Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Emotional abuse

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Emotional abuse:
What is emotional abuse and what are its consequences?

Overview[edit | edit source]

This book chapter explores the foundations of emotional abuse, including the different forms it can take, the different relationships in can influence and the detrimental psychological repercussions that accompany such abuse. Additionally, two psychological theories are explored and how these theories relate to emotional abuse. There is a substantial and growing amount of research on childhood emotional abuse. Furthermore, the different psychological disorders involved in psychological abuse will be explored as possible treatment methods. Research in this field would benefit from pursuing more data in adult emotional abuse and family emotional abuse.

Focus questions:
  • What are the types of emotional abuse?
  • What are some of the relationships emotional abuse can happen in?
  • What are the psychological repercussions of emotional abuse?

What is emotional abuse?[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Depiction of verbal abuse.

Emotional abuse, which has also been referred to as psychological abuse (Follingstad, 2007), controlling abuse (Arguilar & Nightingale, 1994) and verbal abuse (Evans, 1992) can be defined as psychologically abusive behaviours that are directed at the victim's emotional well-being and sense of self (Murphy & Hoover, 2001). Emotional abuse involves treating someone in an inferior way, which can involve sadistic behaviour (Follingstad & Rogers, 2014) over protection, threat, terrorising, excessive punishment, denigration, rejection, isolation, scapegoating and/or manipulation (Rees, 2009). Emotional abuse can occur in many relationships, including parent-child relationships (Antypa & Van Der Does, 2010), romantic relationships (Murphy & Hoover, 1999), friendships (Sheikh, 2018) and in the sporting environment (Gervis & Dunn, 2004).

Types of emotional abuse[edit | edit source]

Psychological abuse can take many different forms, many of which have detrimental, long-lasting effects. Below are a list of some of the most common emotionally abusive behaviours.

Sadism[edit | edit source]

Sadism is one form of psychological abuse that refers to someone who derives pleasure from the pain and suffering of another individual (Foulkes, 2019). This behaviour often occurs in romantic relationships and can take place in the form of embarrassing others, physical harm and sexual manipulation (Foulkes, 2019). People who suffer from sadistic tendencies often suffer from other psychological issues and disturbances (Foulkes, 2019).

Case study

Sam has been lying to his partner Sophie, when Sophie finds out, Sam finds a way to manipulate the situations so that she feels like she forced him to lie, Sophie is distressed and upset by this and Sam enjoys seeing her distressed over the conflict he has caused (also an example of scapegoating).

Overprotection[edit | edit source]

Overprotection in child parent relationships is increasingly common and referred to as a behaviour that is out of contrast with the situation and an individuals' development , this involves perceiving someone as more vulnerable then they actually are (Hullmann et al. 2010). Research has found that over protection can be used as a method of emotional abuse that leads to depression and other psychological harm (Guillaume & Bali, 2017).

Case study

Lisa doesn’t like her fifteen-year-old son, Todd, going to the skate park because she is worried he will hurt himself. Todd resents his mother for this because all his friends get to go and he loves skating. Todd gets depressed because he can’t hang out with his friends.

Threat[edit | edit source]

There are two main forms of threat, physical and non-physical (Bettache & Chiu, 2018). Non-physical threat is the most common in emotional abuse and evidence has also proved it to be more detrimental and long lasting compared to physical abuse (Follingstad & Rogers, 2014). Threats can occur in many different forms, whether it’s a threat of physical violence, deception or a threat of removing something personal to the individual (Buss, 1992).

Case study

Sophie is finding her relationship with Sam increasingly toxic, she is wanting to break up with Sam, however, every time she tries to leave him Sam threatens to kill himself.

Punishment[edit | edit source]

Punishment is another form of emotional abuse that is described as a penalty that is inflicted for an offence that is a violation of rules, norms and/or expectations (Wang & Murnighan, 2017). Follingstad and Rogers (2014) found that punishment is one of the most common forms of emotional abuse such as refusing to speak to the other person (Follingstad & Rogers, 2014).

Case study

Lisa works with a man called James, they are the same level of employment but James thinks he knows a lot more than her. Lisa got an opportunity over James due to her preparation, James has now been handing her misleading information about the task and behaving in a hostile manner towards her.

Denigration[edit | edit source]

Denigration often referred to as ridicule is often used in emotional abuse as a way of putting the other person down and making them feel bad about themselves (Proyer, Meier, Platt & Ruch, 2013). Ridicule can be used to critique one's personal characteristics and influence the way a person feels about themselves (Sackett & Saunders, 1999).  Research proposes that it is one of the worst forms of emotional abuse and is tied to depression and low self-esteem (Sackett & Saunders, 1999).

Case study

Sam knows that he doesn’t treat Lisa very well and that she deserves better, so he puts her down and insults her so that she feels too insecure to leave him.

Manipulation[edit | edit source]

Manipulation refers to one's capability to manipulate the emotions of others within a self-serving manner (Grieve & Mahar, 2010). Research has suggested that men are more likely than women to use emotional manipulation due to masculine gender role expectations (Bacon & Regan, 2015). Additionally, manipulation is most common in romantic relationships and leads to relationship breakdowns, insecurity and wellbeing implications (Gonzalez-Mendez, Rojas-Solis & Ramirez-Santana, 2017).

Case study

John wants Lisa to hang out with him and his friends, Lisa doesn’t really like his friends so she wants John to go on his own, John says ‘If you really loved me you would do this’.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Topic Review: Quiz Time!

1 What is sadism?

Someone who experiences pain when others experience pain
Someone who derives pleasure out of others suffering
Someone who tries to help others when they are sad
someone who notices when others are sad

2 Who is most likely to engage in manipulation?


Why and who - emotional abuse[edit | edit source]

Emotionally abusive behaviours can occur without an individual even being aware that they are behaving in such a manner (Ross, 2007). It can be an unconscious behaviour that has developed over time due to it assisting an individual in obtaining what they want or a habit of acting in a way that is detrimental to others (Ross, 2007).

Sporting Relationships[edit | edit source]

Psychological abuse in sporting relationships is relatively common and coaches/trainers are often unaware of the mental repercussions that accompany it (Stirling, 2013). Research has suggested that this is a normative practice in the sports environment (Gervis & Dunn, 2004) and has long standing negative effects for the athlete (Jacobs, Smits & Knoppers, 2017). The emotional abuse that can occur in these instances includes ridicule, belittlement, humiliating remarks and refusing to assist or help the athlete (Stirling, 2013). Many coaches partake in this behaviour because they feel like it is at the benefit of the athlete’s performance and that they perform better and receive better results (Stirling & Kerr, 2012). When the athlete has better results it reflects better on the coach, working towards the coach's benefit, even if the long-term damage for the athlete is detrimental to their wellbeing (Stirling & Kerr, 2008).

Intimate relationships[edit | edit source]

Abuse, not only emotionally but physically, has frequently become more common over the years[vague] (Parkinson, 2017). Within intimate relationships emotional abuse is strongly correlated with physical and sexual abuse which research has suggested leaves an individual highly vulnerable to posttraumatic stress disorder and other relevant psychological disorders (Avant, Swopes, Davis & Elhai, 2011). Often the individual in the relationship who is verbally aggressive has learnt this from relationships in their earlier life (Parkinson, 2017), which will be further discussed in the psychological theories section. Moreover, in these types of relationships, men are the predominant emotional abusers (Arias & Pape, 1999) and often men aren’t aware of the detrimental effect they are having over their partners or wives (Arias & Pape, 1999).

Parent-child relationships[edit | edit source]

There is a large body of research covering childhood emotional abuse and associated risk factors of such behaviour (Allen, 2011). Parental aggression and a lack of control on emotions appears to be a big contributing factor to emotional abuse taken out on children (Allen, 2011). It is common for parents to unknowingly emotionally abuse their child by not meeting their needs for attention and love (Riggs & Kaminski, 2009), especially for first time parents who are new to the needs of young children (Riggs & Kaminski, 2009). Additionally, when a child’s needs aren’t met in their younger years and they experience more conflict then attention, they are left more vulnerable to psychological difficulties and the potential to replicate their parents behaviour whether that is inattention or aggression (Riggs & Kaminski, 2009).

Case study

Brian’s dad was really hard on him growing up, told him he was useless, couldn’t do anything right, and was never there for him emotionally. Brian’s dad also hit his mum a few times growing up. Now as a father, Brian isn’t very good at controlling his temper, he struggles with spurts of depression, and often gets flashbacks from his childhood. Brian often takes out his frustrations on his 10-year-old son, Samuel. Samuel gets into trouble at school for yelling at his classmates. Brian often yells at Samuel for this and sends him to bed without dinner.

Psychological Theories[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Social learning theory[edit | edit source]

Social learning theory was brought to light by Albert Bandura in the late nineteen hundreds and focuses on how we learn from others and our environment. Felson and Lane (2009) suggests that people learn through their personal experiences and what happens to others. This identifies that those who are victims of emotional abuse or witness such abuse are more likely to carry out the same behaviour. Additionally, social learning theory proposes that ‘definitions and behaviours of others with whom one interacts with’ has powerful effects upon others values and morals (Sellers, Cochran & Branch, 2003). Furthermore, those who are susceptible to emotional abuse once are often susceptible to it later in life due to a lower rate of self-esteem and higher vulnerability (Sellers, Cochran & Branch, 2003).

Attachment theory[edit | edit source]

The theory of attachment came to be in the mid to late nineteen hundreds where John Bowlby theorised that the parent-child relationship is an important key foundation of a child’s ability to form attachments and explore the world (Riggs & Kaminski, 2008). When this relationship is jeopardised, which it so often is when a child is a victim of emotional abuse, it intercepts their development, endangering their ability to form relationships and potentially leading the individual to seek out insecure relationships and develop unstable connections throughout their later years (Riggs & Kaminski, 2008).

Case study

Sam was four years old when his mum frequently worked, and his dad was posted in the army. During the day, Sam attended daycare, and his grandma would pick him up after school. He rarely saw his mum, and when he did, she often lacked the time to sit and play with him.

Now, at 25, Sam has never been in a serious relationship. He tends to become anxious as relationships progress. In his most committed relationship, he inadvertently pushed his partner away by not allowing her sufficient personal space or time with her friends.

Psychological Repercussions[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Psychological disorders in children[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. A woman suffering from depression.

Psychological abuse can affect the development and wellbeing of the individual involved leading to numerous mental disorders. In such cases emotional abuse at a young age can trigger eating disorders such as bulimia, therefore, affecting one's physical and mental development (Groleau. Et al., 2012). Additionally, children who face emotional neglect growing up face an increased risk of developing anxiety and depression, in turn affecting their ability to build sound self-esteem, relationships and interfering with cognitive development (Harmelen, Jong, Glashouwer, Spinhoven, Penninx, & Elzinga, 2010). Additionally, child victims of emotional abuse are more likely to partake in risky and deviant behaviour, such as drinking underage, skipping classes and compromising friendships and relationships (Ozdemir, 2018).

Psychological disorders in intimate relationships[edit | edit source]

Psychological disorders occurring from adult intimate relationships are a primary repercussion of such relationships. Mental disorders such as PTSD, anxiety, depression and severe distress are common among these sorts of relationships (Harper, Austin Cercone & Arias, 2005). These mental disorders can lead to daily life interference, inability to form proper attachments, sleep disruption and cognitive deficits to list a few (Avant, Swopes, Davis & Elhai, 2011). Additionally, victims of emotional abuse are more likely to have problems adjusting to different life circumstances, severe emotional disadvantage (Baker & Festinger, 2011) and struggle with low self-esteem (Otalvaro, 2015).

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Topic Review: Quiz Time!

1 What is a likely mental disorder that can occur after emotional abuse?

All of the above
None of the above

2 Emotional abuse in intimate relationships is strongly correlated with physical and sexual abuse. True or false?


Treatment[edit | edit source]

There are many different options of treatment for victims of emotional and psychological abuse including cognitive behavioural therapy, group therapy and counselling. Additionally, there are telephone hotlines individuals can ring for assistance.

Cognitive behavioural therapy[edit | edit source]

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is therapy that considers both cognitive processes and behaviour patterns and how these two intercept (Kazantiz, Luong, Usatoff, Impala, Yew & Hofmann, 2018). CBT has a substantial amount of research exploring its efficiency and is one of the best methods of treatment for adults suffering with psychological issues (Cuijpers, Berking, Quigley, Kleiboer & Dobson, 2013). However, CBT isn’t so successful with children compared to other processes such as group therapy (Macdonald, et al. 2012).

Group therapy[edit | edit source]

Group therapy involves the process of bringing a small community together that have experienced similar disadvantages in life to discuss and connect with each other (Heiman & Ettin, 2001). Group therapy has proved to be especially successful for child victims and offers opportunities for healing and relating that normal therapy doesn’t offer (Heiman & Ettin, 2001). Research has suggested that CBT following by group therapy is the most successful form of treatment for victims of psychological abuse (Echeburua, Sarasua & Zubizarreta, 2013).

Case study

Jane Leigh (2013) explored effective counselling methods that were beneficial for her, drawing from personal experiences with trauma and abuse. Her therapeutic journey was not limited to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT); narrative and journal therapy also offered her a creative avenue for healing. Furthermore, Jane delved into grief and loss therapy, centred on the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This approach assisted her in processing what she had lost and missed out on due to her trauma, facilitating her ability to move forward. These treatment methods proved highly effective in Jane's case, exemplifying the potential of counselling and therapy in assisting victims of emotional and psychological abuse (Leigh, 2013).

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Emotional abuse, often referred to as psychological abuse, is a well researched topic, especially in the childhood arena. This chapter explored the foundations of emotional abuse across ages, including the different forms that it can take and the many different types. Additionally, it explored how emotional abuse can take place in different sorts of relationships, and how such behaviour can have long lasting and detrimental effects on the victims involved. Attachment theory and social learning theory was explored, and how these psychological theories interact with emotional abuse. Lastly, psychological disorders and treatment options are vast, therapy and other such treatment options have proved to be successful in helping victims recover for such trauma.

See also[edit | edit source]

Reference[edit | edit source]

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External Links[edit | edit source]