Emotional Abuse

At Bonnie’s this year, we have been learning a lot about the Safe and Together Addressing Complexity (STACy) model (developed by the Safe and Together Institute) to work effectively with survivors of domestic and family violence.

One of the things that I’ve learnt from studying this model is the value in professionals having a very detailed and explicit description of a perpetrator’s pattern of coercive control towards their victims (usually women and their children).

Having detailed information about the abuse that a person has experienced, can be used to better understand what she has been through, her coping strategies and how she has already been working very hard to try to keep herself and her children safe. This information is also useful to help her to develop a relevant and comprehensive plan for being safe.

The value of having detailed information documented is also in being able to communicate and work effectively, on behalf of the survivor, with other involved professionals. It also helps clearly locate responsibility for the abuse in the relationship unequivocally with the perpetrator of the abuse (as opposed to blaming the victim).

It can be very challenging for people to describe the emotional or psychological abuse that they have experienced. It can take someone a while to fully realise that the reason they have felt so consistently upset and uncomfortable in a relationship is that they have been experiencing emotional abuse.

Emotional abuse can be covert, confusing and incredibly distressing. It can build up gradually in a relationship, like a gradual increase in room temperature that causes a person to sweat before they even realise how hot a room has become. It is frequently a precursor to more physically violent forms of abuse and is a form of family violence.

“Psychological abuse is behaviour that aims to cause emotional or mental harm. It may not hurt your body, but can be just as painful and distressing in other ways.” 1800Respect

It can be extremely hard to accept that a person you love chooses to repeatedly behave in ways that disrespect your being, and even harder to find the strength and confidence to disentangle yourself from this insidious form of abuse.

The more detail that a survivor can provide about a perpetrator’s pattern of control and abuse, the better the understanding can be of the impacts of that abuse, the needs of the person, and of the safety plan required to protect the person from further abuse.

The 1800 Respect website shares some of the following regular behaviours as examples of emotional abuse:

  • Embarrassing you in public or in front of family, friends, support workers or people you work with (also known as “shaming you”)
  • Calling you names (also includes regular verbal put-downs and insults)
  • Threatening to harm you, your pets, children, or other people who are important to you
  • Threatening to harm themselves in order to manipulate you into doing, or not doing certain things
  • Treating you badly because of things you can’t change — for example, your religion, race, past, disability, gender, sexuality, or family (also known as vilification and discrimination)
  • Ignoring you, ignoring your messages or phone calls and/or pretending you aren’t there – this can also be referred to in contemporary social-media as “benching” or “ghosting”
  • Doing and saying things that make you feel confused. This might include someone moving or changing things and then denying they have done this – also known as “gas-lighting”
  • Always correcting what you say with the aim of making you look or feel foolish – this is also a form of shaming, undermining or belittling another person

If you can relate to repeatedly experiencing any one of these forms of emotional abuse in your intimate and/or family relationships, please consider reaching out for help from a counsellor, 1800 Respect (Ph: 1800 737 732 or 24/7 online chat) or the Domestic Violence line in your state or territory.

With greater clarity about the forms that emotional abuse can take, new options for protecting yourself and your children can also arise. Recovery is possible with awareness and support. Everyone is worthy of a life free from all forms of abuse.

Written by Catherine, Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

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