Psychological abuse is also known as emotional abuse and is often difficult for people to recognize. However, if you familiarize yourself with its signs and symptoms, you should be able to tell if it’s happening to you or to someone you know. What makes psychological abuse difficult to recognize is that it leaves no physical marks behind. Protect yourself and the ones you love by learning about its signs and symptoms.
While it’s often thought that name-calling is more common among children, evidence shows that it happens among adults as well. However, when name-calling occurs on a regular basis, this should raise a relationship red flag. Name-calling is the overt use of put-downs and hurtful words to label and insult someone and is considered a form of verbal abuse.
In any relationship, name-calling may occur between parties as a form of joking, but this is usually infrequent and results in little or no offense. However, if someone you know calls you stupid or an idiot a lot and you start feeling offended by it, tell them. If they say they are joking but you don’t feel comfortable with it, let them know. If they don’t stop their behavior, then this name-calling is turning into a form of psychological abuse.
It might be argued that name-calling is harmless; however, calling someone “fat,” “stupid,” “geek,” or any other derogatory name erodes their self-esteem and sense of self-worth. These labels make it increasingly difficult for them to trust their own self-perceptions. Calling someone names repeatedly sends the same message over and over again: “No matter what you do, you are not good enough” or “You will never be enough.”
Name-calling and other insults can drastically change the way a person views himself or herself. For example, if a girl is always being called “fat,” she may always view herself as overweight, even if she does lose weight. This is usually how many eating disorders begin.
Another example includes insulting people because of their values or belief system. This may lead individuals to bow to peer pressure and compromise their beliefs. If someone is taunted as being a “bookworm,” he may try to avoid being seen with books in the future to lose the label.
Yelling is a way of expressing displeasure about something. While some yelling often occurs in relationships, when it crosses the line, it becomes full-blown abuse. A woman once complained that her husband yells at her constantly and that the least little thing could set him off. If she doesn’t load the dishwasher the way he thought it should be, he’d yell and curse for 30 minutes, complaining that he is the only one who knows how to do things right. While coaching his son in baseball, he also keeps yelling and screaming. In such cases, yelling is an unhealthy way of expressing one’s anger. Both the woman and her son will suffer the consequences if she allows the behavior to continue. This husband needs to understand that there are healthy alternatives to communicating one’s displeasure and anger.
A common misconception is that just because the abuse doesn’t get physical, it doesn’t exist. But don’t ever believe that just because someone is not using physical force against you they aren’t making you afraid. The fact that they are scaring you is a form of abuse.
Yelling is particularly harmful when you are yelling at children. In fact, studies suggest that it may be just as harmful as physical discipline. Loud, consistent yelling can make children more aggressive and increases their risk for depression. Sensitive children will find the rise in volume frightening and are more likely to develop behavior-related problems.
As mentioned earlier, abuse doesn’t have to turn physically violent to be considered abuse. If, for example, your partner threatens to leave you if you do or don’t do something, this is a form of psychological abuse. He may say things like, “If you go out tonight, you will pay for it” or “if you don’t do as I say, I am never coming back.” Anything that forces you to do something that you are uncomfortable with just because you are scared of them is considered a threat. Abusers may also threaten you by demonstrating violence towards inanimate objects and punching walls or tables.
There are other threatening behaviors as well, such as toying with or cleaning weapons while looking at you threateningly and blocking you in a corner. Abusers may also give you menacing looks that make you shiver. Even if all these signs are dismissed by others, if they make you feel threatened, they are a form of psychological abuse.
Mocking people is another type of abuse that tends to occur quite often. Most people have probably laughed at someone’s appearance, accent, or voice at one point in their lives. We probably make rude observations and comparisons about someone’s weight, hair, clothes, or voice—anything that we consider worth mocking others for. Yet we do it with a humorous tone to justify our attitudes to ourselves. Without the humor, mockers just seem nasty.
Mockers forget that they are targeting real individuals, with differences in their physical characteristics, ways of speaking, and weights. They prioritize a fleeting moment of pleasure over the genuine harm they can cause to those being mocked. When someone feels offended by mockery about their physical appearance, there’s nothing that they can do about it. Mocking the offender back will not lessen the damage of his or her initial insult. This is particularly true of people who have a legitimate problem with their appearance. Just because someone doesn’t really care about the way they look to others, that doesn’t mean that his or her harsh comments will not erode someone else’s self-esteem.
Mockers usually follow through with their behaviors for many reasons, including jealousy and insecurity. What they usually do is dismiss their harmful mocking as “joking”; however, if you feel offended by their attitude and that you do not accept it, make sure you speak out.
Ignoring and Isolating
Perhaps you might be guilty of giving someone the cold shoulder or completely ignoring them from time to time. However, when it transcends its boundaries, it becomes a form of psychological abuse. When someone is ignored or excluded from a social group, they suffer some form of psychological damage and may start doing things they wouldn’t normally do just to fit in with the group.
Research states that, as humans, we are hard-wired to seek out social connections with others; therefore, victims of ostracism, i.e., those excluded by others or ignored by others, suffer social pain. This pain triggers the same neural activation as physical pain. Being excluded by others disrupts the victims’ psychological needs.
What we are discussing here is not an issue of someone not hearing what you just said, but someone deliberately ignoring what you have to say. This, too, is a form of emotional or psychological abuse.
In addition, ignoring children is a matter that should be taken very seriously. Children need to feel that the adults looking after them are attached to them. Adults that show no interest in the child, withhold affection, or fail to recognize the child’s presence are—knowingly or unknowingly—emotionally and psychologically abusing their child.
It’s very likely that every human being has encountered one form or another of psychological abuse throughout his or her life. However, in the past few years, the level of psychological abuse among people has been drastically increasing. It’s quite important to familiarize yourself with its different types so that you can prevent it in the future.