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(Please note, although abuse is statistically perpetrated more by men, it is perpetrated by both genders.)
abuse leaves the victim blaming herself and questioning her own perceptions over
the behaviour of the abusive partner and it can start very insidiously.
abuse occurs when oneís feelings, thoughts, preferences, desires, needs,
appearance or friendships are trivialized or made to appear inconsequential
relative to the abuserís. In other words, the abuser constructs the
relationship and the world of the victim according to his terms and conditions
over that of the abused and for his own gratification, which is often simply
control over the abused.
hold power over the abused, the abuser will resort to a number of tactics
designed to hold her emotionally captive. To this end the abuser may lavish the
abused with flattery and praise, complimenting her and making her feel
remarkably indebted for the special, often overly generous attention. At the
same time, the abuser may make the abused feel like she is the only person who
understands him, or is special to him. Unfortunately, her significance to his
well-being becomes a weapon to use against her later. If she tries to escape the
relationship, he may then try to hold her emotionally hostage by positioning her
as ungrateful for his special attention and hurtful to him when she is the only
person in whom he can confide and gain support and understanding. Thus the grip
of the abuser tightens and the abused feels guilty and/or ashamed for hurting or
abandoning this fellow who has lavished her with such special attention.
she seems to be escaping his grip, he may then resort to more sinister control
strategies. He may place his well-being or his very life in her hands. He may
threaten to hurt himself or even suicide if she leaves him. Thus now feeling
overwhelmingly responsible for his welfare, she succumbs to his demands for an
ever-exclusive relationship. He then becomes more prone to using negative and
upsetting control strategies to maintain his grip, knowing that his threat of
self-harm is now all that is necessary to maintain her compliance. She slowly
feels her self-esteem erode. She is frightened and isolated. He has caused her
to believe this is all her responsibility and the dynamics of the situation lead
her to believe no one understands the uniqueness of her situation; that he is
really a good person, if not for his current troubles and likely a troubled
past, no fault of his own. She sinks deeper and deeper. School or work
performance suffers. Depression and anxiety sets in and self-isolation
escalates. She begins to feel suicidal and fully dependent upon the abuser to
maintain a degraded self and he now does as he likes. He toys with her and the
relationship. It can be off and on at his whim. He can cheat, lie, manipulate
and steal and she is stuck with it lest her leaving give rise to his threat of
view of the abuse, her friends may try to warn her and may even threaten the
abuser to cease his behaviour. Parents may find themselves in conflict with
their daughter, recognizing her plight, but unable to convince her of the
dynamics. After all, he started out so nice and he had his own issues, so he
must love me underneath all of our problems and besides, I canít leave him,
because his welfare now rests on my shoulders.
such psychologically abusive clutches will likely require counselling.
Counselling is aimed at helping the abused cognitively step back and process the
situation, such that she may come to understand the nature of the relationship
and the abuse. Further, counselling will be aimed at providing tools or
strategies to help her extricate herself from the relationship even in view of
the threats of harm imposed by the abuser. In other words, counselling is aimed
at releasing the abused as hostage and helping her develop better boundaries to
withstand the psychological manipulations of the abuser.
your loved one or friend is in a psychologically abusive relationship and is
resisting your help, then go with her to counselling. Donít fight her as this
only pits you against her and she will feel only more threatened, overwhelmed
and then withdraw. Instead, seek to support her by understanding her fears the
result his manipulations. In counselling, discuss your worries for her
well-being without threatening her abusive relationship. She is already abused.
Trying to control her more, even if truly in her interest is confrontational and
may be inadvertently misconstrued as abusive and may erode an otherwise
education, understanding and then the development of extrication strategies
aimed at developing better boundaries is more the key to overcoming the
psychologically abusive relationship.
Go gently. She has already been hurt.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Call Gary for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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