Thursday, December 2, 2010

Characteristics of an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

There is currently not a single, clear cut definition of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is instead defined by a set or combination of traits, acts or behaviors that are designed to control and subjugate another human being through the use of fear, guilt, intimidation, humiliation or manipulation.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice defines emotional abuse as “any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure or wound someone”[1]. Including causing fear by intimidation, threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner's family or friends, destruction of pets and property, forcing isolation from family, friends, or school or work.
  • Health Canada defines emotional abuse as including rejecting, degrading, terrorizing, isolating, corrupting/exploiting and "denying emotional responsiveness" as characteristic of emotional abuse[2].
  • Andrew Vachss, an author, attorney and former sex crimes investigator, defines emotional abuse as “the systematic diminishment of another”.
  • Conflict Tactics Scales (the instrument most widely used by professionals for identifying domestic violence) measures roughly 20 distinct acts of "psychological aggression" in three different categories: Verbal aggression, Dominant behaviors and Jealous behaviors.
It is important to remember that a single incident does not constitute abuse. Abuse is a pattern of behavior that occurs over time. It is repetitive, sustained and usually progressive.
Emotional abuse is silent, insidious and extremely dangerous to the victim. It slowly and systematically wears away at the victim’s soul. It erodes self-worth, confidence, trust, faith and the ability to have confidence in one’s own perceptions.
Emotional abuse is also harmful to a person’s physical health. Typically people in abusive relationships don’t eat or sleep properly and can suffer from stress-related conditions such as chronic fatigue, anxiety attacks, depression, high blood pressure, peptic ulcers, poor immune function, migraines, alcoholism and smoking-related respiratory aliments
I have compiled an extensive list with brief notes about each behavior or tactic that an abuser might use to control and manipulate his/her partner. It is important to understand that you don’t have to experience ALL of these to be abused. ANY of these behaviors, either alone or in combination, which are part of a “repeated pattern”, are abusive!

  • Extreme jealousy: not only of other men/women but of friends, family, work and even children
  • Isolation: keeping you from family, friends and other sources of emotional support
  • Emotional withholding: will not share his/her feelings and is not aware, receptive or sensitive to yours, the silent treatment
  • Lack of intimacy: doesn’t hold your hand or cuddle,
  • Verbal abuse: insults, yelling, name-calling, shame, sarcasm, or threats
  • Humiliation: public criticism, reminding you of embarrassing moments
  • Threats: verbal threats such as “you will be sorry”, physical threats such as throwing or breaking things
  • Lies: including withholding information, telling half-truths or rearranging the facts
  • Mixed messages: tell you he/she loves you, but treats you badly
  • Dependence: threats of loss of financial security, or tries to convince you that you are no good without him, nobody else will want you
  • Fear: an unspoken understanding that there will be bad consequences if you don’t do what he/she wants
  • Raging: yelling, screaming, punching walls, breaking things
  • Sexual coercion: using guilt, shame, physical force or drugs in order to have sexual relations
  • Blame: says it’s your fault when he/she mistreats you, says you are responsible for how he/she feels 
  • Secret-keeping: acts differently in public than in private 
  • Spiritual abuse: using religious teachings to justify demands for submission or conformity. 
  • Physical violence: slapping, punching, kicking, grabbing, pinching, pushing, biting, choking

        2. Emotional Abuse. 1996. ISBN 0-662-24593-8

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