The Damage Caused by Psychological Abuse

Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW

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“The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”
~ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Many of the clients I work with present with histories of sundry forms of emotional and psychological abuse, ranging from childhood bullying, familial scapegoating, manipulation and gaslighting from a sociopathic mate, or being targeted as the ‘bad’ child by character disordered parents.

The repercussions of systematic belittling, humiliation, intimidation and habitual cruelty are evidenced in the victim’s low self-esteem, self-loathing, disorientation, and deep-seated shame.

Victims of psychological abuse are brainwashed to defer to the demands of others and to deny their instinctual wisdom.

Often they are subconsciously driven to redeem themselves of the inherent defectiveness they believe characterizes their intrinsic nature.

Tragically victims struggle with feeling deserving of the most basic forms of human decency, which sets them up for further persecutory assault from narcissists, opportunists, and garden variety perpetrators.

Integral to emotional and psychological abuse is character assassination. Destroying the credibility and reputation of the designated victim, ensures the abuser a position of power and control.

By deliberately amplifying perceived flaws, sadistically criticizing and mocking one’s behavior, values, interests and discrediting accomplishments and promulgating outright lies, the assassin tears away at the victim’s integrity, thus rendering him/her vulnerable to being pathologized.

Accordingly as the victim begins to cave under the shame of stigma and the oppression of the assassin’s smear campaign broadcasted to anyone willing to listen, s/he starts to doubt reality and question his/her sanity. Eventually the targeted victim is strategically led by the assassin to experience and view themself as psychologically abnormal.

Who are these character assassins, what are their ‘tools’ of their trade, and what motivates them to ruthlessly destroy others?

Character Assassins run the gamut from power hungry opportunists, mentally ill parents who project unwanted badness onto their children, malignant narcissists trolling for supply, schoolyard bullies, ruthless employers, resentful colleagues, and charismatic politicians.

Often they present as benign, even altruistic.

They are driven by envy, greed, jealousy, a sadistic need to harm, and political motivation.

To deflect blame they will scapegoat.

To cultivate a militia of enablers they will feign victimization, manipulate facts, disseminate ambiguous rumors (doublespeak), and call the targeted victim’s morals into question.

Triangulation is also a commonly relied upon tactic by character assassins, designed to pit an enabler against the targeted rival, in order to Divide and Conquer.

They are masters at taking what is technically true and morphing it into a nefarious narrative devoid of proper context.

By relying on confirmation bias, the tendency to interpret information so that it supports preconceptions, character assassins can dupe others into colluding in actualizing his/her agenda.

Depending on the pervasiveness and extent of the abuse surviving and prevailing from character assassination may necessitate treatment for complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

Like the Greek heroine Cassandra, the victims of chronic psychological abuse and character assassination are often not believed.

It is critical to have a compassionate witness who can mirror the victim’s truth, and guide them towards safety and stabilization. Completely excising oneself from perpetrators of character assassination may be a radical step when it means cutting familial ties, but recovery and reclamation of one’s integrity is dependent on stepping out of the line of fire. This dictum holds true with any situation involving a sociopath.

Above all the sacred mantra to not give up on oneself is what makes healing possible.

In the words of Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes,

“Refuse to fall down
If you cannot refuse to fall down,
refuse to stay down.
If you cannot refuse to stay down,
lift your heart toward heaven,
and like a hungry beggar,
ask that it be filled.
You may be pushed down.
You may be kept from rising.
But no one can keep you from lifting your heart
toward heaven
only you.
It is in the middle of misery
that so much becomes clear.
The one who says nothing good
came of this,
is not yet listening.”

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As a survivor (and thriver) of complex trauma and a seasoned therapist specializing in treating complex trauma, narcissistic abuse syndrome and addictions, I am intent on creating content that affords informative insight, hope and healing from psychological disorders. I aim for my creative content to assist readers with tapping into the resiliency of the human condition while recognizing the countless challenges of being human.

New York City, NY
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