What is Psychological Abuse? - Definition & Overview

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  • 0:03 What Is Psychological Abuse?
  • 1:37 The Cycle of Abuse
  • 2:26 What Does Emotional…
  • 3:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Chevette Alston

Dr. Alston has taught intro psychology, child psychology, and developmental psychology at 2-year and 4-year schools.

This lesson defines psychological abuse and gives a brief overview of what this type of abuse is. Behaviors that can be expected and potential victim reactions are also mentioned.

What Is Psychological Abuse?

Psychological abuse can be defined as the systematic use of malicious manipulation through nonphysical acts against an intimate partner, child, or dependent adult. Also known as emotional abuse, these actions can include threatening the physical health of the victim or the victim's loved ones, purposely controlling the victim's freedom, and/or acting to undermine or isolate the victim. Psychological abuse can occur prior to physical, sexual, or other abuses. However, it can also happen at the same time. Even when it occurs by itself, it is thought to cause long-term damage to the victim's mental health.

Frequent bruising and broken bones are often signs of physical abuse, but this type of abuse leaves no visible marks. Psychological abuse is emotionally damaging because it is about someone manipulating your emotions in a psychological manner. In private, many emotional abusers may come across as bullies. However, it is more than just bullying or verbal assaults. This makes it difficult for others to believe the victim is being abused because the abuser often fakes affection in public, while knowing precisely how to manipulate situations in private that hurt and humiliate his or her victims.

The abuser is not crazy. He or she chooses who to be mean to and will often do whatever it takes to stay in control of the relationships and victims. For example, the person who is nice to the friend who irritates him or her, but comes home to call his or her spouse or children stupid, lazy, or worthless for the same irritation.

The Cycle of Abuse

Like other types of abuse, emotional abuse occurs in cycles. This cycle typically starts when one partner emotionally abuses the other. The abuser may feel guilty after the fact. However, this guilt is not about what was done, but more about living with the consequences of these actions. The abuser often makes up excuses for his or her behavior to avoid taking responsibility over what has happened and then resumes normal behavior as if the abuse never happened. In fact, he or she may be extra charming, apologetic, and extremely generous. This can make the abused person believe that the abuser is sorry and the unspoken apology is accepted. When the abuser feels like he or she is losing control again, the abuser will begin to set up situations where more emotional abuse can take place.

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