8 tactics of psychological violence used by abusers in intimate relationships

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8 tactics of psychological violence used by abusers in intimate relationships

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Psychological abuse is an integral part of the strategies used by an abuser to exert power in an intimate relationship. These are strategies in which the abuser targets different components of a person's identity and psychological health: self-confidence, self-esteem, self-image, perceptions, emotions, thoughts, dignity, psychological functioning and mental health. In this way, the abuser can destabilize the victim and weaken them in their very core, to make it easier to gain a psychological hold on them.

Love bombing

Love bombing involves showering the victim with excessive and unexpected compliments, affection, attention, appreciation, gifts and gestures of love, often very early on in the relationship. The abuser's aim is to create an intense emotional bond to encourage rapid attachment and then major commitments on the part of the victim. The abuser may then demand some form of reciprocity and foster a sense of indebtedness in the victim, and thus begin to impose certain things on them. Love bombing usually occurs at the beginning of the relationship, but can also be used at the point of remission in the cycle of violence, to catch a victim who begins to question the relationship, often following a more overtly violent event.


Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which the abuser attempts to impose a false version of reality on the victim. To achieve this, the abuser may discredit the victim's perceptions (You're exaggerating again! I didn't even scream!), question the victim's memories (It didn't happen like that! You just remember what works for you! ) or disqualify their interpretation of reality (It was just a joke!). An abuser may deny that an event really happened or that something was said, when in fact it did (I never told you that! You're making it up! ). Conversely, the abuser may also claim that an event did happen or that something was said, when it didn't (You told me you agreed last week! How could you forget that!).


Negging means disguising an insult or criticism in a statement that appears, on the surface, to be a compliment. This tactic is used to destabilize the victim, to make them doubt themselves in order to gain power over them. Negging often take the form of a seemingly positive statement, but that is expressed with a hint of irony or sarcasm, making it clear that the aggressor thinks the opposite of what they are saying. Negging can take the form of comparisons (You're really pretty there, but you should have seen my ex), false compliments (You're far too intelligent to think that, don't you think), false constructive criticism (You're really good at skiing, but I've got to tell you, it's really peculiar the way you go down the moguls), or misleading messages (My mother told me you had good hips for carrying children!). Negging will often lead to a negative reaction from the victim towards the abuser, who will then have an opportunity to invalidate them and question their interpretation of the facts (I'm being super nice, always complimenting you, and you freak out!).

Emotional manipulation

Emotional manipulation is a form of psychological abuse that involves influencing a person's emotions in order to hold them under control. The abuser tries to induce emotions of fear, terror, pain, suffering, shame, embarrassment, anger, etc., knowing that this will cause the victim to act as they wish, lose credibility with others, or lose power over the situation. The abuser can use a variety of means to achieve this: threatening, intimidating, reproaching, denigrating, blaming, ridiculing, blackmailing, insulting, deceiving, invalidating, infantilizing, and so on.

Cold Shouldering

Another form of psychological abuse is cold-shouldering is a form of emotional deprivation, also referred to as the silent treatment. Cold shouldering means that the abuser denies the victim affection, validation, support and love, for the purposes of control, coercion or punishment. The abuser may show indifference to the victim's emotional needs, deliberately ignore or deprive them of emotional contact. Conversely, the abuser may later reward the victim's submissive behaviors by giving them the affection and attention they had previously deprived them of.

Social restriction

Abusive partners will often try to isolate their victim, i.e. limit their access to those close to them in order to weaken them psychologically. The victim ends up cut off from the relationships that fuel their inner strength, provide validation and support, and could help them to see their situation more clearly. In addition to isolation, social restriction can also take the form of exclusion, i.e. a partner may deliberately exclude the victim from certain social circles where the victim should normally be welcome (family, a circle of friends, etc.), often by manipulating the members of those circles against the victim. The abuser may even use this exclusion in his emotional manipulation later on, to stir up particularly painful feelings of humiliation and rejection in the victim. The victim then risks self-exclusion to avoid feeling these emotions... which will also contribute to her isolation, in a particularly vicious circle. Social restriction enables the aggressor to become the victim's only point of reference, amplifying their hold on them.

Sleep deprivation

An abuser may deliberately deprive the victim of sleep, with the aim of making them more vulnerable. The abuser may startle her awake just as she's about to fall asleep, refuse to let her sleep to settle an argument (often deliberately started at bedtime), or wake her up incessantly during the night. He may also demand that his partner conform to their sleep schedule, without regard for the victim's reality. The victim may then find themselves in serious sleep debt if they have no choice but to go to bed at 3am and get up at 6am to get the kids ready for school and go to work. The victim then loses a lot of stamina and finds themselves greatly weakened, both psychologically and physically.

Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender (DARVO)

The acronym DARVO stands for Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender (Freyd, 1997). This is a very common tactic, in which the aggressor uses different elements of reality to cast the victim in the role of abuser and position themselves as the victim. To achieve this, the abuser will use many of the consequences of the violence that they themselves have created in the victim to discredit them and make them appear aggressive, unstable and violent: their legitimate anger, their defensive behaviours (particularly reactive violence) and many manifestations of post-traumatic stress, such as mistrust and irritability.

This strategy enables the abuser to gain a great deal of power over the victim, by manipulating their own perception of the situation (the victim feels responsible, and sees themselves as the abuser), as well as the perceptions of those close to them and the vatious interveners involved in the situation (police, therapists, advocates, lawyers, youth protection workers, etc.). This also enables the abuser to threaten the victim with legal action, should they choose to leave or to lodge a complaint. This method is widely used, as evidenced by the wave of parental alienation accusations against victims of IPV, the rates of cross-complaints to the police and the many court cases where partners accused of violence respond with their own accusations, which can lead to the impression that this is a "severe conflict" where both parties are involved, rather than a situation of IPV.


The psychological impact of these forms of violence on victims is very significant. They may become confused, systematically doubt their memory or perceptions, or feel that they are exaggerating or over-sensitive.They may experience severe emotional distress, with a great deal of anxiety or anger, or, on the contrary, be cut off from their emotions and in a state of depression. They may experience intense confusion about what they think, feel or want and this makes it very difficult for them to trust themselves, which is very detrimental to their ability to question the violent situation, and to their subsequent recovery.

The psychological repercussions of such violence could easily be interpreted through a wide range of mental health diagnoses, or even personality disorders. It's important to recognize that these are wounds caused by violence, and to focus on a post-traumatic understanding of the reactions of victims of intimate partner violence. These reactions are normal in the circumstances. The important thing to remember is that these psychological wounds can heal, with support, validation, understanding and time.

Bien que la violence conjugale touche majoritairement des femmes, elle peut aussi toucher les hommes et les personnes issues de la diversité sexuelle et de genre. Les services de SOS violence conjugale sont offerts à toutes les personnes touchées par la problématique.

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