Domestic violence can occur within any intimate relationship & the parties can be of either gender.
The purpose of this is to discuss emotional violence toward a person by their partner and demonstrate also that no matter how harsh the physical abuse, the effects of emotional domestic violence can be longer lasting and more severe.
I will try to explain why the victim is unable to simply walk away and dispel the myths that these victims somehow deserve to be punished, or indeed that some even enjoy it or “need” it.
I also aim to show the correlation between insecurity and emotional violence.
To do this we must first understand what constitutes emotional violence. I have discovered there is a difference in the way emotional violence / bullying is perpetrated by males and females.
I will start with males toward females.
The continuum ranges from name calling – usually in the form of “wh*re, sl*t, b*tch, or c*nt” and other denigrating comments (Dutton, DG. The Batterer, Harper Collins Publishers, Inc., 1995); to the total control scenario whereby the woman dare not move, speak out of turn or even think for fear of reprisal. A comprehensive definition of emotional violence is provided by NEDVAG (North Eastern Domestic Violence Action Group Inc) in their 1997 information booklet which states:
“Making threats, using looks or actions, or speaking in ways which are frightening or threatening … using put downs regarding a woman’s body shape, grooming, intelligence, mothering ability, home management skills, etc which erode her self esteem. Telling he or making her think she is crazy, useless, worthless, … constantly criticizing and being suspicious of her friends and keeping her isolated … controlling what she does, who she talks to, where she goes … and insisting on doing everything together so that she has no life of her own.”
Taken individually, name calling and denigrating comments could be considered harmless. But verbal attacks have been shown to increase in severity and frequency until such time as these controlling methods fail to obtain the desired result. At this point, the violence often escalates to a physical level. (National Research Council, 1996, Understanding Violence Against Women P.10.) Threats against other family members, in particular children can also occur to force a woman to comply.
Now emotional violence from a woman toward a man is similar, but is often accompanied by tears, attempts to elicit sympathy, put downs such as “I need more from a man that what you provide.” “You are not man enough for me.” “You always let me down.” “You never meet my needs.” Etc. Now males are still conditioned to be the strong ones, the providers, so when constantly being told they are no good and being made to feel they are letting their partner and family down this has a profound effect on the male. Female bullies tend to be more subtle and are very manipulative. Male victims are often driven to “prove” themselves and pushed or coerced into bullying others on behalf of the female.
In both cases, control is a requirement. Quite often the bullies or abusers have insecurity issues themselves and are extraordinarily jealous and possessive. Their own fears often drive them. Once an “insecure” person has set their sights on a partner, they quite often do anything to keep them. It becomes necessary to make your partner dependent upon you; so it starts with the put downs, insults, manipulation, isolation then subjugation. It is not uncommon for the abuser to lie to friends and family of the victim, to cast doubt on their victim’s integrity. Anyone who queries the behavior, or tries to intervene will be broadly criticized. They will also become a target.
Although http://www.bullyonline.org/related/family.htm is primarily a resource on bullying in the workplace, they do have an interesting section on bullying in the family which I have reproduced in part here. For the full piece, go to the link above.
Most commonly the violence takes the form of verbal abuse and emotional abuse including trivial nit-picking criticism, constant fault-finding combined with a simultaneous refusal to recognise, value, acknowledge and praise. Manipulation, isolation and exclusion are other favourite tactics, as is feigning victimhood or persecution, especially when held accountable.
The objectives of serial bullies are Power, Control, Domination and Subjugation. These are achieved by a number of means including disempowerment, the stimulation of excessive levels of fear, shame, embarrassment and guilt, manipulation (especially of emotions and perceptions), ritual humiliation and constant denial…..
Control is a common indicator of the serial bully at home – control of finances, control of movements, control over choice of friends, control of the right to work, control over what to think, and so on. All are designed to disempower.
A favourite tactic of the bully in the family is to set people against each other. The benefits to the bully are that:
- a) the bully gains a great deal of gratification (a perverse form of satisfaction) from encouraging and provoking argument, quarrelling and hostility, and then from watching others engage in adversarial interaction and destructive conflict, and
b) the ensuing conflict ensures that people’s attention is distracted and diverted away from the cause of the conflict
Bullies within the family, especially female bullies, are masters (mistresses?) of manipulation and are fond of manipulating people through their emotions (eg guilt) and through their beliefs, attitudes and perceptions. Bullies see any form of vulnerability as an opportunity for manipulation, and are especially prone to exploiting those who are most emotionally needy.”
“…. The bully may try to establish an exclusive relationship (based on apparent trust and confidence) with one family member such that they (the bully) are seen as the sole reliable source of information; this may be achieved by portraying the target (and certain other family members) as irresponsible, unstable, undependable, uncaring, unreliable and untrustworthy, perhaps by the constant highlighting – using distortion and fabrication – of alleged failures, breaches of trust, lack of reliability, etc. The process is reinforced by inclusion of the occasional piece of juicy gossip about the target’s alleged misdemeanours or untrustworthiness in respect of relationships and communication with people. Mostly this is projection. The objective is to manipulate the family member’s perceptions and create a dependency so that the family member comes to rely exclusively on the bully and see the bully as the sole source of reliable information whilst distrusting everyone else. Any person who is capable of exposing and breaking the dependency is targeted with venom and will find their name blackened at every opportunity.
When close to being outwitted and exposed, the bully feigns victimhood and turns the focus on themselves – this is another example of manipulating people through their emotion of guilt, eg sympathy, feeling sorry, etc. Female serial bullies are especially partial to making themselves the centre of attention by claiming to be the injured party whilst portraying their target as the villain of the piece. When the target tries to explain the game, they are immediately labelled “paranoid”.
Yet despite the prevalence of emotional abuse, it’s existence is still not generally accepted. Those outside the circle of violence find difficulty comprehending the magnitude of the problem. Society as a whole is unsympathetic. Domestic violence is viewed as a physical issue between man and wife (Pizzey, E. Scream Quietly or the Neighbours will Hear, 1974); as a disease of the lower classes or a temporary loss of control induced by drugs or alcohol. But research shows that domestic violence occurs in at least one in three Australian families. This epidemic transcends all boundaries of class and ethnicity being as prevalent in highly educated, professional circles as among the working class. (Health Department of WA, 1998, Family & Domestic Violence) Alcohol, although frequently used as an excuse by perpetrators or domestic violence, is rarely a genuine factor in domestic violence. I believe that it aggravates the issue, but is not the underlying cause.
Those outside of the situation often pass the comment, “battered women can always leave.” “If he stays he’s not a man, he’s under the thumb.” Due to the extreme control exerted over these victims by their partners, leaving is no simple task. Where children are involved there are often feelings of guilt; removing them from a quite often, loving other parent. Social stigma, a feeling of failure with little or no self esteem is another major cause to continue on in the relationship. Other factors include basic survival needs such as finance, accommodation and emotional support. Many women in this situation are denied financial independence, and in both instances, contact with those that may threaten the emotional needs of the abusive partner is actively discouraged.
Society views these victims of domestic violence as weak, pathetic and even masochistic. “Battered women enjoy it.” “Battered women deserve to get beaten. They provoke their beatings by nagging and other annoying behaviours.” To imagine that someone deliberately chooses to live under these circumstances is ridiculous. There have been a number of studies done in this area and masochism is rarely a factor. (Dept. of Family Services and Aboriginal and Islander Affairs, 1998, Domestic Violence Fact Sheets p.8.)
A victim of emotional violence loses all personal freedom. All sense of self. It could be argued that he/she can still think, that his/her thoughts are their own, but the sad reality is this is not the case. Perpetrators of emotional abuse literally brainwash their partner. Every action, every word, every movement is open to the distorted perceptions of reality of the perpetrator. The victim can be left incapable of making a decision, or having an independent thought for fear of the consequences that he/she, his/her offspring, pets, property or reputation will suffer.
Is emotional abuse any less serious than physical abuse? In fact, I believe it is the opposite. This anonymous victim agrees:
“The bruises and broken bones heal, but mental scars if not dealt with fester and become worse. You have to fundamentally begin at the very beginning of your mental growth to reprogramme yourself to become “normal.” (Dept. Of Family Services and Aboriginal Islander Affairs, 1998, p.1)
The results of physical violence, although unpleasant, can be (relatively) easily healed. Psychological abuse on the other hand takes many years to recover from. At the severe end of the scale you have victims who have been conditioned into believing they are everything their partner accuses them of. Stepping out of a relationship where you have been told that your every thought, opinion, instinct and action is wrong, and that you are totally lacking in value as a human being takes it’s toll. The simplest task becomes a mammoth event: the choice in the real world become to vast to comprehend. How is it possible to make a choice from a menu, or decide which movie to watch? How much courage does it take to trust again, to enter into a “normal” healthy relationship?
Data collected by the Dept. Of Family Services and Aboriginal Islander Affairs, in 1998 demonstrates the severity of this problem showing forty-four percent of victims suffer ongoing psychological problems with sixteen percent having nervous breakdowns.
The results of psychological abuse have been found to be similar to those suffered by survivors of the Vietnam & Korean wars. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a lingering reminder of mental pain and anguish suffered by victims many years after the abuse has ceased. In a US study, the National Research Council reported 63% of victims of emotional abuse were diagnosed with PTSD. Coming to grips with reality for these victims is extremely difficult. There is the constant, often overwhelming fear of doing the wrong thing; the anticipation of punishment. With the degree of trauma directly proportionate to the amount suffered, “…many victims experience shock, denial, disbelief, fear, confusion and withdrawal … many become dependent, and suggestible and have difficulty in undertaking long range planning or decision making.” (National Research Council, 1996, pp.82-83).
The results of physical abuse are fairly obvious, and public awareness means that there is much support for women in this position. Victims of emotional violence are harder to identify and are less likely to confide their misery in another. The problem is compounded by the fact that most victims who are psychologically abused are not immediately aware of the abuse. This type of violence is progressive and is often so subtle that the victim eases into being a victim – it is never by choice, despite popular opinion on the subject.
Although both physical and emotional violence occur behind closed doors, I have tried to show why victims of emotional abuse are harder to identify than those who suffer physically. Outside support is readily available for the more obviously physically abused, but those in the emotionally violent situation often have to come to the realization that they are victims unaided. Considering the control mechanisms employed are often subtle and these victims are conditioned not to trust their own thoughts and instincts, this presents a major problem.
Once realization occurs a decision to leave the environment is made these victims often go into shock with high numbers being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As in all crimes committed by someone the victim trusts, the long term damage is significant. The control these abusers exert over their partners is total. The victim is often unable to separate normality from abuse. To think independently, to learn to trust again, to take anything at face value is rarely possible. Destruction of reality by those one trusts leaves a person with tremendous difficulty in restructuring their life and attempting future relationships.
Fear becomes the predominant emotion in a victim’s life. Even making the simplest decision becomes a challenge. Victims become conditioned to expect punishment. Life must be started anew for these people. Freedom from abuse is only the beginning. The challenge becomes not so much how to avoid punishment and fear, but how to deal with life without it.
Originally posted 26th November 2010 by Nixthorts (also me)