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Domestic Mental Abuse

Domestic Mental Abuse

Whenever a person is exposed to behaviour from their partner which leaves them feeling depressed or a range of other traumatic emotions, they are a victim of domestic mental abuse.

The drip-drip effect of the behaviour lasting over a period of time as the perpetrator seeks to gain and maintain total control their partner can take a long while to catch up with the victim, who may rationalise what is happening or deny such abuse is taking place.
Anyone of any age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or socio-economic background can become a victim.

Forms that mental, or emotional, abuse can take include:

  • verbal abuse such as yelling, name-calling, blaming, and shaming
  • isolation
  • intimidation
  • coercive behaviour
  • controlling a partner’s finances and access to money.

An abuser may also threaten physical violence or other repercussions if their partner doesn’t do what they want, adding to the victim’s mental anguish.

Mental domestic abuse can cause:

  • depression
  • prolonged sadness
  • fear
  • anxiety
  • panic attacks
  • loneliness
  • a lack of confidence or self-esteem
  • feelings of guilt or self-blame
  • a questioning sense of oneself
  • experiencing difficulties at work, study or in other relationships
  • being emotionally drained
  • trouble sleeping.

Though everyone reacts differently to traumatic events and so do not experience all of the above, as Victim Support says in its guidance: “It’s important to remember that all of these reactions are normal and this is not your fault – only your abuser is to blame for their behaviour.”

In the most extreme cases it can lead to the victim abusing alcohol or drugs; suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts; having suicidal thoughts; or making attempts at suicide.

Walking on eggshells

Even the home, where one should feel relaxed, happy, comfortable and away from the cares of the world, can become a place of great anxiety where the victim is tense, carefully watching every word or action to avoid provoking the partner into another outburst. Survivors often refer to that aspect of domestic mental abuse as walking on eggshells.

Fear of retaliation from the partner or outright denial abuse is taking place may prevent victims from seeking the help they require. Feelings of shame, embarrassment or a sense of failure as a person, especially among male victims, may also inhibit victims getting assistance.

The resulting lack of emotional support can add to the sense of fear, anxiety, depression or isolation and lead to the use of illicit drugs, alcohol dependency or even suicidal thoughts.

Longer term effects

After leaving the abusive relationship, the lingering consequences for the survivors of having been subjected to mental abuse include feelings of:

  • hopelessness
  • being unworthy
  • apprehension
  • unable to trust others
  • unmotivated
  • questioning and
  • doubting spiritual faith
  • being discouraged about the future
  • being reluctant to start a new relationship.

Mental, or psychological, domestic abuse can have a significant impact on the victim’s emotional wellbeing and ability to live their life as they’d want to. They may want to avoid going to or near some places because of bad memories associated with their ex-partner, for example.

Emotional Scars

It can take some time for a survivor to adjust to living in an ordinary, safe environment away from their abusive partner. The experience of having suffered mental abuse over a sustained period of time can haunt survivors for many years and rob them of the ability to live a varied life to the full. While physical injuries often heal, the harder-to-spot emotional scars take longer to fade.

By Fiona Bawden, Times Online (8th May 2007)

“Steve Connor, a student at City Law School, is a man on a mission. Six years ago he was a fairly directionless 27-year-old. Today, as well as taking the Bar Vocational Course, he is chairman of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, a ground-breaking organisation that he dragged into existence after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner.

Connor’s route to the Bar has been circuitous. In 2001 he returned from a year in Australia (he says that he would not dignify describing it as a gap year), and took a job as a process server in South London. The job (“I just saw it advertised in the paper”) was not quite as dull as it sounds. On one occasion he was threatened with a machete, on another, he was nearly stabbed by a man he had arranged to meet on Clapham Common to serve with a non-molestation order: “He’d seemed really friendly on the phone…”

The turning point in his life came when a friend, who was being abused by her partner, turned to him for support. Connor went with her to the police. She did not want to press criminal charges so the police suggested that she visit a solicitor to take out a civil injunction. “We must have seen 12 solicitors in a morning. We just went from one to the next to the next to the next. Everyone was very eager to help until we sat down to fill in the forms for the legal aid means test,” he says. The woman, who had a small child, did not qualify for public funding. But, Connor says, her financial situation as it appeared on paper did not bear any relation to her financial situation in reality. “She had a part-time job and she and her partner owned their home. Yet she didn’t have any money. Her boyfriend was very controlling and controlled all the money; he kept the chequebooks and didn’t let her have access to the bank account.”

The injustice of the situation got under Connor’s skin. “I just couldn’t believe that there was no help available to people who did not qualify for public funds but could not afford to pay.

I just kept feeling that this must be able to be sorted if only someone would address it.”That “someone” turned out to be him.

In 2002, thanks entirely to Connor’s doggedness, the London Centre for Domestic Violence was formed. It started out with him and a friend, but is now a national organisation, covering 27 counties, and has helped approximately 10,000 victims last year to take out injunctions against their partners.

NCDV now has nine full-time staff, 12 permanent volunteers and has trained over 5000 law and other students as McKenzie Friends to accompany unrepresented victims into court. We have also trained over 8000 police officers in civil remedies available regarding domestic violence. The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) has branches in London, Guildford and Manchester and is on track to have branches in 16 areas within the next two years.

NCDV specialises exclusively in domestic violence work and could be characterised as a cross between McDonald’s and Claims Direct. The high degree of specialisation means that its processes are streamlined: clients can be seen quickly and the work is done speedily and cheaply. “Sometimes, we will have one of our trained McKenzie Friends at a court doing 10 applications in one day,” Connor says.

Clients are not charged for the service. NCDV staff take an initial statement: clients who qualify for legal aid are referred to a local firm; those that don’t get free help from the centre itself. It runs on a shoestring, heavily reliant on volunteers and capping staff salaries at £18,000 a year.

Steve expects to qualify as a barrister this summer and hopes that having a formal legal qualification will give the centre added clout. “We are already acknowledged as experts and consulted at a high level, so I thought it would be helpful if I could back that up by being able to say I’m a barrister,” he says. He is just about to complete a one-year full-time BVC course at the City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court Law School) and, all being well, should be called to the Bar in July. Although Connor sees his long-term future as a barrister, he says that he has no immediate plans to practise. “I want to get NCDV running on a fully national level. Then I may take a step back and have a career at the Bar.”