Pat Capel

Psychological Abuse Part 2

What are the tools of abuse?

Tools of abuse include:

1.Uncertainty – not just a result of psychological abuse it can be used as a tool to keep the victim in a permanent state of indecision, unable to take action. This can be a subtle way of removing someone’s sense of autonomy and control one of our essential emotional needs.

2. Gaslighting – a term that originated from the 1940s film “Gaslight”. In the film a man convinces his wife that she is losing her mind by slowly manipulating her to believe that this is the case. “Gaslighting” is a form of coercive control that is covert and subtle, making a victim question their reality and their sanity. Done gradually, over time, even the most self-aware people can be hood-winked. The victim doesn’t know someone is doing it and may not realise for years. In that time, one may become dependent on the abuser.

3. Intermittent Reinforcement – it is not simply a case of lack of resources and fear that can hold victims back, but the psychological dependence they develop on their abuser. The victim might be “rewarded” with inconsistent and occasional attention and “punished” with fear of losing the relationship.

As identified by survivors we might say there are stages in “hooking” the victim in to a psychologically abusive relationship.

STEP 1. Choosing the Target

The abuser chooses their target, someone who has strong inner resources who may also have external resources too, perhaps social status, money or looks. Survivors talk about partners who avoid boring activities or hard work or making an effort in relationships as this makes them feel “ordinary”. They might target someone who is thriving and doing well and by associating with them they feel better.

STEP 2. Idealisation phase

Known in the survivor community as “lovebombing,” this makes the victim feel very special and secure. Thinking that the abuser is everything they ever wanted, they are appreciated and taken an interest in. Even if they were previously doing OK, they may now have a “special” status given to them by the abuser. This can be difficult to spot as it is so much like falling in love. The victim is being “hooked” in. Dependency starts to develop. What can also happen here is that the victim might lose contact with friends and other sources of support because the abuser is so “full on” with the attention giving.

STEP 3. Devaluing the target

The target is hooked and then there is a shift. The victim might now be ignored or rejected. If asked the abuser will say that they are being “paranoid” or “insecure”. Confusion is created. Perhaps the abuser has now got what they want and they don’t need to make an effort any longer. Further “gaslighting”, “silent treatment” or ridicule might add to the confusion. From getting their needs met from an attentive partner the victim is now accused of being selfish or crazy for being paranoid for thinking that the attention is waning or no longer there. The target is hooked in and the abuse can now take whatever form the abuser wishes.

Result – Trauma bonding

A strong emotional attachment between an abused person and his or her abuser, formed as a result of the cycle of violence (Wendy Austin; Mary Ann Boyd. Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing for Canadian Practice) Trauma bonding can make it very difficult to leave and can “pattern match” to other, similar traumas from the past further solidifying the attachment.


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