by Dr.Moira Borg MD Gestalt Psychotherapist
For some reason, the word abuse is usually coined with physical violence or addictions, totally overlooking the scourge of the psychological aspect. As a result the suffering of many victims of psychological/emotional abuse is left unacknowledged, unseen and unsupported. The lack of definition that surrounds this type of abuse, both on a personal and societal level, also renders the experience difficult to express which further adds to the plight.
Psychological abuse is broadly defined as any act by one person which affects the sense of identity, dignity and self-worth of another. Usually such acts are very subtle and in isolation can be brushed off as a casual comment or a misunderstanding. However, in the context of of emotional abuse such jabs usually form part of a more intricate web of gradual and incessant infiltration into a vulnerable person’s psyche which in time can result in marked instability and trauma.
The dynamic of emotional abuse is usually set off with the abuser tentatively testing the waters of the potential victim to see what he/she allows. Any crack of vulnerability is used as an entry point into the victim’s psychological space and this is then followed by the progressive erosion of the latter’s internal structure. At the same time, the external constitution of the afflicted person, namely the people and activities that make up his every day existence are also gradually undermined and destroyed leaving the victim progressively helpless and disconnected.
Ironically, even though the manipulative techniques behind emotional abuse are very astute there is little variety in their execution mainly because the mind behind their expression functions in very rigid ways. People who use manipulation as a way of being in the world, in fact, are not free to engage in healthy contact and are usually afflicted by one or more character/personality disorders namely narcissistic or anti-social traits.
The ultimate intent and modus operandi of such techniques is to take full control of the other person and all that he/she represents without the latter being aware of it.
Usually it starts with the abuser telling occasional but obvious lies with a straight face leaving the victim wondering at their intent and putting him/her in a place of constant vigilance. If the latter chooses to question the lie, he/she is met with denial that the lie was ever said even in the face of obvious evidence to the contrary with the abuser actually insisting that people who are not believing them are the actual liars. People who adopt such tactics usually don’t practice what they preach and tend to project all their evil deeds on their victims, attacking and destroying all that is important to them, even to the extent of turning people against them and portraying them as insane to the world at large. At times they also have the tendency of being nice to their victims to throw them off guard and confuse them further.
It is this confusion and gradual isolation, in fact, that usually guarantees the success of such cruel tactics, where the victim is left questioning his/her very reality and existence and is left with no reference points with which to ground him/herself. In time, all that the victim represents or is represented by is totally erased and his/her true identity is replaced by that which is created by and suits the perpetator.
The rationale behind such a cruel and senseless act of destruction is that the perpetrator would, in a deviant way, be giving the undeserving victim a full taste of what he/she him/herself would have suffered at the hands of his/her carers including the loss of freedom and identity. People with character disorders are ultimately victims of their own world and would unfortunately have lost hope of ever being rescued and it is this helplessness and despair that they ultimately project.
The only way of not falling victim to such dangerous mind games is to know oneself well and to be aware of what the world, beyond the tangibility of what we see and feel around us, is made up of. Ultimately the psyche, albeit unconscious, is part of our world too and denying that can only lead to the destruction even of the world we are conscious of.