The most widely known and understood type of abuse is physical. But there are many types, equally as devastating as physical battery.
If you’ve been physically assaulted by an intimate partner, you’re almost certain to have been subjected to emotional abuse as well. Emotional abuse, however, is more difficult to both define and recognize. While a black eye, cuts, and bruises are obvious signs of physical abuse, the scars of emotional abuse often go unseen. There are, however, some indicators or gauges which can be used as stepping stones to awareness. They are:
The partner does not realize that an abusive personality—one that seeks power and control over another—is not capable of the empathetic comprehension that love and a healthy relationship require.
If you are aware that the possibility exists that you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship, you may begin to recognize the abuse by becoming aware of abusive patterns.
In order to discover these patterns, it is helpful to become very aware of your own experiences and feelings. You may need to keep a journal in order to keep your thoughts clear, to analyze your own experiences, and to record your feelings.
Some of the questions you might ask yourself are these:
If you’ve been physically assaulted by an intimate partner, you’re almost certain to have been subjected to emotional abuse as well.
In her book, Rape in Marriage, Diana Russell reprinted a Chart of Coercion from an Amnesty International publication, Report of Torture, depicting the brainwashing of prisoners of war. She suggested that it also describes the “torture of wives.” Those who seek to control their intimate partners, use methods similar to those of prison guards, who recognize that physical control is never easily accomplished without the cooperation of the prisoner. The most effective way to gain cooperation is through subversive manipulation of the mind and feelings of the victim, who then becomes a psychological, as well as a physical, prisoner. These methods form the core of emotional abuse.
The chart of coercion on the next page has been modified for readability, but it maintains its essential meaning. It shows at a glance the method of coercion as well as its desired effect. Other types of emotional abuse include the following tactics:
The following chart identifies methods or tactics of power and control used by abusers as well as the anticipated result.
|General Method Used||Effects and Purposes|
|Monopolization of Perception|
|Induced Debility & Exhaustion|
|Demonstrating “Omnipotence”|| |
|Enforcing Trivial Demands|
Emotion is defined as an affective state of consciousness in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, are experienced . When one’s emotions are manipulated by game playing, verbal abuse, physical abuse, outbursts of anger, or other methods of power and control, the result is emotional abuse. Because power and control tactics take many different forms, happen during many different types of incidents, occur mostly in private, it is often difficult for the victim to pinpoint or describe his/her feelings. The indicator heard most often is “I feel like I’m going crazy” or “Was I wrong?”..... a general feeling of confusion. The following patterns are presented to diffuse confusion on the part of someone trying to clarify the events causing hurt, anger, and pain.
|Pattern #1||In Private||Incidents most often occur in private|
|Pattern #2||Unexpected||Outburst of anger totally unexpected|
|Pattern #3||No matter what...||Regular outbursts no longer so upsetting|
|Pattern #4||Isolation||Separated from family & support system|
|Pattern #5||“Crazy-making”||No one to help with reality checks|
|Pattern #6||Apathy||Loss of concern, loss of hope|
|Pattern #7||Cruelty||Abuser hurts her thru pets/possessions|
|Pattern #8||Financial Control||Victim needs to ask for every penny|
Pattern #1: “In Private”
Lois was married to a successful executive. Everyone always told her how lucky she was to have such a wonderful husband. She always agreed with them and upheld Jim’s good reputation. But when she was alone, she kept wondering why she didn’t see him as a wonderful husband like everyone else did.
She began to realize that the reason for her different perspective was because Jim’s behavior towards her was very different when they were in public gatherings together than he was when they were at home “in private.”
“In private,” Jim insulted her, called her derogatory names, ignored her, and in general, made her feel a great deal of humiliation. In public, however, he held her hand, called her sweetheart, listened attentively when she spoke, etc.
Her suspicions led her to begin to track the pattern that had caused her confusion. The pattern of “in private” abuse became evident after a short period of time. Lois received very little support from her family who could not accept the reality of her experiences with Jim since they only witnessed the “in public” behaviors.
Pattern #2: “Unexpected”
Things has been great between Shannon and Bill. The bills were caught up, their jobs were secure, and generally life wasn’t throwing any “crises” to upset the tranquility of their lives. They had planned a picnic by the beach, something they hadn’t done for every so long.
Shannon had packed a generous supply of “goodies” in a picnic basket and Bill packed the car with beach chairs, blankets, and towels. They arrived at the beach and found a wonderfully private spot and proceeded to soak up the sun and listen to the music from the radio Bill had brought along.
After awhile, Bill suggested they take a swim. What a lovely time they were having! Such a needed vacation day together. Shannon offered a sandwich. Bill accepted. Without warning, he threw the sandwich into the sand, screamed violently that he expected his favorite “ham” sandwich!! Didn’t she know he loved ham!?! Then again without warning, Bill grabbed the blanket and his radio and headed towards the parking lot.
The incident both startled and confused Shannon. Everything was going so right. Bill’s “unexpected” overreaction left her hurt and confused. Why did his explosive reactions always seem to happen at times they were least expected?
Pattern #3: “No Matter What”
Today Francine felt wonderful. As she worked around the house, she decided to cook John’s favorite meal for him tonight. When he arrived home from work, they sat down to eat. Francine was delighted to serve this dinner, but confused when he stated abruptly that he wasn’t in the mood to eat. (He was always ravenous when he got home from work.)
John had never been too happy with the way Francine ironed his shirts for work. While she did the best she could laboring over each shirt to “get it right”, she made a decision she felt would please John. She would have his shirts professionally laundered and use her allowance to pay for them each week. That would also free up a lot of time for her. But John balked loudly the first time he saw his shirts in the dry cleaning bags hanging in his closet. He didn’t like the idea at all.
Though Francine is disheartened by the events of the past several days, she excuses John’s reactions as a “bad mood.” Today she will make sure she is in a very “up” mood when he comes home and simply ignore the events of the past two days. When John arrives home, she meets him at the door with a smile and a kiss and offers to fix him a drink before supper. John glares at her and tells her to stop trying to “butter him up.” He asks her what she is up to; what she is trying to get from him.
Francine is visibly depressed when John arrives home. She doesn’t know what to do to communicate effectively with John. He gets angry or sarcastic no matter what she does. John notices her downheartedness and tells her he hopes she will not annoy him with her whining. She doesn’t burden him with her concerns.
Francine sees an obvious pattern. No matter what she does or what her mood is, John will find fault with her.
Pattern #4: “Isolation”
Glenda and Tom have been married for five years. Glenda is very concerned about their relationship. Tom insisted years ago that she stop working and tend to their home. They have no children, but Tom felt she should be a “homemaker” by cleaning, doing the laundry, and having supper ready at night. Though she didn’t mind this arrangement, his demands left little time for her to socialize. She was lonely.
After being married only six months, Tom felt a move to Florida from New York would provide a more relaxing, healthier environment for them to start a family. She left her family and long-time friends to “make a new start.” Money was tight since they were living on one paycheck so long distance calls to her family were few and far between. Just when Glenda was feeling like part of her church community, Tom announced he was ready for another move.
Glenda believed that moves were necessary for Tom’s job improvement and salary increases. But Tom was increasingly becoming more and more controlling and demanding and she had church friends to “bounce” her feelings off of. Another move would mean a loss of those friends and a valuable support system for her.
Tom insisted on the third move. Glenda deferred to him. In a period of five years, Glenda and Tom had moved three times. Glenda was not only lonely, but had no one to do a “reality check” regarding Tom’s demanding behavior and his insistence that she stay home and be a dutiful wife instead of “wasting her time” socializing. She began to notice a pattern of isolation in their marriage. Every time she started to make friends in the community, Tom insisted they move.
Pattern #5: “Crazy-Making”
Alice had planned a birthday party for her daughter on Saturday at 3:00. It was Debbie’s 10th birthday and she had asked for a bowling party. Kent had promised to be home from work at 2:30 to drive the girls to the alley in his van. It was already 3:15 and Kent was not home. By 4:00 the girls were beginning to leave and the party was spoiled. When Kent finally did arrive at 4:30, he told Alice she told him 4:30 was the appointed time. Alice was certain she had said 3:00. Debbie was crushed and Alice felt she was to blame for the miscommunication.
Alice couldn’t find her wallet with her driver’s license and credit cards anywhere. Kent tells her she’s losing her mind. He tells her she’s always misplacing things. When Alice searches her car for the third time, she finds her wallet in the glove compartment. She had looked there before.....had she just overlooked it? Is it possible to overlook it twice?
Alice is really worried. She has been forgetting things, misplacing things, and obviously misunderstanding conversations between her and Kent. Nothing seems to make sense anymore. Is it possible she is losing her mind as Kent has suggested? Perhaps she should see the psychiatrist Kent found for her. She used to pride herself in her ability to remember things and was such a stickler for detail. Now she couldn’t trust her own judgment. She felt like she was going crazy.
Pattern #6: “Apathy”
Kathy was becoming disillusioned about her marriage. She and Bob had only been married two years and already the friction between them seemed to be escalating. They were unable to resolve their differences to either’s satisfaction.
And something worse was bothering Kathy. Bob had been displaying frequent outbursts since very early in their marriage. At first they were minor outbursts. Then as time went on, they got worse. He no longer just got red in his face. He threw things, broke their possessions, and even pushed her up against the wall once or twice.
Kathy used to be terrified of these outbursts of anger. She used to cry and “try to be better.” She tried to do things just the way Bob liked in order to avoid the tantrums. She used to hide the bruises on her arms. She used to try to explain her fears to her mom. (Her mom thought Kathy had “provoked” Bob and wasn’t at all sympathetic or supportive of her feelings and concerns.)
Now after two years of Bob’s abuse, Kathy simply didn’t care any more. She stopped sharing her concerns with anyone (why should she....they would just blame her?) She never jumped when Bob exploded. She didn’t care if he broke things or hurt her, she just wanted to “get it over with.” She didn’t care much about anything any more. Who cares? Nothing can be done about this situation. There were no options for her.
Pattern #7: “Cruelty”
Joan and Ed never spent time together anymore. She was very worried, hurt, and angry about the way he was treating her. But more than the hurt and anger was the fear she felt when Ed was lashing out at her. And it wasn’t fear for herself; she was afraid for her cat, Missy.
About a year ago, Ed had lost his job. It took him 7 months to find another one. During that time it seemed that he had developed several behaviors that Joan was worried about. Once he threw her favorite vase across the room and it smashed into a million pieces. It had been passed down thru the last four generations and was worth a lot of money. Why, she wondered, had Ed picked up that particular possession to throw across the room? Why didn’t he throw the “dimestore” coffee mug he had been drinking from at the time. Why did he reach for that heirloom?
A while after that, when Ed was angry at Joan, he had reached for the necklace around her neck and the delicate gold chain had broken beyond repair. It had been given to her by her mother for Christmas and she was especially fond of it since she could have never afforded gold herself. Why did he reach for her favorite necklace? Why didn’t he just pick up a pillow off the sofa to take out his anger on?
Then more recently Ed had begun to become impatient with her cat, Missy. Once he had kicked it just because the cat walked in front of him. Another time, he picked Missy up off his lap and threw her to the floor. Why was he being so cruel to the cat?
Joan began looking at the pattern of cruelty directed towards the things she loved. He never directed his anger at his own possessions or the ones she didn’t care about. Could it be that Ed was deliberately hurting her in a “round-about” indirect way? That way he could deny abusing her and minimize the temper tantrum and outbursts.
Pattern# 8: “Financial Control”
Susan knew they weren’t wealthy. She wasn’t sure how much money John earned, but she guessed an account executive with an investment brokerage earned a decent salary.
Sure, they had two children and two vehicles; still one had to feed and clothe the children. These were the necessities of life. And even before the children came, John always said they were “short” this month. It wasn’t like she was asking for money for frivolous “extras”; these were necessities. How was she to run the household? She could barely afford laundry soap, hygiene products, snacks, and food on the small allowance John gave her weekly. And still he expected a decent meal on the table each evening, well laundered clothing, and well-groomed children! He said it was important to his career to present a good image to the community.
Now she had to accompany him to a conference in Miami and she knew John would expect her to “look the part” of an executive’s wife. But as she looked through her closet, she realized that the image she needed to portray did not match the baggy jeans and sweatshirts that hung there. But John said there was no money for a new wardrobe. What was she to do? Even if there was money for several new dresses, she would feel guilty using the money for herself when the children needed school clothes.
Susan wanted to get a part-time job to help with the expenses, but again, John wanted no part of that. They could make do with his salary he had said. They just had to continue to cut corners.
Susan felt trapped. The situation looked hopeless. There never seemed to be sufficient funds to meet the needs of the family and she couldn’t help by getting a job.
As she pondered the situation, she wondered if she dared ask John to cut his bowling activities to one night a week instead of two. Perhaps he didn’t have to take the guys out for a beer every Friday night. And they surely could save on car payments if he was willing to drive a mid-size vehicle.....and maybe if ......and perhaps.......and what if.......!
Source: Abuse Counseling and Treatment, Inc.