This article originally appeared on Psychology Today.
During Domestic Violence Month the focus tends to be on one specific kind of abuse—physical violence. Yet, research indicates that the aspect of domestic violence that incites greater fear—and can be a precursor to violence—is psychological abuse. Psychological abuse, like physical violence, is used to gain power and control over an intimate partner. Unlike physical abuse, it is hard to see because it happens with words and demeanor, without physical contact—yet it is undeniable due to the psychological harm it causes.
According to a study by the Center for Disease Control, nearly half of all women in the U.S. (48.4 percent) have experienced at least one form of psychological aggression by an intimate partner during their lifetime. Women identified verbal aggression such as their partner’s angry gestures that seemed dangerous, being degraded, insulted, or humiliated; or their partner’s use of coercive control.
During over two decades of facilitating recovery groups for women with controlling partners, I have listened to more than a thousand women speak about being psychologically overpowered by an intimate partner. Please note that, while I will continue to write about women as they are the vast majority of abuse victims, the information here pertains to emotionally abused men as well.
While each woman experiences a unique ordeal, together they tell the same saga: a slow, insidious, and nearly invisible condition of coercion entraps a woman within her most intimate relationship. So well hidden, this entrapment can go undetected even by the woman herself. The deceptive twist is that the person from whom she might also receive care and kindness creates conditions that slowly diminish her spirit and sense of who she is.