Psycho-Emotional Abuse: The Essential Guide

Psycho-Emotional Abuse | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

PSYCHO-EMOTIONAL ABUSE: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE was made to provide you with greater knowledge of this fundamental component of narcissistic abuse.

This information will give you a clear understanding of:

Let’s get started.

What is psycho-emotional abuse?

Psycho-emotional abuse describes any non-physical pattern of behavior that intentionally harms an individual’s mental state and undermines their ability to reach their full potential. It is a portmanteau of psychological and emotional abuse.

This kind of abuse can occur within a variety of contexts. For example, it can take place in intimate partner relationships, in family relationships, in friendships, in the workplace, etcetera.

Above all it is used to manipulate and control another person or people.

Neglect, hostility, sabotage, indifference, false concern

Other definitions of psycho-emotional abuse

Dr. Marti Tamm Loring defines psycho-emotional abuse as, “An ongoing process in which one individual systematically diminishes and destroys the inner self of another.”

Professor Dorota Iwaniec describes it as hostile or indifferent behavior which:

  • Damages the individual’s self-esteem,
  • Debases their sense of achievement,
  • Diminishes their sense of belonging,
  • Prevents their healthy and vigorous development, and 
  • Takes away the individual’s well-being.
Dorota Iwaniec

Characteristics of psycho-emotional abuse

Psycho-emotional abuse is subtle and can be tricky to spot – even by the person experiencing it!

Abusers often disguise their malice as good intentions, which confuses the person they target and deceives most bystanders.

At times, the aggression is overt and takes place in front of witnesses. However, in these instances most people do not understand the nature of this kind of aggression and so they fail to recognize that abuse is taking place. 

Some of its characteristics are:

  1. It is a pattern of behavior.
  2. The harm it causes is deliberate and intentional.
  3. The target experiences the behavior as harmful.
  4. The abuse may be overt or covert.
  5. It may or may not occur in the context of conflict.
  6. It may not immediately seem aggressive.
  7. The aggressor may camouflage the abuse as caring, love, or humor.
  8. The targeted person’s vulnerabilities are exploited to cause them to feel confused, insecure, and unsure of themselves.
  9. It may manifest as neglect.
  10. The abuse causes harm to the targeted individual’s well-being.

Abusers are cunning enough to understand that psychological abuse is a bloodless crime which usually enables them to escape accountability for the harm and devastation they cause.

This is because the theatre of the abuser’s aggression is not visible to the naked eye.

While the recipient of the abuse has no physical symptoms, the emotional wounds may be catastrophic.

Pattern of behavior, malicious, deliberate, exploitative, camouflage

What causes psycho-emotional abuse?

There are many reasons why psycho-emotional abuse may occur. The abuser’s behavior is often rooted in envy, fragility, and aggression.

A common occurrence is when an aggressive and/or narcissistic person feels intimidated by the presence of someone who they believe has qualities or privileges they do not. They may seek to resolve these painful feelings by asserting dominance over the person they regard as a threat. 

In some instances, the abuser is externalizing their toxic shame and placing their burden on the victim. In this way, the abuse strips away the authentic identity of the target and assigns to them a new one that encompasses the parts of the abuser’s persona which they despise and reject.

What are the effects of psycho-emotional abuse?

The cumulative effect of psycho-emotional abuse is the erosion of the recipient’s self-worth and trust in their judgment.

Some of the specific consequences may include:

  • Confusion
  • Self-blame
  • Depression
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Lack of motivation
  • Procrastination
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear of failure
  • Hopelessness
  • Worthlessness
  • Self-sabotage

Abusers often compound the damage they do by refusing to recognize the right of the targeted person to feel hurt, wronged, or angry.

They use a variety of tactics to convince the person they target that they brought the abuser’s aggression on themselves.

They defend their aggression and escape accountability through the process of scapegoating. This is done by using the targeted individual’s vulnerability to excuse the abuse. By blaming the person they victimize, they absolve themselves of any wrongdoing.

Abusers often silence targets by using threats and intimidation. They enlist agents to gang up on the target. The result is that the targeted individual may experience fearanxietydread, and panic

Prolonged psycho-emotional abuse can lead to adverse health outcomes. It may cause chronic anxiety which can impact the targeted person’s physical and psychological well-being. Over time, this may cause depressioncomplex post-traumatic stress, and auto-immune disorders.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

Comparisons to Coercive Control

Coercive Control and psycho-emotional abuse are both power- and control tactics.

Psycho-emotional abuse may refer to harm inflicted on men, women, and children by abusive men, women, and children.

Coercive Control originated as a descriptor, Dr. Evan Stark, used to describe the entrapment and subjugation of women. It points to a specific kind of gender-based violence, namely how abusive men prevent women from “freely developing their personhood, utilizing their capacities, or practicing citizenship.”

Coercive Control may include isolation, monitoring, sexual abuse, financial abuse, and bodily harm.

Dr.Stark underscores that Coercive Control is more akin to hostage-taking and kidnapping.

“We must stop characterising Coercive Control as only psychological abuse,” Forensic criminologist Dr.Jane Monckton Smith of Gloucestershire University explains, “Psychological abuse is a method used by controlling people to exert and maintain control. Coercive Control is a campaign made up of any or all of these things which then trap people in a relationship, and make it impossible or dangerous to leave.”

Gaslighting is the distortion of another person’s reality. It’s purpose is to undermine their sense of self-mastery. It is a feature of Coercive Control and psycho-emotional abuse.

Psycho-emotional abuse has legal status in France and Canada as harcèlement moral and harcèlement psychologique ou sexuel. It was criminalized in 2010.

The United Kingdom recognizes Coercive Control as criminal behavior. Laws prohibiting coercive and controlling behavior came in to force in 2015. The legislation is gender-neutral and applies to anyone experiencing entrapment and domination.

The Kingdom of Sweden recognizes Coercive Control as the crime våld i nära relationer.

Relationship to narcissistic abuse

Psycho-emotional abuse is one of the two fundamental components of narcissistic abuse. The other is Coercive Control.

Now It’s Your Turn 

That wraps up Psycho-Emotional Abuse: The Definitive Guide.

Now, it’s your turn to have your to say:

What part of this guide resonated with your lived experience?

Do you think you have a better understanding of this kind of abuse after reading this guide?

Do you understand how it works in the context of narcissistic abuse?

Share your insight by leaving a comment below.

Bibliography

Loring, Marti Tamm. “Emotional Abuse: the Trauma and Treatment.” San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass Publishers, 1998.

Iwaniec, Dorota. “The Emotionally Abused and Neglected Child Identification, Assessment and Intervention; a Practice Handbook. Chichester: Wiley, 2008.

Strecker, Peter John. “I Wish That He Hit Me: The Experiences of People Who Have Been Psychoemotionally Abused and Have Psychoemotionally Abused Others.” Victoria University, March 2012.

Stark, Evan. “Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Monkcton Smith, Jane. “Coercive Control is Not Just Psychological Abuse.” Forensic Criminology: Working in Homicide Prevention, 2020.

“C-PTSD Academic Research Material.” Out of the Storm. Accessed May 5, 2020.

* Editor’s Note: This is article is an except from the book ‘Are You In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship.’ To download your FREE copy, subscribe to our Mailing List.

Children are targets for Coercive Control

Children Are Targets for Coercive Control | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

CHILDREN ARE OFTEN TARGETS for Coercive Control as part of a wider campaign of intimate partner abuse.

In dysfunctional families with malignant narcissists or psychopaths at the helm, it is not uncommon for the abuser to target and weaponize children to further isolate the recipient of the abuse. 

Why are children targeted for Coercive Control?

Abusers seek to maintain total dominance over the people they target by isolating them. Manipulation of the victim-survivor’s perception is easier to achieve without outside influences, which could be accessed through children or the child themselves.

Therefore, it is in the interest of the abuser to undermine the authority of the victim-survivor in their parental role and willfully sabotage the relationship between the targeted individual and their children.

Dr. Katz’s study found that children raised in a coercive and controlling ecosystem suffered from entrapment similar to the targeted parent.

In his research Dr. Evan Stark, author of the book ‘Coercive Control’, found that this kind of abuse has a far more damaging and pervasive effect on the a targeted individual than acts of physical abuse.

Dr. Stark’s research found that the violence model of domestic abuse was too limited to gauge the extent of injury because much of suffering inflicted on survivors was not prohibited by law at the time.

“Over the years, we’ve been able to amend the understanding of partner abuse that limited it to violence,” Dr. Stark told Welsh Women’s Aid, “And we’ve talked a little bit about the extent to which it involved Coercive Control. We rejected the violence model in part because we heard from women themselves about the range of harms they were experiencing beyond violence.”

The impact of Coercive Control on children

Child abuse occurs mainly in connection to domestic violence. Dr. Stark’s research found that in 45% of domestic abuse cases, the abuser was hurting the spouse and the children. Exposure to and direct abuse were harmful to children.

Dr. Stark explained, “As I began to interview children and looked at the research of Emma Katz and others – which was based on my work but went way beyond it by looking at the qualitative effected of Coercive Control on children. It really became clear to me that children were being coercively controlled as well as women.”

The study showed that child abuse is closely linked to the abuse of the targeted parent.

Dr. Katz’s study found that children raised in a coercive and controlling ecosystem suffered from entrapment similar to the targeted parent.

She explains, “Children’s access to resilience-building and developmentally-helpful persons and activities were limited.”

The abuse children experienced at the hands of an abusive parent were low-level assaults, comparable to the abuse inflicted on the targeted parent.

The research findings were the same regarding the sexual assault of children.

Batterers would weaponize children. They would use them as spies. They would use them as co-abusers.

Dr. Evan Stark

According to Dr. Stark, “There was sexual assault of children, some of it dramatic, but most of it fell on a continuum of sexual coercion: touching, inappropriate dressing [of] boys as well as girls.”

The research also found that children experienced the same patterns of isolation, intimidation and control as the targeted parent.

Children are weaponized in coercive and controlling relationships

The evidence gathered by the researchers discovered that children were often “weaponized” against the targeted parent by the abuser.

Abusers use Coercive Control tactics to modify the identity of the child and turn them against the targeted parent.

Dr. Stark explains, “Batterers would weaponize children. They would use them as spies. They would use them sometimes as co-abusers if they were older children. They would use them as pawns in court processes as ways of extending their abuse.”

What can be done when children are targets of Coercive Control?

Raising children with a high conflict personality, such as a narcissist or psychopath, can be extraordinarily challenging.

This is especially true, for survivors who have left the relationship and are targets for their abusers vindictiveness.

For information on how to approach this situation please read our interview with Michael Kinsey, Ph.D. ‘How To Co-Parent with a Narcissist.’

Have your say

Have you or someone you know experienced coercive and controlling behavior? Does Dr. Stark’s descriptions of the power dynamics in a dysfunctional family resonate with you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.