Unlike physical abuse, attacks against one’s psyche, or psychological abuse does not typically make the list of society’s greatest evils. Yet research has uncovered and documented that the emotional or psychological scars one bears can be far worse than those that have resulted from physical abuse (Domestic violence, 2018). Studies have further uncovered that the effects of psychological abuse can be far more enduring and often more consequential than those resulting from the various forms of physical abuse (APA, 2014). Persons who have been victimized by psychological abuse are not only prone to experience aftereffects identical to forms of abuse deemed more severe, such as sexual abuse or neglect, but hold a unique and dismal legacy of complex post-traumatic stress and personality disorders.
Given the information that we possess about Psychological abuse one might suppose that responses towards its occurrence would be as urgent and succinct as responses to reports of physical abuse. This ideal however lacks grounding in reality given the experiences of persons victimized by this villain of the spirit, myself included, who have not found authorities as ready and willing to respond to the crisis as would be expected. If failures in properly responding to psychological abuse persist notwithstanding the rapidly growing knowledge of its harmful effects, the question must then be asked, what enables this to be the case? There are at least two critical enablers that I have found to contribute to the difficulties we face as a society in properly dealing with the problem of psychological abuse. As you review these reasons consider the societal misconceptions that contribute towards them and how you can make an impact towards their counteraction. I hope that by sharing on this subject, men and women will be awakened to reality of psychological abuse as a form of persecution that serves not just to precede physical abuse, but to destroy our connection with Christ if it is permitted.
Enabler 1: The danger of downgrading psychological abuse to a mere precursor for physical abuse.
Statistically the presence of psychological abuse is a strong indicator of impending physical abuse (Lyman, 1997). Thus, it makes sense that this form of abuse would be utilized as a warning signal to social workers and other helping professionals seeking to detect and prevent the various forms of physical abuse. But there exists a very real potentiality for psychological abuse to be viewed as merely a precursor to physical abuse, and not an incidence of abuse in its own right meriting prompt interventive measures.
An African American young woman went to her local law enforcement agency after finding herself the recipient of prolonged glares from multiple men of the white race. Not long prior to this she was forced to make a complaint to her school provost after a day when three strangers by whom she was passing paused, looked in her direction and loudly stomped one foot. This along with several other recognized microaggressions were recounted; including a more recent situation where a classmate in near proximity to her fully repositioned his upper body and glared as she was attempting to make a comment during class. Sudden discrepancies with her school insurance coverage and school loans further contributed to an overall sense of embattlement on her part. But after several sessions wherein she was compelled to further describe the issue and to attempt to provide a possible reason for the circumstances at hand, she was visited by the director who stated that the absence of physical aggression and her inability to appropriate responsibility for these newly arisen social bullying phenomena in her life did not warrant him taking any action. This micro level illustration helps to display complications that arise on the macro level when persons experiencing psychological abuse and facing threats are denied interventions due to the absence of physical abuse.
Recently released recordings of police brutality towards African Americans serve at the risk of traumatization to inform the American public of racial tensions that underlie day to day life in the United States, though it is doubtful that these exist as the only indicators of racial oppression recognizable within society. Many struggle to accept the reality of abuses of the racial nature persisting nearly five decades after the Civil Rights Movement. This does not however have to be the case with regards to psychological abuse due to its being established as a defined category of abuse, and not simply a mere precursor. Though no further abuse be perpetrated, the affects of psychological abuse if uninterrupted can seriously impact an individual’s quality of life. It is not merely a stepping stone towards abuse, but a real form of abuse that produces deep emotional wounds and spiritual death.
Enabler 2: A general need for more assistance recognizing when you have been victimized.
I did not know myself to have been the victim of abuse until I found myself nearly incapacitated by the trauma. By this time I was twenty-three years old, a new college graduate on the verge of consummating my youthful dream of attending law school. I was also for the first time entering a serious relationship wherein marriage was being discussed and settling into my personal identity as a Christian who was fully captivated and in love with the Lord Jesus Christ. I was commencing my year of AmeriCorps service as, I had hoped, in a neighborhood where I was able to build my Spanish speaking skills. Everything seemed to be lining up until the trauma hit me.
I experienced the symptoms before I knew their cause. Therefore, it was impossible for me to articulate what was going on in my mind, though others seemed to have ideas. I have written more extensively about the physical experience of trauma and my recovery process in my prior blog “Lessons Learned as a Christian Living with an Anxiety Disorder.” As I took the time to peel back the layers of my pain, the story unfolded like a secret book that had been hidden in my subconscious mind for years. I recalled the day my father attempted to molest me, and the years of harassment and belittlement that followed. I had denied the reality of these experiences and forced myself to forget them, but in doing so had only succeeded in fooling myself. To experience healing I had to allow myself to recognize the sources of my hurt and appropriately grieve them. I had to give myself permission to disdain treatment that that I had been conditioned to believe was acceptable in order to begin functioning again in society. Some of the past hurts I had to address were (1) having my feelings invalidated and being ridiculed for my personal traits, (2) being made to feel that I did not matter, and that my pain was insignificant (3) being made to hide who I was to gain acceptance and (4) the experience of rejection due to social flaws that were a product of my trauma. God has done wonders in aiding me to address these issues in my past, and to recognize the societal triggers for these emotions. I will list these below as they are commonly shared between victims of psychological abuse. If you are experiencing these forms of treatment please reach out to someone, a professional, as soon as you can.
- Emotional bullying or name calling
- Threatening the person or threatening to take away something that is important to them (may be vague or underhanded)
- Imitating or mocking the person
- Ignoring the person
- Excluding them from meaningful events or activities. (Tracy, 2018)
This list though far from being exhaustive shows some ways psychological abuse can be recognized. Using this list, I have been able to recognize treatment patterns that created emotional anguish for me while growing up that have been resurrected in more recent days. You see, the young woman who made the racial complaint to her campus law enforcement agency, and was brushed off by one of the head officials was me.
Over the space of six months I have been the near constant recipient of backhanded threats, insults, mockery and attempted exclusion or isolation. I have received many a cold shoulder from men and women because my personal beliefs and values. After receiving countless threats and episodes of loud coughing and erratic throat clearing at the expression of my views or at times even my mere approach, I have often felt emotionally exhausted. I am very thankful for the encouragement that I have received from the word of God throughout this situation, and for the light Christ has shone upon my situation with regards to Christian conduct and perseverance in faith. I remain unsure as to the medium through which perpetrators have become privy to my personal information (which has in turn been used to attack me), but my newly acquired ability to recognize the telltale signs of psychological abuse in the way I have been treated empowers me to verbalize my experience, which I have largely heretofore kept silent. I no longer must hide from my own pain due to feeling that there is a lack in grounds for an official report. Nor do I have to allow a physical attack to occur before I seek intervention. I praise God for showing me that I am His precious property, made to give Him glory in body, mind and spirit. If you have been the victim of psychological abuse and would like to request resources for dealing with psychological trauma or abuse; or if you would like to share how God has delivered you from psychological abuse please leave a comment below, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. May God bless and continue to keep you.
American Psychological Association. (October 8, 2014). Childhood Psychological Abuse as Harmful as Sexual or Physical Abuse. Retrieved from url: www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/10/psychological-abuse.aspx.
Retrieved from url: Domesticviolence.info.ca (2018).
Lyman, Susan. (December 20, 1997). Physical Abuse has subtle Precursors. Retrieved from url: www.desertnews.com/article/601888/physical-abuse-has-subtle-precursors.amp.
Tracy, Natasha. (2018) Psychological Abuse: Definition, signs and symptoms. Retrieved from url: www.healthyplace.com/abuse/emotional-psychological-abuse/psychological-abuse-definition-signs-and-symptoms.