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Six Strategies of Subtle Emotional and Psychological Abuse
is written about overt abusive behavior, the kind of in-your-face actions that
are easily recognizable to virtually anyone. Those more obvious forms of abusive
behavior include behaviors such as yelling, screaming, name calling, threatening
and intimidating as well as physical forms of violence such as hitting, kicking,
pushing, shoving and strangulating up to stabbing and shooting. But what of the
more subtle forms of abusive behavior?
the more subtle forms of abusive behavior, the abuser can appear with a smile on
their face and absolutely calm and in control of themselves. They can be
remarkably charming and convincing, causing the abused to believe they are the
problem. These are more cold and calculating forms of abuse. However the victim,
unable to identify the abuse is still be affected by it.
is a craziness the victim of these more subtle forms of abuse feels and that
craziness is often accompanied by feelings of guilt and/or depression and/or
anxiety and/or anger and resentment.
goal of the subtle forms of abuse is the same as for the more overt or egregious
forms of abuse: power and control. In virtually all cases of abuse, the abuser
is seeking to hold power and control over another person to one’s own gain.
That gain can include power and control for its own sake as well as for other
objectives such as sex, money, favors and/or access to other resources.
identifying the more subtle forms of abuse, the victim is freed from thinking
the problem is oneself and can more appropriately hold the abuser accountable
for their actions. Although the abuser using these strategies will be skilled in
the art of manipulation including deflection of responsibility, it is important
for the target of the abuse to realize they must not depend upon the abuser
acknowledging the abuse in order to free oneself from their clutches.
victim must come to their own realization and accept the fact the abuser may
never take responsibility for their behavior. When this is the case it becomes
vital for the target of the abuse to extricate themselves from the situation for
The victim of this abuse can be a spouse/partner,
colleague, work-mate, employer, supervisor or any other professional having to
work with someone with this disposition.
The victim of this abuse can be a spouse/partner, colleague, work-mate, employer, supervisor or any other professional having to work with someone with this disposition.
are six key forms of subtle abusive behavior: Stonewalling, Gaslighting,
Duplicity, Guilt, Memory Loss and Sarcasm.
is basically a refusal to communicate or address the issue. It can take an angry
form such as when a partner exclaims they are not going to talk or outright
refusing to listen to your concerns. It can also take a more passive form such
as when a partner simply avoids you or puts off dealing with the matter at hand.
The abuser uses extreme patience to wait you out until finally you cave to their
is the distortion of information so that something appears other than what it
is. For example, when you think your partner is having a romantic tryst and it
gets explained away as an innocent business meeting, yet the credit card charge
includes the hotel fee. While you are given a plausible explanation for
something, the total story doesn’t hold together, yet it is difficult to put
your finger on it.
is out right telling you one thing while doing another. Outright deception. You
know your partner is duplicitous when you finally gather irrefutable evidence of
the problematic behavior.
is when the abuser tries to make the other feel bad about themselves for somehow
not having met the abuser’s needs or expectations, particularly when those
needs or expectations are only self-serving and/or could undermine the well
being of the other. You are somehow made to feel bad for thwarting their
objective. A favorite line of this abuser is “If you really loved me, you
loss is simply
the “I forgot” strategy. If I forgot, then somehow I am not accountable.
People who use this strategy however will appear to have excellent memories when
it suits them.
is the use of humor to disguise verbal abuse. When the target of the sarcasm
complains about the comment, the abuser hides behind the humor, saying the
comment was just a joke. Abuse disguised as humor is still abuse.
of those behaviors are emotionally and psychologically abusive. If you are the
victim of any of these behaviors, trying to hold your partner accountable is
like trying to catch smoke. Your partner will be slippery and likely not take
responsibility for their actions. If you think you need their validation of the
abuse in order to perhaps leave or at least feel better, then you will remain in
if you are victim to any of these forms of abuse and your partner will not take
responsibility, then couple counseling is likely useless and you should consider
individual counseling to address the need for validation and to consider your
options. First and foremost though, YOU ARE NOT CRAZY, although you may be
banging your head against the wall, it’s so good when you stop. When your
partner will not change, you may want to consider getting out of your
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Call Gary for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.
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