Emotional Abuse is an essential tool for understanding the powerful and insidious mechanisms of this subtle, but destructive, form of abuse. This groundbreaking book explores the components of emotional abuse, whether occurring alone or in the presence of physical abuse, and presents a new model for its treatment.

[from the back cover]

Loring, Emotional Abuse

About the Author

Marti Tamm Loring is a clinical social worker, sociologist, and director of the Center for Mental Health and Human Development and The Emotional Abuse Institute.

[from the back cover]

Table of Contents

Preface     xi
Acknowledgments     xv


Emotional Abuse: An Overview

2 Differentiating Emotional Abuse 15
3 Attachment 25
4 The Trauma of Emotional Abuse 35
5 Theoretical Perspectives 57
6 A New Model of Therapy 73

Epilogue: Other Targets of Emotional Abuse    111

References    127
Index    133

[from the hardbound edition]


"Emotional Abuse provides a clear road map for therapists to guide them through the intricacies of treating emotionally abused victims. Any therapist working with emotionally abused clients will find this a most useful text."

--Jeffrey T. Mitchell, president,
International Critical Incident Stress Foundation

"Emotional Abuse breaks new ground in describing this little understood and acknowledged form of interpersonal mistreatment. Loring describes both overt and covert emotional abuse and makes crucial linkages to other types of abuse as well. Her intervention strategies are grounded in relational theory and give the therapist a practical approach to the assessment and treatment of the emotionally abused client."

--Christine A. Courtois, clinical director,
Center for Abuse Recovery & Empowerment,
Psychiatric Institute of Washington, D.C.

[from the back cover]

Read more reviews of this book on the
Amazon.com website:
Emotional Abuse:
The Trauma and the Treatment

Emotional Abuse on Amazon.com


The second level of violence (Exhibit 2), covert emotional abuse, is more subtle but no less devastating to victims. Because they are often unaware of its essential violence, victims commonly react to covert abuse with feelings of despair and confusion.

This kind of abuse consists of an insidious, sometimes complex pattern of negative feedback. The film Sleeping with the Enemy (Goldberg & Rubin, 1991) provides a clear example of this sort of emotional abuse. In one scene, the victim has dressed for the evening, and her abusive partner disapproves of what she is wearing. His disgusted tone of voice as he cuts his eyes up and down her body, as well as his affect of resignation, send a clear covert message: She is totally inept at selecting her attire.

In a subsequent scene, she has changed to the dress he prefers, although its low back does not protect her from the evening chill (she had mentioned warmth as her reason for choosing the other dress). This is a typical abuser perspective. The abuser's comfort is the only organizing theme of his thoughts and actions. Any consistent empathy for the partner's feelings is precluded. By discounting her needs and feelings, he tells her, implicitly, how unimportant they are to him. Among emotional abuse victims, this constant and subtle discounting of their feelings contributes to a profound sense of loneliness and sadness.

Different styles of covert abuse can convey the same message. Albert, a distinguished university professor, was well-known in the academic community for his research. He was frequently invited to colleges and professional meetings to give speeches and to present papers. Albert and his wife, Terry, had been married for seven years but had no children; he had decided, unilaterally, that the world was "not a fit place to raise children."

Through periodic expressions of exasperation, Albert clearly demonstrated that he found Terry's ideas unworthy of his consideration. He sighed with disgust, shook his head in dramatic bewilderment, and used a patient yet strained tone of voice, as if he were talking to a slow child. Terry reacted with depression.

At times, his distaste for her feelings and ideas crossed the line between denigration and negation; he simply denied that they existed at all. In therapy, Terry described numerous incidents in which Albert commented, "You don't really feel that way," or "Terry, you do not think that." He frequently interrupted her during conversations and announced to friends that Terry thought or felt a particular way, although she had never expressed any such feeling or idea. She began to be confused about her real perceptions, wondering how she actually felt. During therapy Terry cried for long periods of time. She was unable to understand her feelings and was certain that she should not be crying. "My husband is so kind to me," she said repeatedly while describing her confusion and suicidal thoughts.

The impact of this depiction of one's feelings as unreal is powerful. The victim begins to internalize the negation and to feel herself eroding away. When Albert called her "stupid," "worthless," and "the brain-dead one," Terry felt as if she were "coming apart": "I come apart and lose touch with parts of myself -- my ideas, values, and my style of behaving. I don't know myself anymore."

Over time these covert mechanisms of labeling, discounting, and negation led to a diminution and description of the self. Victims describe feeling that the constituent parts of the self -- the individual characteristics, abilities, and skills, preferences and wishes, dreams and aspirations -- no longer cohere. This fragmentation affects the victim's thinking and judgment. She may have uncontrollable intrusive thoughts and mental images that reinforce over and over the abuser's denigrating and negating labeling.

Emotional Abuse:
The Trauma and the Treatment

pages 3-6

As noted in the preceding chapters, vulnerability to emotional abuse generally has its origins in childhood experiences. Babies and children who experience consistent empathy, understanding, and validation from a nurturing figure develop a sense of security and a comfortable pattern of attachment. The safe haven provided by certainty that the nurturer will be there in a kindly and warm manner most of the time endows the child with feelings of trust and hope for the future. When the nurturer mirrors back positively the child's responses to her environment, the seeds of her sense of self are planted and nourished. She feels unique and confident, excited about her own abilities and skills. Attachment to the nurturing parent provides a secure base from which to venture forth and explore the world (Bowlby, 1988).

Securely attached children hold onto nurturers tightly and are, in turn, consistently embraced with firmness and warmth. Even when the nurturer is occasionally unavailable or sad, the certainty of physical and emotional reunification (consistently established over time) remains, and no harm is done. The child is not panicked or traumatized by such infrequent physical and/or emotional absences. Generally this ebb and flow of secure attachment is carried over into adult relationships. Partners who establish the trust and certainty of being there for each other during difficult times fulfill their individual needs as well.

Infants and children who lack this secure and empathic foundation may become "anxiously attached" (Bowlby, 1973, 1979, 1988). This pattern is sometimes established when illness or depression limits a parent's physical or emotional accessibility to the child, or divorce or separation consume a parent's emotional resources for a long period. Similarly, the prolonged hospitalization or death of one parent often disrupts the development of normal attachment; the child may grow up emotionally abandoned. In childhood and in later life, this sense of abandonment can result in the desperate clinging described in some of the cases cited in Chapter 1....

Bowlby (1973) found that a child blamed for a parent's depression will blame herself and become prey to anxiety and fears of abandonment. She will cling all the more desperately to the parent or, in his or her absence, to reassuring fantasies of closeness. If an emotionally distant parent persists in pushing the child away and punishing her, a vicious circle is likely to ensue: the child reaches out for affection and validation again and again, and the nurturer pushes her away in each instance. Each time they cycle is repeated, the child feels more anxious and clings more desperately.

Joannie is a five-year-old whose mother, Susan, experienced sexual abuse as a child. Susan still suffers periodic bouts of depression. During what the family calls "one of her spells," she shuts herself in her room and cries until her husband returns from work. Meanwhile, Joannie's eleven-year-old brother fixes his sister's lunch and takes care of her. When her mother emerges, Joannie rushes to her and hangs on her skirts, sometimes jerking on them to gain attention. The attention, when it comes, is harsh: Susan screams at the child, "Leave me alone!" But Joannie clings all the more tightly. She also bids for her mother's attention by trying to engage her in conversation, demanding to be fed frequently, and complaining of frequent stomachaches and headaches.

For children like Joannie, repeated experiences of emotional abandonment induce deep yearnings and unfulfilled hopes for more consistent closeness. The child develops ambivalent emotions: a desperate hope for intimacy, and a despairing suspicion that she will never attain it. Moreover, she has experienced a repetitive cycle of reaching out and being rejected that can set the pattern of her adult life.

The emotionally abused child -- and, later, the same child as an emotionally abused adult -- treasures the precious nuggets of warmth and understanding she receives from the abuser. They are her lifeline and the basis of her sense of worth. She holds tenaciously to these occasional moments of empathic connection. When they are withdrawn, she mourns their loss and tries desperately to regain them. Recapturing them and transforming them into a more consistent, empathic, and lasting connection becomes her major quest in life....

Thus the emotionally abused adult is caught in a dilemma. By choosing for her life partner a person as incapable of consistent empathic bonding as her parent, she is attempting to reconstruct a lost childhood. Although victims often report tantalizing moments in which the abuser seems to connect with genuine empathy and encouragement, such moments do not last. The longed-for bond with a consistently warm and responsive partner is simply not available in an emotionally abusive relationship. Yet the quest goes on. As one victim explains, it is "a struggle to collect crumbs of warmth and not let them get away."

Emotional Abuse:
The Trauma and the Treatment

pages 27-29

The emotional abuse of children has been principally analyzed as a form of psychological maltreatment. Garbarino, Guttmann, and Seeley (1989) have identified and traced five principal components of abuse suffered by infants, small children, school-age children, and adolescents:
  • Rejection or emotional abandonment
  • Terror
  • Ignoring the child
  • Isolation
  • Corruption
...A review of the literature suggests that children who experience emotional abuse present with multiple emotional anad behavioral problems.... Those who internalize the abuse become depressed, suicidal, and withdrawn. They manifest self-destructiveness, depression, suicidal thoughts, passivity, withdrawal (avoidance of social contacts), shyness, and a low degree of communication with others.... They are likely to have low self-esteem...and may suffer from feelings of guilt and remorse, depression, loneliness, rejection, and resignation. Perceiving themselves as unworthy and the world as a hostile place in which they are bound to fail, many are unwilling to try new tasks or develop new skills. They have difficult visualizing and planning for the future. Emotionally abused children have nightmares, nervous habits, and suffer from such somatic complaints as headaches.... They may exhibit passive-agressive behavior at home and at school.

Some other children who externalize abuse act out by mistreating animals or by emotionally or physically abusing younger siblings. They may be unpredictable and violent, their behavior characterized by impulsive action rather than conformity to social norms.... They "frequently become anxious, agressive, and hostile. They suffer from constant fear and feel ready to 'hit back'".... Emotionally abused adolescents have become truants, runaways, destructive, depressed, and suicidal.

Emotional Abuse:
The Trauma and the Treatment

pages 117-119

[from the hardbound edition]

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The Trauma and the Treatment

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The Trauma and the Treatment

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Learn more about this book also written by Marti Tamm Loring:

Stories from the Heart:
Case Studies of Emotional Abuse
(New Directions in Therapeutic Intervention, Vol 1)

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