When most people think about domestic violence, they think about physical abuse. Nonetheless, victims of intimate partner violence frequently identify non-physical abuse. This can include psychological abuse, particularly ridiculing behaviors, as equally or more distressing than physical acts of violence [1, 2]. In fact, psychological aggression in abusive relationships is more closely related to a survivor’s chance of developing post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, as well as their intentions to end abusive relationships [3, 4, 5].
It’s harder to identify non-physical aggression as domestic violence quickly. It may seem benign at first (to both victims and bystanders). Also, it takes a while to grow into behavior that is undeniably toxic. At the start of an abusive relationship, victims may rephrase comments. These comments may aim to undermine their self-confidence as constructive criticism and interpret their abuser’s controlling inquisitiveness as genuine concern. This slowly but steadily entangles victims in a cycle of self-doubt and dependence from where it’s hard to get out.
Non-physical violence may take on many forms, from stalking to destroying property and identity theft. In this article, we’ll focus on what verbal, emotional, health-related, financial, social, and technological abuse may look like.
Type of Non-Physical Abuse
Some examples of verbal abuse are:
- Making their partner feel self-conscious
- Criticizing or ridiculing their looks/intellect,
- Demeaning their friends, parenting, career, hobbies
- Disparaging other things that they know are important to their partner
Putting victims down is a way for abusers to gain power and control over their partner. It slowly erodes their self-worth and confidence. To the same end, abusers also minimize, deny, and even blame their partner for their violent acts. With a survivor’s self-confidence already lowered by their partner’s past criticism, she or he may start believing this rhetoric. Therefore, finding (false) faults in their behavior.
Survivors sometimes attempt to acquiesce to their abuser’s verbal onslaught or change their ways. This is quite often a futile and unsuccessful attempt, as domestic violence has many facets.
Abusers are often jealous and suspicious of their partner, even if they have no proof of infidelity. This leads to a lot of accusatory behavior and intimidation in the relationship. Which, in turn, makes victims feel like they have to constantly justify themselves. Perhaps, justifying that they can’t leave the relationship until they’ve proven that they’ve never cheated. Ironically, abusers may repeatedly cheat on their partner, to make themselves appear more worthy of attention/love.
It’s key to remember that you have nothing to prove to anyone. Meaningful love involves mutual trust and fidelity.
Gaslighting in relationships takes place when one partner manipulates the other partner into thinking that their perceptions/reality are wrong. That, in fact, they’re “crazy” for thinking, and feeling the way they do. Gaslighting makes victims genuinely question their own thoughts about the relationship and ability for critical thinking and recollecting events accurately. Victims could lose self-esteem as a result. They may even start believing that their partner is not only right but better able to interpret reality.
Please trust that you have the right to your interpretation of events, your gut instinct, your innate feelings. If you are trivialized, doubting yourself, apologizing often, feeling less like ‘yourself,’ always believing everything is your fault, or finding it hard to make decisions on your own – you just might need some time to evaluate your relationship, or seek outside counsel.
Health-related non-physical abuse
Ultimately, non-physical abuse is a collection of tactics that aggressors use to gain control. They gain control over multiple spheres of their victims’ lives. This includes their health. Some abusers may withhold medication from their partner, particularly birth control pills. They may also try to stop victims’ access to health services or information. They may even intentionally pass on an STD or other infection to their partner.
Individual control over one’s fertility is extremely important. Children will likely increase abusers’ control over their victims. It’s far more complicated to leave an abuser who is also the parent of one’s child. Abusers may, therefore, try to gain control of their partner’s reproductive choices. They do this through forceful abortion, surgical removal of reproductive organs or genitals, or other medical procedures.
Domestic violence may start off with subtle power dynamics that initially look common to all couples but eventually grow into unhealthy control. For example, at the beginning of a relationship, some abusers might check in with their partner and what they’re doing often, which victims may interpret as genuine concern. As time goes on, this concern can morph into control over who is acceptable within the social circle, or eliminate socialising all together. Abusers may try to justify their attempts to socially isolate their partner by arguing that they don’t enjoy spending time with their partner’s social connections, by questioning the latter’s character, convincing their partner that their friends unwarrantedly want to break up their relationship or expressing their need for time with their partner.
Abusers can also turn instances in which their partner doesn’t answer the phone or a text into a big argument, accusatory behavior, and an opportunity to question their partner’s faithfulness, or make them feel guilty. Today, technology enhances such controlling behavior, making a person feel like they have to be available, or have their location known at all times. .
Victims may progressively lose their connection to friends and families, letting go of a social network that could support them financially, emotionally, and with a place to stay should they choose to leave the abuser.
For individuals who fully depend on an abusive partner financially, the latter may reduce their ‘allowance’ or restrict access to money. This could be somewhat restrictive to extremely limiting. Additionally, some abusers may steal money from their partner, max out their credit cards, destroy their credit, or restrict how many hours they are able to work.
Technology has become a huge part of our lives, so it is also a very effective medium that abusers use to engage in all of the previously mentioned forms of control. For instance, some abusers may send their partner unsolicited sexually explicit images and/or force them to do the same, making the latter susceptible to becoming victims of blackmail or “revenge porn.”
Technological abuse can also amplify social and financial control, since technology has now found permanence in every facet of our daily lives. Abusers may, therefore, also use technology to gain control over their partner’s social connections, finances, travel, etc, forcing them to share passwords or even stealing their online information.
Moving Forward from Non-Physical Abuse
It can sometimes be challenging to differentiate between genuine and toxic concern/inquisitiveness within a relationship. Therefore, it’s crucial to have open communication, pay attention to the early signs of non-physical abuse, and to seriously consider leaving a relationship if you feel it could become unhealthy.
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 Mechanic, M. B., Weaver, T. L., & Resick, P. A. (2008). Mental health consequences of intimate partner abuse: A multidimensional assessment of four different forms of abuse. Violence against women, 14(6), 634-654.