When we think of domestic abuse or violence, we tend to automatically associate it with bruises; but the emotional and psychological aspect of an abusive relationship is just as damaging.
In actual fact, not all cases of domestic abuse involve physical violence, and research has shown that the emotional consequences of an abusive relationship – such as fear, distress and loss of confidence – can, in some instances, be the most damaging.
Indeed, according to a national survey conducted in 2003, both men and women who had endured domestic abuse admitted that the emotional consequences were the ‘worst thing’ about that experience.
And even where physical violence has not yet become a factor in that abuse, the emotional and psychological aspect can be a predictor of a more physical fallout going forward.
So, how do you define emotional or psychological abuse? Cosc (The National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence) lists the following examples as characteristic of an abusive relationship:
- Constant putdowns
- Humiliating a partner in front of others
- Constantly monitoring what their partner is doing
- Excessive jealousy
- Accusations of infidelity
- Belittling accomplishments and goals
- Use of intimidation or threats to gain compliance
- Preventing them from seeing their family and friends
- Threatening to hurt people they care about, and pets
- Unreasonable demands
- Threatening to remove access to children
- Threatening suicide
- Making their partner question their sanity
- Emotional manipulation
- Restricting their partner’s mobility and communications
The focus, from the perpetrator’s point of view, is to exert dominance over their partner, feeling in charge, attacking their self-esteem and isolating them from loved ones who could provide support.
Signs that an individual may be experiencing emotional and psychological domestic abuse
- They are anxious to please their partner
- They are afraid of their partner
- They talk about their partner’s temper, possessiveness or jealousy
- They are restricted from seeing family and friends
- They are limited in access to money or a car
- They are depressed, anxious or suicidal
- They seem to have very low self-esteem
- They are acting submissive
Signs that an individual may be a perpetrator of emotional and psychological domestic abuse
- They act excessively jealous of their partner
- They insult or embarrass their partner in public
- They yell at/try to intimidate their partner
What to do next:
For a loved one or friend
Your next move is very important; it’s only natural that you want to help, and you can – but you need to handle this sensitive situation very, very carefully.
The first step is to express concern. Look for a private moment when you can have a word with the individual, and begin by asking them if they are OK. Let them know that you are concerned about them, and assure them that you are there if they ever need support or someone to talk to. The important thing here is not to push them if they don’t feel like opening up.
The next step is to assure them that the abuse they are experiencing is not their fault. Use positive, affirming statements such as: ‘No one deserves to be treated this way’ and ‘You are not to blame’.
While you should most definitely offer your support and an ear to talk to, avoid giving advice. What you can do is encourage them to make their own decisions, and provide them with a list of resources. Check out www.whatwouldyoudo.ie for reference and advice.
For a stranger
The situation can be slightly different if you suspect or witness abuse between strangers. If you have decided that a situation requires an intervention, and you are happy that it is safe to do so, Cosc (The National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence) advises that you follow the ‘three D’ formula: Distract, Delegate, and Direct.
The goal here is to prevent the situation from getting worse, or to buy enough time to check in with the potential victim. An example of distraction is to ask for directions. This way, you could potentially distract the person about to commit violence, or get a moment alone to ask the victim if there is a problem.
Do you know a friend of the victim who could help? If so, have a word with them and express your concern. If there is no one nearby who is close to the victim, and you feel the situation doesn’t call for Garda involvement, look for someone who might be in a better position than you to get involved – for example, a bouncer.
This involves approaching either the potential victim or potential abuser, and intervening yourself. Remember that you are putting yourself in a potentially dangerous situation, so it’s best to make your actions subtle: use body language to express disapproval, and make your concern known by keeping an eye on the situation. If you choose a direct approach, express your concern with a statement like, ‘I’m concerned about what just happened? Is anything wrong?’