Psychological abuse is defined as the sustained and repetitive inappropriate behavior that damages or substantially reduces the creative and developmental potential of mental faculties and mental processes.
Psychological abuse is also referred to as "verbal and non-verbal acts which symbolically hurt the other, or the use of threats to hurt the other." It can result in the victim suffering a psychological trauma, including anxiety and depression, or developing a post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychological abuse, especially of children, hampers their developing ability to understand and manage their environment. Teachers are usually the first to notice if a child has been psychologically abused, as his or her performance and grades usually deteriorate.
Psychological abuse usually comes along with fear and confusion, raising the vulnerability of people and making them less social. The situations in which psychological abuse usually occur include domestic violence and family fragmentation, such as in the case of separation or divorce. Other circumstances could include severe perceptual deprivation, continuous unreliability and all kinds of violence and sexual abuse.
Types of psychological abuse can include:
• Bullying and child abuse;
• Abuse in the workplace;
• Abusive relationships between intimate partners;
• Rejecting the access to money or economic support;
• Threats and aggression against people or pets;
• Depriving a person of food or sleep;
• Controlling an individual's freedom;
• Dominant behaviors;
• Verbal aggression;
• Jealous behavior.
Psychological abuse always involves a person who is trying to impose his or her power over another person or persons. It does not necessarily involve physical damage, although the statistics indicate that 95 percent of men who physically abuse their partners also psychologically abuse them. Studies have also demonstrated that psychological abuse often comes ahead of physical abuse. Children can be psychologically abused if the development of their moral sense is hampered or if someone imposes twisted ideas and concepts about other people or specific religious or ethnic groups on them.
Besides the effect on mental processes, psychological abuse has adverse effects on children's moral development and reasoning. Research conducted by Jaffe and others on the reasoning of two children whose mother was subject to domestic violence, showed that the children concluded that if their mother kept the house tidier and had supper on the table for their father he would not have to beat her so often. Psychological abuse also strongly affects the development of perception in children. For example, the perceptual development of babies and children who are kept in cots in smoke-infiltrated rooms, lacking direct sun light and human interaction, shows that they suffer serious problems.
People who suffer from or observe psychological abuse in their childhood are much more likely to psychologically abuse other people as adults. Such abuse causes long-term damage to the victim's mental and physical health. In 1990, Follingstad examined 234 battered women, of whom only three had never suffered a form of psychological abuse. A total of 72 percent of the sample said they had experienced psychological abuse. Another study testified that psychological abuse significantly increases the risks of depression and drinking issues. Researchers concluded that women victims of psychological abuse are more likely to neglect or mistreat their children later.
Psychological abuse in violent domestic relationships can take place in four basic forms. This includes damaging the partner's self-esteem or self-image. This type of abuse involves shouting and name calling, as well as causing the partner embarrassment in front of friends and family. It involves criticism and negativism, such as blaming and ridiculing. The second kind of form here is rejecting emotional support. This type of passive-aggressive behavior includes emotional abandonment and neglect.
A third kind of abuse within violent relationships involves threats. This could refer to a physical injury or even murder, as well as divorce and separation. Threatening behavior could also includes reckless driving. The fourth category is restricting personal space and freedom. This form of abuse includes isolation from friends and family, stalking and persistent checks on an individual. It also involves invasion of telephones and messages and control over the partner's money.
Psychological abuse displays are divided in three groups. The first group is described as ‘obvious'. This includes verbal aggression and dominant behavior. These forms of psychological abuse are easily recognizable and deemed as harmful. Another form is ‘overt' – which involves aggression in which an observer would identify a potential harm. The final form is described as ‘subtle' and includes abusing behaviors in which an observer would have more difficultly in identifying potential harm.