“You’ve ruined my life”
“Everyone hates you”
“If you died we’d have a party”
“You’ve put weight on, I feel sick looking at you”
Horrible to see on the page aren’t they? They’re even worse to hear and when they’re directed at you by someone that says they love you it can be unbearable. Psychological abuse goes hand in hand with DV and partner rape and it’s deeply, deeply wounding: a slap can seem like a loss of control in a moment of anger but the psychological abuse is so personal and so insulting. When someone knows us well they know our weakest and most vulnerable points, they know which part of our bodies we hate, what our dark secrets are and what certain words and phrases tear us apart. All it takes is a well timed “he didn’t really rape you” or “you’re just like your mom” and a survivor can be left hysterical, devastated and in pain – more so than a shove or punch would have done. It’s not just the things that are said to us, things that are said to others can really hurt, it’s so upsetting if your partner jokes with friends about you being ugly, bad in bed or just plain slags you off to anyone that will listen. It’s also very painful being ignored and disregarded, having our opinions laughed at as stupid or being ignored when we’re crying and need support.
Types of psychological abuse
WomensAid say here:
• destructive criticism, name calling, sulking
• pressure tactics
• lying to you, or to your friends and family about you
• persistently putting you down in front of other people
• never listening or responding when you talk
• isolating you from friends and family, monitoring your phone calls, emails, texts and letters
• checking up on you, following you, not letting you go out alone.
The impact of emotional abuse may be even more devastating than physical assault - and have much longer term effects - yet most of the above behaviours are not crimes, and it's therefore much more difficult to obtain protection, or even to get others to take them seriously.
It’s important to address the control aspect that comes with psychological abuse. Abusers like to stop us wearing certain clothes, going certain places and generally isolate us and make life difficult. If they start having a problem with say, us driving then that can have a massive effect on our day to day freedom and relationships. If they start controlling how much we eat then something as basic as food becomes a daily battle. These things may seem small and insignificant which is often why we just put up with them – it seems a small thing to just wear different clothes or get rid of a mobile phone, it seems like a fair compromise or a small thing to let go to avoid rows. The fact is that small things mount up and just because it seems small doesn’t mean it’s insignificant.
Recognising abuse and its effects
Abusers often make this hard to call because they dress it up as other things. Perhaps your partner was “worried” about you going out in revealing clothes in case you incited men and so made you dress frumpily. Perhaps they “helpfully” listed things about you that were wrong so that you could improve because they wanted the best for you. Maybe all those times they took the other person’s side in rows it was because they “just happened” to agree with them. Most bullying is like this: I’m sure everyone has met the office bitch who makes “jokes” that are clearly deliberate barbs, cuts people dead with a single glance or makes horrible comments that they claim are misunderstood. Bullying is often slightly over the line or dressed up so that it’s hard to identify and hard to challenge. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter – we can’t see if our soup is poisoned but that doesn’t mean it won’t kill us if we eat too much.
Psychological abuse is wrongly dismissed in this society, people dismiss it as just words and say that they can’t hurt you. That’s SO WRONG! Words have enormous power, they train us to see ourselves and the world a certain way and can be stuck in our head for years. Interestingly when you look at a list of the effects of sexual, psychological and physical abuse most are the same all abuse is terrible. Looking from the outside it can be hard to understand the effects and the power of psychological abuse especially because it’s so personal to the individual: what might seem like small words to one person has tremendous power on another.
There are a range of effects you might feel after suffering psychological abuse:
• Depression, PTSD
• Low self esteem, being highly self-critical and having unrealistic aims for yourself like "everyone should like me"
• Flashbacks: reliving the comments, setting and how you felt at the time
• Guilt, shame, self blame
• Insomnia, nightmares, disordered eating, mood swings
• Confusion and dissociation
• Difficulty trusting people
As you can see the effects of psychological abuse are profound and also very similar to the effects of other types of abuse.
Healing from psychological abuse
Healing from any type of abuse takes time. You might find a therapist helps you work through what happened and heal your damaged sense of self - you could also try healing exercises like the ones found on our message board, Pandora's Aquarium www.pandys.org, which is open to registered members, or other exercises that you might find in many self help books. . As with all healing be gentle with yourself and remember that you're not to blame for how you feel: your abuser is the one responsible for how you feel. Remember also that just because your abuser said these things doesn't make them true. They said what they said because of their issues not because of you and someone with a distorted view of reality is not a reliable source of information about you.
I’ll leave you with this quote from Lundy Bancroft from here
Pandoras Aquarium lending library