With psychology being the scientific study of behaviour, it only makes sense that we want to understand people abuse each other. So in this clinical psychology podcast episode, you’ll learn five reasons why people emotionally abuse others. If you’re interested in clinical psychology then this is a must read for you!
This episode has been sponsored by Abnormal Psychology: The Causes and Treatments For Depression, Anxiety and More. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
What Is Emotional Abuse?
I fully believe that emotional abuse and any sort of abuse, is one of those things that people talk about. But we don’t really have a firm understanding of what it actually involves, because until this episode I knew what emotional abuse was, but if you asked me to define it, I would be next to useless.
(I hope I’m not the only one!)
Therefore, just so everyone is on the same page, emotional abuse is when people use behaviours and words to frighten someone and/ or cause them emotional distress or pain.
Leading to the victim to develop a siege mentality over time that makes it difficult for them to trust others and form close relationships.
How Does Emotional Abuse Manifest Itself?
In addition, there are four main ways that emotional abuse reveals it. These are:
1. Verbal Abuse- where the abuser uses words or other vocalisations to hurt you emotionally or frighten you. As well as this includes yelling, threatening, name-calling and intimidating.
2. Social Isolation- where the abuser prevents you from socialising with others and this makes you feel lonely and depressed.
3. Passive Aggression- with these types of abusers using indirect methods to communicate their negative attitudes towards you.
For instance, if you were meant to be going out with a friend for dinner and you forgot, and then the friend calls you, reminds you and you rush out the door to get to the restaurant. Naturally you would apologise, but your friend might say they’re okay with it but act all quiet and grumpy for the rest of the night.
Now I have seen a lot of content and research on this area in the past few months and I think I will do some episodes on it in the future. But gaslighting just seemed like a word I was meant to know, but now we can all find out what gaslighting actually is.
Gaslighting is a convert type of abuse that denies what the victim feels they know with certainty. Leading them to question their senses, sanity and judgement.
For example, your partner throws away a book that they knew you were going to read and love. But then they deny they ever saw it. Hence making you question whether you’re imagining things or not.
Another example is your partner cracks your phone screen when you aren’t looking and then insists they saw you drop it on the floor. Again making you question are you forgetting things or not.
Personally I will definitely do episodes on this in the future because why the hell would someone do this to their partner. This is absolutely outrageous and outright evil.
I’m actually speechless about this!
Why Do People Emotionally Abuse Others?
To answer the question above slightly, let’s look into five motives for why people want to emotionally abuse each other, and yes some of these are just shocking.
An Abuser “Gets Off” On Controlling Others Or Seeing People Suffer
Whilst this might not be surprising it is still “good” to have the research confirm that the feeling of in control and being powerful can give some people immense pleasure. Therefore, these people abuse others because they enjoy the feeling of controlling others and watching them suffer too.
This is why according to Brogaard (2020) psychopaths, sadists and narcissists might be drawn to emotional abuse because the pleasure these types of people will take in having power over others and seeing them suffer.
As with most revenge-related behaviours, it is very interesting because it’s extremely subjected. For example, you might not believe you did anything wrong and sometimes that will be true. In these cases, it is about a person perceiving you wronged them, so they go out to get revenge.
Whatever the case, if someone wants revenge against you emotional abuse can get a very attractive option because it can do a lot of damage. As well as the legal system isn’t really set up too well to handle emotional abuse (in case that’s a barrier for them).
However, unlike sadists, abusers who are seeking revenge don’t necessarily take pleasure from seeing others in pain per se. Since their pleasure comes from their own retribution and the act of getting revenge itself.
Abusers Stand To Gain From Incapacitating You:
Now this is a really interesting motive because sometimes abusers emotionally abuse others because there are major benefits from having you incapacitated. Since frequent emotional abuse leads to an impaired ability to function and it causes mental distress. Leading people to lack the drive, energy and/ or clarity of mind to fulfil normal duties.
And in some of the most extreme cases, sometimes the victim agrees with the abuser that the best place for them is a mental hospital.
This is flat out horrifying. Because this motive can work so well that “evil” or “bad” people can effectively use it to get custody of children, a job promotion (or to get you fired) and get access to all your money.
Wants To Rise In The Ranks:
Leading on from the last point, some rather awful people use emotional abuse to rise up in the ranks of an organisation. They do this by emotionally abusing others in the workplace by bullying others. As well as this abuse can be designed in a way that tilts the balance of power in their direction between their co-workers because they’re envious of their victim’s success or they want the promotion that the victim is likely to get.
Therefore, by bullying and abusing others, the abuser can gain power over the victim that makes the abuser induce fear or distress in the victim. Meaning the abuser can exploit that power to make themselves look successful whilst the victim looks like nothing more than an absolute failure.
I really hope none of this ever happens to any of you!
Attention and Sympathy:
This is definitely a reason I never would have thought of myself because some abusers use emotional abuse to make people give them affirmation, sympathy and attention. Since this is what makes a “martyr” tick because some people decide to play a martyr to engage in self-sacrifice in order to solicit affirmation, sympathy and evoke guilt in other people.
For instance, if your brother is moving into a new home with his partner and you offered to help him but he denied. Then he would do all the moving himself in an act of self-sacrifice and expect you to feel sorry for him afterwards. Yet if you don’t feel sorry, he would start to guilt-trip you (there’s the emotional abuse).
There are plenty of other reason why people abuse others, both emotionally and physically, and it does make for interesting reading. But I think we can all agree that is it awful, unneeded and people shouldn’t do it in the slightest because of the amount of damage it can do to a person.
So please my unofficial tip would be if you think you’re being emotionally abused, be aware of it and try and deal with it. Maybe cut that friend or family member out of your life, report the abuser to your boss or your boss’ boss (if your boss is the abuser) or do something else entirely.
There is no place for emotional abuse in the world.
I really hope you enjoyed today’s clinical psychology episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Abnormal Psychology: The Causes and Treatments For Depression, Anxiety and More. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Emotional Abuse and Clinical Psychology References:
Biçer, C. (2019). Fight Fire with Fire? Workplace Aggression and How to Reduce Its Negative Effects. Karamanoglu Mehmetbey University Journal of Social and Economic Research, 21(37), pp. 37-46.
Brogaard, B. (2020). Hatred: Understanding Our Most Dangerous Emotion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Knapp, D. R. Fanning the Flames: Gaslighting as a Tactic of Psychological Abuse and Criminal Prosecution. 83 Alb. L. Rev. 313 (2019-2020).
Leve, A. (2016). An Abbreviated Life. New York: HarperCollins.
Rees, C. A. (2010). Understanding Emotional Abuse. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 95(1), http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/adc.2008.143156
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