Psychological Self-Help

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actions do not belong in relationships among equals; they are verbal abuse or
psychological putdowns.
There are appalling statistics about psychological abuse (see Berg-Cross, 2005 and
Follingstad, 1990): among physically abused women almost all of them are also
verbally/psychologically abused. 72% of battered women believe the psychological
harm, especially emotional ridicule, was worse than the physical harm. Three times
as many black women were physically abused as white women (Mouton, C., April,
2004, using data from the Women’s Health Initiative in American Journal of Public
Health) but white women reported more verbal abuse. About 11% of the 92,000 50
to 79-year-old women reported some kind of abuse in the last year. While we do not
know much about the level of abuse in different regional and ethnic situations, there
is a sobering report by WHO in the July, 2003, issue of its Bulletin in which over half
of Zimbabwean women (especially younger, poorer, uneducated, rural women)
believe wife beating is justified. Doctors, therapists, and other helpers, as well as
whole societies, need to know that all three kinds of abuse (physical, sexual and
psychological) are so common and to appreciate how wrong they are. There is a lot
of educating to do (reminds one of the gradual learning by cultures, by parents and
by schools that physical slapping, shaking, and whipping are usually. inappropriate
ways to teach or discipline).
Since the mid-1990’s, research has made it clear that women are also capable of all
three kinds of abuse. When I started writing this book in 1970, the concern was
about males hurting and dominating women. Our society up to 30-40 years ago
provided males with patriarchal norms and peers supporting strong male control of
women. But hidden behind closed doors and not discussed at that time was abuse of
males by females. Females can be critical and controlling too. Even among male
college students 20% felt isolated or emotionally controlled by a relationship and
15% experienced an effort by their partner to reduce their self-esteem. Of course, if
the definition of psychological abuse is expanded to include a little restriction of
social contacts, some jealousy, mild criticism that lowers self-confidence and just
moderate verbal abuse, then the percent of relationships that could be called
“abusive” becomes quite high. When a relationship becomes unhappy (depressed,
stressed, low self-esteem), it is reasonable to look for possible abuse, especially
psychological abuse.
Abuse comes in many forms. Here is a simple list of abusive behaviors:
Being yelled at, called names, nagged at, called racial slurs,
called “stupid,” told “no one else would want you,”
talked to as a child, constant put-downs, ridiculed appearance,
threatened to kill me, threatened to take the children,
belittled important things I accomplished, told me I was fat, ugly, dumb,
said I was an unfit mother, embarrassed me in public, told the children I was
disgusting, said I was a bad sex partner, always screams at the children, puts down
my relatives.
Berg-Cross provides some excellent questions that clarify more precisely what
emotional abuse may involve. Perhaps these questions can help you self-assess your
and your partner’s tendencies to inflict psychological hurts:
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