Psychological Abuse and Coercion in Relationships

Therapist Carol Lambert, an expert in psychological abuse between intimate partners, is the author of the new book Women with Controlling Partners: Taking Back Your Life from a Manipulative or Abusive Partner. From the official introduction:

Research shows that psychological abuse affects women’s overall well-being more than physical abuse, is a bigger contributor to inducing fear, and can be a precursor to violence. To make matters worse, having a controlling partner often results in hidden injuries like anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, trauma, and low self-efficacy—feeling like you can’t make a difference in your life.

As she writes in a Psychology Today post, incidents are alarmingly common: “According to a study by the Center for Disease Control, nearly half of all women in the U.S. (48.4 percent) have experienced at least one form of psychological aggression by an intimate partner during their lifetime.”

Examples of psychological abuse include the following, per Lambert:

  • demeaning put downs that are meant to humiliate and shame such as being told, “You’re worthless” or “You’re crazy”
  • ridiculing personal traits such as attacking a person’s appearance or personality style
  • intimidating gestures
  • ignoring
  • controlling behavior that causes isolation from family and friends
  • intensely blaming when things go wrong
  • intentionally doing or saying things even publicly that cause embarrassment
  • withholding important information to undermine someone

Women, of course, aren’t the exclusive victims of psychological abuse—men can be controlled too. Moreover, this type of abuse occurs within gay and lesbian couples as well as heterosexual. Andrea Bonior, PhD, has listed 20 signs of controlling partner behavior (Psychology Today). Click on the link for details (and of course there’s overlap with the above-cited article):

  1. Isolating you from friends and family
  2. Chronic criticism—even if it’s “small” things
  3. Veiled or overt threats, against you or them
  4. Making acceptance/caring/attraction conditional
  5. An overactive scorecard
  6. Using guilt as a tool
  7. Creating a debt you’re beholden to
  8. Spying, snooping, or requiring constant disclosure
  9. Overactive jealousy, accusations, or paranoia
  10. Not respecting your need for time alone
  11. Making you “earn” trust or other good treatment
  12. Presuming you guilty until proven innocent
  13. Getting you so tired of arguing that you’ll relent
  14. Making you feel belittled for long-held beliefs
  15. Making you feel you don’t “measure up” or are unworthy of them
  16. Teasing or ridicule that has an uncomfortable undercurrent
  17. Sexual interactions that feel upsetting afterwards
  18. Inability or unwillingness to ever hear your point of view
  19. Pressuring you toward unhealthy behaviors, like substance abuse
  20. Thwarting your professional or educational goals by making you doubt yourself

The first step in getting help is recognizing it’s happening to you. Books such as Lambert’s as well as individual therapy can help you process this issue further and take steps to deal with it. Another resource is the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE).

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