By: Caroline Hendrix, LCSW
As children, we were always told “sticks on stones may break my bones, but your words will never hurt,” to develop confidence against name-calling. Unfortunately, we’ve learned over time that verbal abuse is not just hurtful but psychologically damaging. Author Aisha Mirza wrote, “It’s not the bruises on the body that hurt. It is the wounds on the heart and the scares on the mind.” This is incredibly important when considering the impacts of psychological abuse within intimate partner relationships.
Typically partners in a relationship strive to lift each other as individuals in order to enhance the partnership. Conversely, unhealthy and abusive relationships, one person seeks to have complete control and power by establishing systematic patterns of behaviors that weaken the victim physically and mentally. When we think of domestic violence, one image is the notorious black eye. However, in reality, nearly 50% of both women and men have reported experiencing “at least one psychologically aggressive behavior by an intimate partner.” Additionally, when abusive partners become physically violent, there is more than a 90% chance that there has been emotional abuse as well.
Psychological abuse consists of various behaviors with the sole purpose of controlling someone by degrading their sense of self-worth. These actions include humiliation, embarrassment, isolation, denying access to resources, and convincing the victim that they are crazy – meaning that they can’t be trusted, even by themselves. Feeling inferior make it challenging to lead a healthy life and manage moods. The National Coalition against Domestic Violence notes that “psychological abuse is a stronger predictor of PTSD than physical abuse among women.”
Trauma shatters our inherent global perspective that world and people in it are typically benevolent. This type of cognitive fracture impacts how we not only how we see others but ourselves and who we are within relationships. Experiencing psychosocial abuse from someone you love has long-term damages on the psyche and the soul. We think to ourselves, What did I do wrong? How can I change? No one will love me. I must have deserved this. When we think these thoughts, it’s hard to trust ourselves and, if we cannot trust ourselves, we experience the most intense feelings of alienation, aloneness.
This silent violence knows no bounds. It does not discriminate against any one demographic. But telling someone who’s experiencing intimate partner violence, “I believe you” or “that’s not okay” can create a door to safety that they couldn’t see before.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233)
- National Dating Abuse Helpline: 1(866) 331-9474, Text: loveis to 22522
- Houston Area Women’s Center: (713) 528-2121