of when someone takes advantage of your trust, dependence, affection, naivety or peace-loving nature, because this is all a form of abuse. In order to gain more insight into the level of abuse you are experiencing, it can often be helpful to write things down. Sometimes you only become aware of the seriousness of what is occurring when you see it back on paper.
Psychological abuse or emotional abuse can be very subtle
Psychological abuse can take the form of manipulation which can be very subtle. People who manipulate usually prey upon your sense of responsibility, feelings of guilt, empathy and sympathy. Their actions don’t bother them at all and they will play the victim when it suits them. Anyone can become a potential victim of this type of situation at any time in our lives, whether within a family relationship or at work.
In these kinds of situations, it is vital that you, the victim, can recognize what is happening. You also need to be aware that the abuser will attempt to hold you accountable for shouldering all responsibility and guilt. In order to free yourself, it is very important to first gain awareness of the situation you are in.