Could you recognise this kind of abuse?

Abusive relationships can be found all over Australia, and one of the most insidious kinds of abuse is one that often shows no scars or bruises. Worse still, in many cases even the victim doesn’t realise what’s happening.

We’re talking about emotional abuse and, according to the Jean Hailes Foundation, one in four women experience it.

Jayaashri Kulkarni, professor of psychiatry at Monash University, says, “Emotional abuse is often a weapon that can be wielded with no visible scars.” However emotional coach Maria Bogdanos believes it can be more harmful than physical abuse because it can undermine what the victim thinks about themselves.

“It can cripple all we are meant to be as we allow something untrue to define us,” she says.   

Emotional abuse is characterised by the abuser deliberately undermining a person’s confidence by humiliating, threatening, putting down or constantly criticising them. Some other tactics of emotional abuse include:

  • using sarcasm to degrade the victim;
  • accusing the victim of having a “bad sense of humour” for not going along with the threats or ridicule;
  • constantly telling someone their opinions are wrong;
  • dismissing or disagreeing with their thoughts or suggestions;
  • treating the victim like a child, regardless of their age;
  • telling them their behaviour is wrong or “inappropriate”
  • only “allowing” the victim to go out or see friends with their permission;
  • controlling spending;
  • constantly reminding the victim of their shortcomings; and
  • belittling achievements, dreams and ambitions;
  • making accusations about behaviour or intention;
  • blaming the victim for their unhappiness, lack of money etc;
  • use the “silent treatment”, isolation, neglect as weapons;
  • withdraw affections or attention;
  • constantly question the victim’s motives, whereabouts etc;
  • share private information about the victim without permission.

None of this behaviour is okay and, sadly, in most cases, combinations of these abusive patterns will be used until the person at the receiving end has no self-worth.

So how do you recognise if someone you love – your daughter or niece, neighbour, friends or even yourself – is suffering emotional abuse?

Jane Fisher, psychologist and Jean Hailes Professor of Women’s health at Monash University says, “There’s always a question raised in my mind when woman say to me that there are things she cannot discuss with her partner because she is uncertain how he will respond…. or that she feels frightened of him”.

Another sign that someone may be in an abusive relationship (which may not be with their partner, it could be with another significant person in their life, for example, a parent or sibling), is if they have suddenly cut contact with the other important people in their life, including friends or family.

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