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Psychological abuse, also referred to as emotional abuse or mental abuse, is a form of abuse characterised by a person subjecting or exposing another to behaviour that is psychologically harmful. Such abuse is often associated with situations of power imbalance, such as abusive relationships, bullying, child abuse and in the workplace.
As of 1996[update], there were "no consensus views about the definition of emotional abuse”. As such, clinicians and researchers have offered sometimes divergent definitions of emotional abuse. However, the widely-used Conflict Tactics Scale measures roughly 20 distinct acts of "psychological aggression" in three different categories:
- Verbal aggression (e.g., "Your partner has said something to upset/annoy you");
- Dominant behaviours (e.g., "I have tried to prevent my partner from seeing/speaking to their family");
- Jealous behaviors (e.g., "Your partner has accused you of maintaining other parallel relations").
The U.S. Department of Justice defines emotionally abusive traits as including causing fear by intimidation, threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner's family or friends, destruction of pets and property, forcing isolation from family, friends, or school or work.
In 1996, Health Canada argues that emotional abuse is motivated by urges for "power and discontrol", and defines emotional abuse as including rejecting, degrading, terrorizing, isolating, corrupting/exploiting and "denying emotional responsiveness" as characteristic of emotional abuse.
Andrew Vachss, an author, attorney and former sex crimes investigator, defines emotional abuse as "the systematic diminishment of another. It may be intentional or subconscious (or both), but it is always a course of conduct, not a single event."
Subtler emotionally abusive tactics include insults, putdowns, arbitrary and unpredictable inconsistency, and gaslighting (the denial that previous abusive incidents occurred). Modern technology has led to new forms of abuse, by text messaging and online cyber-bullying.
Several studies have argued that, unlike physical and sexual maltreatment, an isolated incident does not constitute emotional abuse. Tomison and Tucci write, "emotional abuse is characterised by a climate or pattern of behaviour(s) occurring over time [...] Thus, 'sustained' and 'repetitive' are the crucial components of any definition of emotional abuse."
Emotional abuse and intimate relationshipsEdit
Domestic abuse—defined as chronic mistreatment in marriage, families, dating and other intimate relationships —- can include emotionally abusive behavior. Psychological abuse does not always lead to physical abuse, but physical abuse in domestic relationships is nearly always preceded and accompanied by psychological abuse. Murphy and O'Leary report that psychological aggression by one partner is the most reliable predictor of the other partner's likelihood of first exhibiting physical aggression.
A 2005 study by Hamel reports that "men and women physically and emotionally abuse each other at equal rates". Basile found that psychological aggression was effectively bidirectional in cases where heterosexual and homosexual couples went to court for domestic disturbances. A 2007 study of Spanish college students (n = 1,886) aged 18–27  found that psychological aggression (as measured by the Conflict Tactics Scale) is so pervasive in dating relationships that it can be regarded as a normalized element of dating, and that women are substantially more likely to exhibit psychological aggression. Similar findings have been reported in other studies. Strauss et al. found that female intimate partners in heterosexual relationships were more likely than males to use psychological aggression, including threats to hit or throw an object. A study of young adults (N = 721) by Giordano et al. found that females in intimate heterosexual relationships were more likely than males to threaten to use a knife or gun against their partner.
Numerous studies report that lesbian relationships have higher overall rates of interpersonal aggression (including psychological aggression/emotional abuse) than heterosexual or gay male relationships. Furthermore, women who have been involved with both men and women reported higher rates of abuse from their female partners.
In 1996, the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, for Health Canada, reported that 39% of married women or common-law wives suffered emotional abuse by husbands/partners; and a 1995 survey of women 15 and over (n = 1000) 36-43% reported emotional abuse during childhood or adolescence, and 39% experienced emotional abuse in marriage/dating; this report does not address boys or men suffering emotional abuse from families or intimate partners. A BBC radio documentary on domestic abuse, including emotional maltreatment, reports that 20% of men and 30% of women have been abused by a spouse or other intimate partner.
Straus and Field  report that psychological aggression is a pervasive trait of American families: "verbal attacks on children, like physical attacks, are so prevalent as to be just about universal". A 2008 study by English, et al. found that fathers and mothers were equally likely to be verbally aggressive towards their children.
In the workplaceEdit
Keashly and Jagatic  found that males and females commit “emotionally abusive behaviors” in the workplace at roughly similar rates. In a web-based survey, Namie found that women were more likely to engage in workplace bullying, such as name-calling, and that the average length of abuse was 16.5 months
Characteristics of abusersEdit
In their review of data from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study (a longitudinal birth cohort study; n = 941) Moffitt et al. report that while men exhibit more aggression overall, gender is not a reliable predictor of interpersonal aggression, including psychological aggression. The study found that whether male or female, aggressive people share a cluster of traits, including high rates of suspicion and jealousy; sudden and drastic mood swings; poor self-control; and higher than average rates of approval of violence and aggression. Moffitt et al. also argue that antisocial men exhibit two distinct types of interpersonal aggression (one against strangers, the other against intimate female partners), while antisocial women are rarely aggressive against anyone other than intimate male partners.
Male and female perpetrators of emotional and physical abuse exhibit high rates of personality disorders. Rates of personality disorder in the general population are roughly 15%-20%, while roughly 80% of abusive men in court-ordered treatment programmes have personality disorders.
Abusers may aim to avoid household chores or exercise total control of family finances. Abusers can be very manipulative, often recruiting friends, law officers and court officials, even the victim's family to their side, while shifting blame to the victim.
Effects of emotional abuseEdit
English, et al. report that children whose families are characterized by interpersonal violence, including psychological aggression and verbal aggression, may exhibit a range of serious disorders, including chronic depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociation and anger. Additionally, English et al. report that the impact of emotional abuse "did not differ significantly" from that of physical abuse. Johnson et al. report that, in a survey of female patients (n = 825), 24% suffered emotional abuse, and this group experienced higher rates of gynecological problems. In their study of men emotionally abused by a wife/partner or parent (n = 116), Hines and Malley-Morrison report that victims exhibit high rates of post traumatic stress disorder, drug addiction and alcoholism.
Namie's study of workplace emotional abuse found that 31% of women and 21% of men who reported workplace emotional abuse exhibited three key symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (hypervigilance, intrusive imagery, and avoidance behaviors). A 1998 study of male college students (n = 70) by Simonelli & Ingram found that men who were emotionally abused by their female partners exhibited higher rates of chronic depression than the general population.
A study of college students (N = 80) by Goldsmith and Freyd report that many who have experienced emotional abuse do not characterize the mistreatment as abusive. Additionally, Goldsmith and Freyd show that these people also tend to exhibit higher than average rates of alexithymia (difficulty identifying and processing their own emotions).
Jacobson et al. found that women report markedly higher rates of fear during marital conflicts. However, a rejoinder argued that Jacobson's results were invalid due to men and women's drastically differing interpretations of questionnaires. Coker et al. found that the effects of mental abuse were similar whether the victim was male or female. Pimlott-Kubiak and Cortina found that severity and duration of abuse were the only accurate predictors of aftereffects of abuse; sex of perpetrator or victim were not reliable predictors.
Analysis of large survey (N = 25,876) by LaRoche found that women abused by men were slightly more likely to seek psychological help than were men abused by women (63% vs. 62%).
In a 2007 study, Laurent, et al., report that psychological aggression in young couples (n = 47) is associated with decreased satisfaction for both partners: "psychological aggression may serve as an impediment to couples development because it reflects less mature coercive tactics and an inability to balance self/other needs effectively". A 2008 study by Walsh and Shulman reports that relationship dissatisfaction for both partners is more likely to be associated with, in women, psychological aggression and, in men, with withdrawal.
Popular and clinical perception of emotional abuseEdit
Several studies found double-standards in how people tend to view emotional abuse by men versus emotional abuse by women. Follingstad et al. found that, when rating hypothetical vignettes of psychological abuse in marriages, professional psychologists tend to rate male abuse of females as more serious than identical scenarios describing female abuse of males: "the stereotypical association between physical aggression and males appears to extend to an association of psychological abuse and males" (Follingstad et al., p. 446) Similarly, Sorenson and Taylor randomly surveyed a group of Los Angeles, California residents for their opinions of hypothetical vignettes of abuse in heterosexual relationships. Their study found that abuse committed by women, including emotional and psychological abuse such as controlling or humiliating behavior, was typically viewed as less serious or detrimental than identical abuse committed by men. Additionally, Sorenson and Taylor found that respondents had a broader range of opinions about female perpetrators, representing a lack of clearly-defined mores when compared to responses about male perpetrators.
According to Walsh and Shluman, "The higher rates of female initiated aggression [including psychological aggression] may result, in part, from adolescents' attitudes about the unacceptability of male aggression and the relatively less negative attitudes toward female aggression".
Hamel's 2007 study found that "prevailing patriarchal conception of intimate partner violence" led to a systematic reluctance to study women who psychologically and physically abuse their male partners.
Dutton found that men who are emotionally or physically abused often encounter victim blaming that erroneously presumes the man either provoked or deserved the mistreatment of their female partners. Similarly, domestic violence victims will often blame their own behavior, rather than the violent actions of the abuser. Victims may try continually to alter their behavior and circumstances in order to please the abuser.
Feminist scholars argue that hundreds or thousands of years of male dominated societies have created negative attitudes towards women among many men, and that wife abuse stems from "normal psychological and behavioral patterns of most men ... feminists seek to understand why men in general use physical force against their partners and what functions this serves for a society in a given historical context". Similarly, Dobash and Dobash claim that "Men who assault their wives are actually living up to cultural prescriptions that are cherished in Western society--aggressiveness, male dominance and female subordination--and they are using physical force as a means to enforce that dominance", while Walker claims that men exhibit a "socialized androcentric need for power".
While some women are aggressive and dominating to male partners the majority of abuse in heterosexual partnerships, at about 80% in the USA, is by men. (Note that critics stress that this Department of Justice study examines crime figures, and does not specifically address domestic abuse figures. While the categories of crime and domestic abuse may cross-over, most instances of domestic abuse are not regarded as crimes or reported to police—critics thus argue that it's inaccurate to regard the DOJ study as a comprehensive statement on domestic abuse because compelling evidence shows that men and women tend to commit emotional and physical abuse in roughly equal rates.) A 2002 study reports that ten percent of violence in the UK, overall, is by females against males. However, more recent data specifically regarding domestic abuse (including emotional abuse) report that 3 in 10 women, and 2 in 10 men, have experienced domestic abuse.
Some argue[who?] that fundamentalist views of religions, which have developed in male-dominated cultures, tend to reinforce emotional abuse. These critics contend that all the major world religions historically taught the dominance of men over women, citing the Book of Genesis as an example of a text that has been used to justify men abusing women: "in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children: and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee". Fundamentalist religious prohibitions against divorce make it more difficult for religious women to leave an abusive marriage: A 1980s survey of Methodist clergy found that 21% of them agreed that no amount of abuse would justify a woman's leaving her husband.
Many older and some not so old children's stories contain gender stereotyping, and music videos and computer games for children and teenagers have been criticised for continuing to portray men as aggressive and in control, while the females are there only for their sexual allure; women are portrayed as wanting to be chased and caught when they run away.
Critics argue that legal systems have in the past endorsed these traditions of male domination and it is only in recent years that abusers have begun to be punished for their behaviour. However, rebuttals note that some laws in past centuries have specifically prohibited punitive wife-beating.
While recognizing that feminist researchers have done valuable work and highlighted neglected topics critics suggest that the male cultural domination hypothesis for abuse is untenable as a generalized explanation for numerous reasons:
- Innumerable variables (racial, ethnic, cultural and subcultural, nationality, religion, family dynamics, mental illness, etc.) make it difficult or impossible to define male and female roles in any meaningful way that apply to the entire population.
- Studies show that disagreements about power-sharing in relationships are more strongly associated with abuse than are imbalances of power.
- Research has not discovered that male privilege is a necessary and sufficient sole cause of abuse of women. On the contrary, peer-reviewed studies have produced inconsistent results when directly examining patriarchal beliefs and wife abuse. Yllo and Straus argued that "low status" women in the United States suffered higher rates of spousal abuse; however, a rejoinder argued that Yllo and Straus's interpretive conclusions were "confusing and contradictory". Smith estimated that patriarchal beliefs were a causative factor for only 20% of wife abuse. Other studies failed to find a causal link between spouse abuse and traditionalist/conservative cultural beliefs. Campbell writes that "there is not a simple linear correlation between female status and rates of wife assault". Other studies had similar findings. Additionally, a study of Hispanic Americans revealed that traditionalist men exhibited lower rates of abuse towards women.
- Studies show that treatment programs based on the patriarchal privilege model are flawed due to a weak connection between abusiveness and one's cultural or social attitudes.
- Numerous empirical studies challenge the concept that male abuse or control of women is culturally sanctioned. Such studies show that abusive men are widely viewed as unsuitable partners for dating or marriage. A minority of abusive men qualify as pervasively misogynistic. The majority of men who commit spousal abuse agree that their behavior was inappropriate. A minority of men approve of spousal abuse under even limited circumstances. Furthermore, the majority of men are non-abusive towards girlfriends or wives for the duration of relationships, contrary to predictions that aggression or abuse towards women is an innate element of masculine culture.
- Dutton argues that the numerous studies establishing that heterosexual and gay male relationships have lower rates of abuse than lesbian relationships, and the fact that women who've been involved with both men and women were more likely to have been abused by a woman "are difficult to explain in terms of male domination". Additionally, Dutton suggests that "patriarchy must interact with psychological variables in order to account for the great variation in power-violence data. It is suggested that some forms of psychopathology lead to some men adopting patriarchal ideology to justify and rationalize their own pathology".
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- ↑ US Department of Justice
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- ↑ Template:Cite paper
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