The nature and effects of emotional abuse


Emotional Abuse
WHAT IS EMOTIONAL ABUSE?

Emotional or 
psychological abuse 
includes behaviours 
such as intimidation, 
threats to the woman 
or the children, 
harassment at home 
and work, threats to 
destroy property or 
harm pets, and 
undermining confidence. 


Emotional and psychological abuse can occur in public and in private.

Emotional abuse also includes behaviours which cause a woman to be socially isolated from family and friends. An abusive partner may make them feel unwelcome and/or prevent contact with them. He may keep a woman prisoner in the house, keep her under surveillance when away from the house, or prevent or monitor telephone calls.

Emotional abuse can also include behaviours which prevent women from pursuing spiritual or cultural activities. An abusive partner may denigrate her beliefs or her culture, and/or justify acts of abuse as part of his cultural tradition or religious beliefs.

A woman experiencing emotional abuse can feel just as injured or afraid or trapped as a woman experiencing constant physical assault. Emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse.
Some forms of emotional abuse are crimes such as threats to harm or kill, threats involving weapons, and imprisonment in the home.

WHAT EFFECT DOES EMOTIONAL ABUSE HAVE?

It is often hard to identify emotional abuse in a relationship, as these forms are difficult to explain and are often regarded as 'ordinary relationship problems'. In addition, people with abusive behaviours are often able to be pleasant and charming to others.

Emotional abuse can be experienced by a woman as crazy-making, causing her to feel inadequate, guilty, self-loathing or confused.

Emotional abuse can have many effects. She may experience panic, depression, despair, anxiety, or worthlessness. A sense of powerlessness, which is often the intention behind a partner's controlling and abusive behaviours, can seem to pervade every waking moment.

Women often feel responsible for the emotional well-being of their partners and families, and as emotional abuse usually erodes a person's self-esteem, a woman might continue to excuse his behaviour and attempt to 'improve herself' so that he has less reason to be abusive to her. Abusive partners often compound this view with comments known as "victim-blaming" comments.

ABUSE IS UNACCEPTABLE. WE ALL HAVE A RIGHT TO FEEL SAFE.


WHAT ARE THE INDICATORS OF EMOTIONAL ABUSE?


Australian research suggests the following range of emotional and behavioural indicators of abuse:
  • experiences feelings of guilt
  • experiences sadness and depression
  • feels emotionally numb
  • feels worthless, unconfident and/or fearful
  • carries feelings of helplessness (or powerlessness)
  • feels responsible for the abuser's hurtful behaviours
  • feels unable to make decisions
  • experiences anxiety or hypervigilence, or panic attacks
  • experiences sleep problems, or has regular nightmares
  • develops eating disorders or addictions
  • withdraws from family, friends or workmates
  • avoids all talk of the relationship
  • minimises the extent of abuse and/or blames herself for the abuse (in talking about the relationship)
  • excuses or apologises for his behaviour (to her) in public
  • talks about or attempts suicide.
WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT HIS EMOTIONAL ABUSE?

When women recognize these forms of abuse and the effects on themselves and their families, it is wise to seek some professional help in a domestic violence service or a recommended counsellor.

Some things to remember:

Every healthy adult relationship involves some conflict, and most adults believe they could improve their communication, but an ongoing pattern of control or abuse is unhealthy and in some cases, are criminal offences.

There is no evidence that an abusive partner will change his behaviour without a commitment to professional help.

Couple counselling or mediation can only have limited benefits for women experiencing partner abuse. An added concern is that abuse may escalate following attempts to identify and explain incidents of abuse during sessions.

Getting individual professional assistance will help to rebuild confidence and reclaim a sense of having rights and choices, both of which become worn down by constant abuse.

If there are children in the family, it is a moral and legal requirement to remove them from constant exposure to abuse. A domestic violence service can assist with safety planning and child protection.




   
   
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