What Is Emotional Abuse?
Emotional abuse is essentially where the perpetrator uses FEAR, HUMILIATION, or VERBAL ASSAULT to, for example, undermine the victim’s self-esteem, confidence and trust in their own judgment.
Many believe if they are not being physically harmed, then what is happening does not count as abuse : THIS COULD NOT BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH – in fact, protracted psychological abuse can damage the way , for example, the AMYGDALA (a brain region that’s function relates to emotional control) develops, which can then HAVE DEVASTATING EFFECTS ON THE REST OF THE VICTIM’S LIFE.
SOME RESEARCH INTO THIS AREA SUGGESTS PEOPLE WITH DAMAGE TO THIS AREA LIVE, ON AVERAGE. NINETEEN YEARS LESS THAN THE AVERAGE PERSON – reasons include ruining health with drink / drug addiction and suicide.
Emotional abuse can be compared to BRAIN WASHING ; I have already said that it undermines the individual’s belief in his own judgments – it can, too, make them question THEIR OWN SENSE OF REALITY AND THEIR OWN SANITY.
THIS LEADS TO THEM RELYING, AND BECOMING DEPENDENT UPON, THE VERY PEOPLE WHO ARE ABUSING THEM.
Emotional Abuse And The Problem Of Proof :
Emotional abuse can be very difficult to prove. One reason for this is because it can be subtly inflicted over years (a kind of drip, drip effect) and leaves no physical marks. However :
EMOTIONAL ABUSE IS JUST AS DAMAGING TO THE INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOLOGICALLY AS ANY OTHER TYPE OF ABUSE.
Types Of Emotional Abuse :
Emotional abuse, which can happen selectively (ie a particular offspring is targeted, as opposed to all the offspring) can lead to extreme anxiety, self-harming behaviours, profound loneliness, acute depression and. without therapeutic intervention, personality disorders in later life, such as borderline personality disorder (BPD). In extreme cases, it can lead to suicide. It can include :
VERBAL ASSAULT : eg the issuing of threats
EMOTIONAL NEGLECT : eg showing no love or affection. In some cases, the parent might provide well for the offspring financially, but entirely neglect his/her emotional needs. It can, of course, include, too, being almost entirely ignored and treated with off-hand contempt.
THE DEVASTATING EFFECTS OF INVALIDATION : one of the most damaging forms of abuse is for the abusers to INVALIDATE the victim’s views and emotions in relation to his/her abuse. This is because IT MAKES THE VICTIM LOOK LIKE S/HE IS IN THE WRONG.
FORMS INVALIDATION MAY TAKE :
1) DENIAL – it may be that those who caused the childhood trauma simply deny it
2) TELLING THE VICTIM S/HE IS ‘OVER-ANALYZING’
3) TELLING THE VICTIM S/HE IS EXAGGERATING
4) TELLING THE VICTIM HIS/HER VIEW THAT S//HE WAS CAUSED/CONTINUES TO BE CAUSED SUFFERING IS WRONG, or, as it was once put to me by a family member, that we must stop ‘BLEATING ON ABOUT IT’.
THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE TRAUMA OFTEN TRY EXTREMELY HARD TO INVALIDATE THE VICTIM’S VIEWS SO THEY DO NOT NEED TO FACE THEIR OWN GUILT OR ALTER THEIR BEHAVIOUR TOWARDS THE VICTIM.
WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF HAVING ONE’S VIEWS THAT ONE HAS BEEN PSYCHOLOGICALLY SCARRED INVALIDATED?
Put simply, the invalidation can lead the victim TO BELIEVE S/HE HE MUST BE A BAD PERSON LEADING TO :
– drug/alcohol misuse
– rock bottom self-esteem
– rock bottom confidence
(the above list is not an exclusive one.)
HOW DOES THE LAW APPLY TO ALL THIS?
In the UK, it is likely emotional abusers may be prosecuted under domestic violence laws, if, for example, the abuse involves THREATENING BEHAVIOR ;
GOVERNMENT CONSIDERING MAKING EMOTIONAL CRUELTY OF CHILDREN AN OFFENCE :
However, in the UK, the government is considering introducing a new law which will make EMOTIONAL CRUELTY TO CHILDREN an offence. Such cruelty includes :
- causing a child to witness domestic violence
- persistently failing to meet the child’s psychological needs
- persistently humiliating and degrading the child
- scapegoating the child
‘Controlling And Coercive’ Behavior :
Furthermore, the UK government has also introduced a law that makes ‘controlling and coercive‘ behavior an offence in the family environment. ‘Controlling and coercive’ behavior includes :
- isolating an individual from friends and family
- repeatedly invalidating the individual e.g. telling him/her that s/he is ‘worthless’
- humiliating, degrading and/or dehumanizing the individual
This law applies when the individual being victimized suffers such treatment ‘repeatedly or continuously’ although there is no set number of incidents of the types described that must occur – each case is assessed by the courts according to its individual merits. The mistreatment must also have a ‘serious effect’ upon the individual and must either make him/her fear that violence will be used against him/her or have caused him/her ‘serious alarm and/or distress.’
However, like many areas of law, this can, potentially, be a confused and hazy area. For this reason, I would like to add the disclaimer that legal advice should be sought before taking any action, and, also, it is recommended in the strongest terms that someone who could be dangerous is NOT directly confronted on the issues.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc ; PGDE(FAHE).