Emotional abuse in a marriage is such a covert form of domestic violence and abuse that many people aren’t able to recognize they are a victim. A spouse may have a feeling that something is wrong. They may feel stressed out; a sense of depression; anxiety but they can’t quite identify what is causing those feelings.
Emotional abuse is used to control, degrade, humiliate and punish a spouse. While emotional abuse differs from physical abuse, the end result is the same…a spouse becomes fearful of their partner and begins to change their behaviors to keep their partner happy. The happier their partner, the less domestic violence the spouse has to suffer.
By the time a spouse identifies the true problem they have begun to feel as if they are crazy. They will doubt themselves and their own sense of reality because emotional abuse is meant to cause the victim to question their every thought and behavior. Below are some tactics an emotional abuser will use:
- Isolating a spouse from friends and family.
- Discourage any independent activities such as work; taking classes or activities with friends.
- Accuse their spouse of being unfaithful if she talks to a member of the opposite sex.
- Expect her/him to partake in sexual activities that he/she is uncomfortable with to prove their love. Or, withhold sex as punishment instead of communicating openly their displeasure.
- Constantly criticize the spouses weight, their looks, they way they dress.
- If the spouse does not give into the control they are threatened, harassed, punished and intimidated by the abuser.
- Uses the children to gain control by undermining the other parent’s authority or threatening to leave and take the children.
- Control all the financial decisions, refuse to listen to their partner’s opinion, withhold important financial information and make their spouse live on limited resources.
- Make all major decisions such as where to live, how to furnish the home and what type of automobile to drive.
People, who use emotional abuse to control others, use tactics similar to what prison guards use on prisoners of war. They know that physical control is not easily accomplished. They want the prisoners to cooperate and what better way to get someone to cooperate than to manipulate them emotionally?
In her book, Rape in Marriage, Diana Russell reprinted Biderman’s Chart of Coercion from an Amnesty International publication, Report on Torture, depicting the brainwashing of prisoners of war. Those who seek to control their intimate partners, use methods similar to those of prison guards, who recognize that physical control is never easily accomplished without the cooperation of the prisoner. The most effective way to gain cooperation is through subversive manipulation of the mind and feelings of the victim, who then becomes a psychological, as well as a physical, prisoner. Below is Biderman’s Chart, it explains the methods used to “coerce” and the desired effects and purpose for the coercion:
Biderman's Chart of Coercion:
Deprives the victim of all social support necessary for the ability to resist.
Develops an intense concern for self.
Causes victims to depend on the victimizer.
- Monopolization of Perception:
Fixes attention upon immediate predicament and fosters introspection.
Eliminates stimuli competing with those controlled by the captor.
Frustrates all actions not consistent with compliance.
- Induced Debility &Exhaustion:
Weakens mental and physical ability to resist.
Cultivates anxiety and despair.
- Occasional Indulgences:
Provides positive motivation for continued compliance.
- Demonstrating “Omnipotence”:
Suggests futility of resistance.
- Enforcing Trivial Demands:
Develops habits of compliance
Makes cost of resistance appear more damaging to the self-esteem than capitulation
Reduces prisoner to, “animal level” concerns.
Emotional abuse is crippling. It robs a person of their self-esteem, the ability to think rationally, confidence in themselves and their independence and autonomy.If your spouse’s words and behaviors have caused any of the following feelings it is time to seek help:
- Isolation from others, you rarely see friends and family.
- Excessive dependence on him/her.
- You constantly think about saying or doing the right thing so that your spouse does not become upset.
- You live in the moment, unable to plan ahead because you fear your spouse’s response to any plans or ideas you have. Any action you take is criticized unless it is one of compliance to his/her desires.
- You feel as if you don’t have the energy it would take to fight back against their controlling behavior. You doubt your ability to stand-up and speak your own mind and express your own opinions.
- You feel a sense of depression and anxiety most of the time.
- You feel as if anything you do or say will be met with anger or dismissal. Your feelings and desires just don’t seem to matter to your spouse.