What is Mental Abuse?
Abuse is when someone is being deliberately hurt by someone else. This could be one single act or something that takes place over a prolonged period of time. Safeguarding refers to the process of protecting vulnerable members of society from different types of abuse that can occur. There are a number of different types of abuse, with mental or psychological abuse being one of them.
Nowadays there is more and more focus on looking after our mental health, so psychological abuse is certainly just as important, and just as damaging as anything physical.
How is Mental Abuse Conducted?
There are many types of behaviour that can be classed as mental abuse. This could include:
- Intimidation and threats: This could be things like shouting, acting aggressively or just generally making you feel scared. By repeatedly being treated this way, you are made to feel inferior, and end up losing a lot of self-esteem that means you fail to stand up for yourself.
- Criticism: This could be things like calling you names or making lots of unpleasant and sarcastic comments. Again, this can really lower self-esteem and self-confidence.
- Undermining: This might include things like dismissing your opinion. It can also lead you to doubt your own opinion by acting as if you're being oversensitive if you do complain, disputing your version of events or by being sporadic with their treatment of you – this all means they manipulate you to avoid being found out.
- Being made to feel guilty: This can range from outright emotional blackmail (threats of suicide or lots of emotional outbursts) to sulking all the time or giving you the silent treatment. These are ways of manipulating you into doing what they want, a technique that could lead to physical abuse too.
- Telling you what you can and can't do: Mental abuse is generally about control. This can be as explicit as telling you what you can and can't do, to controlling where you go or who you see.
Vulnerable Members of Society
Anyone can be a victim of abuse, but the most vulnerable members of society that safeguarding focuses on are:
- Children: This counts as anyone under the age of 18. Mental abuse is the second more common reason for children needing protection from abuse in the UK.
- Vulnerable adults: This is a person that, for any reason, is unable to take care of themselves or protect themselves from harm or exploitation.
Mental abuse can often be very subtle, and build up over time so that you barely notice it's happening until it's too late, which is why it is just as important as any other form of abuse. Moreover, because this form of abuse more than often comes from someone you know, people often feel trapped by the situation so that they feel they can't get help and support, but they can.
Consequences of Mental Abuse
As the conversation about mental abuse becomes more prominent, more legislation is being put in place so that abusers get the punishment they deserve.
In 2015, mental and emotional abuse finally became illegal. This includes any of the behaviours listed above, and means that abusers can face years behind bars if found guilty. This big step now means that for the first time, psychological abusers can face prison in the same way that they would if they were physically violent, highlighting the severity of mental abuse.
Lee was 16 years old when he started going to a church youth club. Very gradually, he was groomed by the leader of the group, Adam. Lee started accepting lifts from Adam, receiving texts and being invited round to hang out. It built up over time until Adam started kissing Lee, and when Lee told Adam he wasn't gay, mental abuse started.
Adam claimed that Lee had instigated it, then threatened to take him off the preaching rota. As a result, Lee was made to feel he would be excluded from the group if he put a stop to things, and Adam made him feel like he could tell no-one about what had been going on.
Mental and sexual abuse continued, and although Lee knew that what Adam was doing was wrong, the combination of abuse made him felt trapped and depressed.
Lee moved away a year later, allowing him to feel like he could finally open up about what had happened. This caused Adam to be removed from his position in youth work, and Lee received counselling and support.
Lee stressed that "victims of grooming and sexual abuse must talk to someone. However bad it seems or however trapped you feel, someone will be able to help you".