Psychological Self-Help

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Psychological abuse needs to be treated if reading and self-help doesn’t reduce
the abuse. Why is treatment by a professional needed? Because, as mentioned,
psychological abuse has a way of evolving into physical abuse. Thus, it provides a
possible warning sign of coming physical aggression. Psychological abuse users, both
men and women, need to seek therapy also because it continues to be extremely
destructive to the emotional quality of the relationship, to the emotional health of
both people, and to the welfare of their children. It has been found that psychological
aggression in the first 18 months of marriage often foretells physical aggression
within the next year and is associated with abuse of children later.
A variety of therapies can be used with psychological abuse: Angry thoughts of the
psychological abuser are principle causes of abusive behaviors and their negative
emotions. Cognitive-Behavioral techniques challenge these problematic thoughts,
expectations and needs by using psycho-education methods, such as explaining that
abusive actions stem from the abuser’s needs for power and control and by teaching
several communication skills—empathy responding, “I” statements, assertiveness,
conflict resolution, anger management, and so on (see chapters 13 & 14 as well as
later in this chapter). Berg-Cross also advocates a Psychodynamic approach where
the connection is made conscious between underlying emotional needs of the abuser,
such as low self-esteem, fears and dependency, compulsiveness, narcissism, etc,
and their abusive actions. Other approaches can be helpful, especially assistance re-
building trust in the relationship, therapy groups (for physical abuse in particular),
and supplemental drug or alcohol treatment if either partner also has such a
Berg-Cross finds some similarity between unhappy, abusive, hopeless marriages in
which the abused partner refuses to leave, and a situation where a violent criminal,
such as a robber, a child molester, or an abusive mate, holds a hostage. The
captured or abused partner (or prisoner) often feels totally dependent on the strong
dominant, sometimes ruthless, abusive person. Their life depends on the violent
person. Feeling helpless (and afraid), the threatened, desperate prisoner may show
some friendliness or appreciation to the abusive criminal in hopes of receiving some
favors or leniency in the future from the captor or abusive partner. In his/her
desperation the hostage develops some hopes for some sign of care and sympathy
from the abusive controller. Thus, the abused and tortured person hangs on in
hopes, usually illusory, that they will be treated better. This is called the Stockholm
Syndrome because several years ago the hostages of bank robbers became
supportive of the thieves during their five day capture.
A thorough understanding of psychological or verbal abuse is very important because
the development of abuse is a long process and psychological, verbal, or emotional
abuse is usually the start of the escalating violence. Nipping the verbal insults in the
bud is very wise. Otherwise, more and more violent harm is done to the partner…and
love is diminished in the process. An entire book by O’Leary and Maiuro (2001) deals
with Psychological Abuse in domestic relations and Gafner and Mantooth (1999)
describe a Psychoeducational Approach to partner abuse. Beverly Engel (2002)
focuses on emotional abuse by one or both parties and has published several books
in this area that are recommended highly.
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