Within every community, toxic people can be found hiding in families, couples, companies, and places of worship. Psychological abuse is all-inclusive, happening all around the world and affecting all ages, genders, ethnicities, and economic standing. Something that’s rarely spoken of in social circles, in the news and even in the medical field: why isn’t psychological abuse being talked about more if it’s so deeply rooted in our society?
People who have experienced psychological abuse often cannot clearly describe what has been done to them due to the hidden actions of an abuser – repetitious mind games, brainwashing, and more. You feel it, and sometimes you can even see solid glimpses of the dysfunction. More often than not though, it is like a snake. lt moves quickly and slithers away before you can get a good look at it.Psychological abuse leaves no bruises, no broken bones, no holes in the walls. The bruises, brokenness, and holes are held tightly within the target of abuse.
You may be able to identify with feeling overwhelmed by the hidden actions of someone in your life. You may find yourself in the situation of trying to sort out a romantic relationship that has kept you feeling like you are a yo-yo. It could be your family who have made you their token scapegoat and family punching bag. You may be experiencing grief symptoms. You could be mourning the loss of the relationship you thought you would be receiving. Abusers can also be bosses or co-workers who appear to take pleasure in making your daily life miserable. Perhaps the harm you have experienced is within a place of worship. You let your guard completely down only to find yourself repeatedly stabbed in the back.
Without a specific set of terms to describe the actions of a hidden abuser, targets of this type of harm feel frustrated with their inability to make other people see the games that are being played. This happens because the average person doesn’t know about psychological abuse. Unless you have the precise education needed to be able to explain the situation, the toxic person’s plan works. They want to remain secretive about the abuse. They purposefully hide their behaviours just under the public radar. When people try to complain about them, the complaints fall flat on the floor.
Also referred to as hidden abuse, the behaviours of the abuser involve chronic and repetitive secret games being played by one individual, or a group of people against a target. These actions are so well-disguised that their venom frequently goes unnoticed. Covert, hidden, sneaky, and off the radar. As relationships progress, so does the game playing. Eventually, their actions might become more overt and then, sometimes, noticeable. By the time these outward signs of dysfunction reveal themselves, the targets of the abuse are usually very devastated. They have been successfully manipulated to wonder if they are the problem, perhaps even the actual toxic person in the relationship.
The abuser walks away looking ‘squeaky clean’, and the victim appears unstable. Psychological abuse is perhaps one of the most hidden injustices of our times because it leaves the targets unable to trust even themselves.
Shannon Thomas, LCSW is the owner and lead therapist of an award-winning private practice-counselling agency in Southlake, Texas. She approaches her counselling work from the lens of a therapist and as a fellow survivor of psychological abuse.