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Understanding Psychological Abuse in Marriage

Campaigns to end domestic abuse typically focus on the most visible, and perhaps most extreme, form of domestic violence: physical assaults. But there is a more common form of abuse that can be just as insidious, but very difficult to recognise. Psychological abuse sometimes precedes physical abuse, but some abusers limit themselves to psychologically torturing their victims only. When this happens, loved ones might not take the abuse seriously, and the victim might even question whether the abuse is real.

What is Emotional Abuse?

Like physical abuse, emotional abuse runs a gamut from moderate to quite severe. Every relationship has problems, and it’s not unusual for partners to say or do things they regret. Emotional abuse is characterised by a pattern, not by a single instance of name-calling that is swiftly followed by an apology.
Both men and women can be psychologically abusive, and abusive women are more likely to engage in psychological, rather than physical, abuse. Men still remain the leading culprits in both physical and psychological domestic abuse.

Signs of Emotional Abuse

Some classic signs of emotional abuse include:

  • Refusing to apologise, claiming not to remember the abuse, or minimising the severity of the abuse.
  • Blaming the other person for the abuse.
  • Demanding rigid obedience or “respect.”
  • Controlling the other person’s finances.
  • Limiting access to friends or family.
  • Calling the other person names, or using intimate knowledge about the other person—such as her body image issues—to harm her.
  • Demanding the full attention of the other person, and being jealous of children, dogs, family members, and other loved ones.
  • Threatening to harm the other person.
  • Using threats of self-harm to extract obedience.
  • Being unwilling to negotiate or talk about problems.
  • Breaking objects that the other person cares about, or destroying household things in anger or an in attempt to intimidate.

Understanding Gaslighting

One of the most common techniques of emotional abusers is gaslighting. Gaslighting is the practice of causing the abuse victim to question his or her reality. Abuse victims often wonder whether their memories deceive them, whether they deserve the abuse, and whether the abuse even happened. Common gaslighting techniques include lying about the victim to third parties, denying that the abuse ever happened, finding ways to blame the victim for the abuse, or working to make the victim feel crazy or stupid.

How Emotional Abuse Harms Victims Emotional abuse might not leave physical scars, but its emotional impacts are far-reaching. Victims begin to doubt themselves and their realities, potentially causing them to stay in abusive relationships long after they’ve suffered intense damage. Some other issues associated with emotional abuse include:

  • Damage to any children involved. Psychological abuse models abuse as normal, teaching children damaging approaches to relationships.
  • Mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
  • Job loss, relationship problems, and loss of the ability to participate in most other areas of life.
  • Chronic self-doubt, even after the relationship ends.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Financial difficulties.

Psychological abuse leaves lasting psychological trauma. If you are concerned that you might be in an abusive relationship, Three Seas Counselling can help. Let us show you how to get out, and how to repair the damage the relationship has done to your life and self-esteem.