Inability to trust your own thoughts and feelings, intense fear that your loved ones may be harmed, fear of social gatherings, changing your personality to fit your environment—All of which are signs of mental/psychological abuse.
According to Reach Beyond Domestic Violence, the generalized definition of abuse is, “a pattern of behavior used by one person to gain and maintain power and control over another.” In the case of mental/psychological abuse, the pattern consists of gaslighting followed by the abuser proclaiming their “innocence”.
Mental/Psychological abuse is defined as a series of actions and/or words with the intent of wearing away at one’s sense of wellbeing and mental health.
Major signs of Mental/Psychological Abuse:
Paranoia, especially when it comes to their loved ones
Distorted perception of reality
Changes in personality
Tactics used by the abuser include, but are not limited to:
Gaslighting: A form of manipulation in which a person covertly sows seeds of doubt in an individual, making them question their own memory, perception or judgment.
Examples include: Antagonizing another to incite a reaction out of them with the intent to place blame on them, rewriting history and denying events that occurred in order to make another appear irrational.
Feigning ignorance, innocence or confusion: Acting as though they could not have taken part in the abuse due to ignorance, innocence and/or confusion in regards to determining right from wrong.
Examples include: Acting uneducated about what is considered abuse, moving items to make another feel crazy and pretending to have no recollection of certain events.
Covert Control: Control that is not openly acknowledged or explained.
Examples include: Undermining the other’s attempts to have their own life separate from the relationship, expressing jealousy when you give attention to anyone else including pets and children, speaking for you or interrupting you and causing stress in order to relieve it.
Isolation: A tactic used to facilitate complete power and control over someone.
Examples include: Subtly putting down loved ones, expressing distrust of everyone but themselves, criticizing others especially those that resemble the person being abused and minimizing confidants by asking certain things to be kept private.
Long-term effects of Psychological/Mental Abuse:
Self-harm: According to survivors, self-harm acts as an outlet for them to regain control over their body, release tension, feel something physical other than the abuse, communicate, etc.
Trauma bonding: A trauma bond is a phenomenon that occurs as a result of the formation of an emotional attachment to an abuser via a repeated cycle of abuse, devaluation and positive reinforcement. This is often the reason that survivors were unable to leave the relationship before the abuse escalated.
London Syndrome: A syndrome wherein victims form bonds of empathy and sympathy with their abusers to an extreme degree, and may defend their actions. Forming a trauma bond can stem directly from London Syndrome in some cases.
Stockholm Syndrome: A psychological response that occurs when victims bond with, sympathize with, and develop positive feelings for their abuser. They may also feel that they share the same goals as the abuser and may resent anyone that tries to intervene, especially authorities.
Codependency in relationships: A learned behavior that stems from a cycle of feeling guilty when the codependent individual thinks of their personal needs before their abuser, doing things to please their abuser at their own expense, feeling constant anxiety about their relationship and choosing to stay in the relationship due to their need for the other person.