"Rumor" - "Unverified information of uncertain origin usually spread by word of mouth; hearsay."
"Slander" - "The utterance of defamatory statements injurious to the reputation or well-being of a person. ... A malicious statement or report."
"Backbite" - "To speak spitefully or slanderously about (a person)."
"Talebearer" - "A person who spreads malicious stories or gossip."
"Rail" - "To condemn or attack in bitter, harsh, or abusive language..."
"Revile" - "To denounce with abusive language."
Psychological abuse, also referred to as emotional abuse or mental abuse, is a form of abuse characterized by a person subjecting or exposing another to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Such abuse is often associated with situations of power imbalance, such as abusive relationships, bullying, and abuse in the workplace. Clinicians and researchers have offered sometimes divergent definitions of emotional abuse. However, the widely used Conflict Tactics Scale measures roughly twenty distinct acts of "psychological aggression" in three different categories:
- Verbal aggression (e.g., saying something that upsets or annoys someone else);
- Dominant behaviors (e.g., preventing someone to have contact with their family);
- Jealous behaviors (e.g., accusing a partner of maintaining other parallel relations).
With Health Canada, emotional abuse is "based on power and control", and defines emotional abuse as including rejecting, degrading, terrorizing, isolating, corrupting/exploiting and "denying emotional responsiveness" as characteristic of emotional abuse.
Several studies have argued that an isolated incident of either verbal aggression, dominant conduct or jealous behaviors does not constitute the term "psychological abuse." Rather, a pattern of such behaviors is a more appropriate scenario to be considered, unlike physical and sexual maltreatment where only one incident is necessary to label it as abuse. Tomison and Tucci write, "emotional abuse is characterised by a climate or pattern of behavior(s) occurring over time. Thus, 'sustained' and 'repetitive' are the crucial components of any definition of emotional abuse." Andrew Vachss, an author, attorney and former sex crimes investigator, defines emotional abuse as "the systematic diminishment of another. It may be intentional or subconscious (or both), but it is always a course of conduct, not a single event." Subtler emotionally abusive tactics include insults, putdowns, arbitrary and unpredictable inconsistency, and gaslighting (the denial that previous abusive incidents occurred). Modern technology has led to new forms of abuse, by text messaging and online cyber-bullying.
Domestic abuse—defined as chronic mistreatment in marriage, families, dating and other intimate relationships —- can include emotionally abusive behavior. Psychological abuse does not always lead to physical abuse, but physical abuse in domestic relationships is nearly always preceded and accompanied by psychological abuse. Murphy and O'Leary report that psychological aggression by one partner is the most reliable predictor of the other partner's likelihood of first exhibiting physical aggression.
A 2005 study by Hamel reports that "men and women physically and emotionally abuse each other at equal rates." Basile found that psychological aggression was effectively bidirectional in cases where heterosexual and homosexual couples went to court for domestic disturbances. A 2007 study of Spanish college students aged 18–27 found that psychological aggression (as measured by the Conflict Tactics Scale) is so pervasive in dating relationships that it can be regarded as a normalized element of dating, and that women are substantially more likely to exhibit psychological aggression. Similar findings have been reported in other studies. Strauss et al. found that female intimate partners in heterosexual relationships were more likely than males to use psychological aggression, including threats to hit or throw an object. A study of young adults by Giordano et al. found that females in intimate heterosexual relationships were more likely than males to threaten to use a knife or gun against their partner.
The study found that whether male or female, aggressive people share a cluster of traits, including high rates of suspicion and jealousy; sudden and drastic mood swings; poor self-control; and higher than average rates of approval of violence and aggression. Moffitt et al. also argue that antisocial women are rarely aggressive against anyone other than intimate male partners. Male and female perpetrators of emotional and physical abuse exhibit high rates of personality disorders
Additionally, Goldsmith and Freyd show that these people also tend to exhibit higher than average rates of alexithymia (difficulty identifying and processing their own emotions). This is often the case when referring to victims of abuse within intimate relationships, as non-recognition of the actions as abuse may be a coping or defense mechanism in order to either seek to master, minimize or tolerate stress or conflict. Jacobson et al. found that women report markedly higher rates of fear during marital conflicts. However, a rejoinder argued that Jacobson's results were invalid due to men and women's drastically differing interpretations of questionnaires. Coker et al. found that the effects of mental abuse were similar whether the victim was male or female. Pimlott-Kubiak and Cortina found that severity and duration of abuse were the only accurate predictors of aftereffects of abuse; sex of perpetrator or victim were not reliable predictors.
Analysis of a large survey by LaRoche found that women abused by men were slightly more likely to seek psychological help than were men abused by women (63% vs. 62%).
In a 2007 study, Laurent, et al., report that psychological aggression in young couples is associated with decreased satisfaction for both partners: "psychological aggression may serve as an impediment to couples' development because it reflects less mature coercive tactics and an inability to balance self/other needs effectively." A 2008 study by Walsh and Shulman reports that relationship dissatisfaction for both partners is more likely to be associated with, in women, psychological aggression and, in men, with withdrawal. English, et al. report that children whose families are characterized by interpersonal violence, including psychological aggression and verbal aggression, may exhibit a range of serious disorders, including chronic depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociation and anger.
When You Are Wrongly Accused
False accusations and gossip can destroy lives, even if the accused is innocent. If your reputation is under attack, Dr. Phil has advice on taking your power back:
- Accept that there is no way you can erase what has happened. Even though the accusations may be unfair and untrue, the situation is real. You need to get out of denial about that in order to deal with it in the here and now.
- Watch your catastrophic language. If you keep saying this is "horrible" and your life is "ruined," you add to the stress. Put things in perspective. An innocent child in a burn unit of a hospital is horrible. Perhaps your situation isn't as tragic. Perhaps your life isn't ruined, but just damaged. Change your internal dialogue, and you will feel better.
- Life Law #2: You Create Your Own Experience. The first person you've got to repair your reputation with is you. Are you a bad guy? Are you a bad citizen? Do you hurt people? Do you commit crimes? The answer if probably no. Stop feeling guilty and being angry with yourself. Own your mistakes, forgive yourself for them but don't continue to beat yourself up. Life is not a success-only journey. Learn from your bad decisions and move on.
- Ask yourself what you would like to see happen in order to clear your name. Is there anything that anyone " the authorities, your co-workers or someone in the community " can do that could ever make the situation better.
- Begin with your inner circle. Start rebuilding your reputation with your family, close friends and neighbors. You make sure they know the truth. When your inner circle knows who you really are, they will go out into the world with the truth, and it will create a ripple effect. And if you are confronted with these false accusations again, you look the person in the eye, and you tell your side of the story. You don't need to bring this up the rest of your life, but in your immediate circle and in this immediate time, you want to step up and tell them the truth.
- Understand that people might come forward to admit they were wrong. And they might not. It is up to you to put this behind you. Give yourself what you wish you could receive from others. You need to say to yourself, "I know I didn't do this. And I will give myself what I wish the community, the authorities, etc., would give me."
- Life Law #8: You Teach People How to Treat You. Dr. Phil tells his guest, "If you walk into the world, and you're hanging your head, and you kind of don't want to look anybody in the eye, and you're shameful, then people will treat you that way. You've got to decide, â€˜I did not do this crime. I am innocent. I've owned my bad decision, which comes with being young, and I am not going to hang my head in shame.' If you do, you will engage people that way. That's the fundamental way for you to get through this. You have to be your best friend, and you have to decide who you are at the core." Begin the process of closure by not reacting to what you think people are saying about you. If you allow yourself to be intimidated, feel guilty or shrink away because of what people think, you are putting yourself in a prison.
- Don't try to address every accusation. "If you decide to start defending yourself, that will become your full-time job," Dr. Phil tells a guest. "If you answer every story, every piece of gossip, every allegation in your life, that's all you will ever do." You will be completely consumed by this and it will take over your life.
- Stop reacting to the rumors. "You give it legs by reacting to it," Dr. Phil tells his guest. Don't draw attention to yourself defending the rumor. "You need to give yourself permission to just live your life. If there are people out there who think something about you that you don't like, then those won't be your friends." There will be other people who will like and respect you for who you are, and they will be your friends.
- Stand up for yourself and say, "I'm taking my power back. I'm not going to give them the power to pick my feelings. They're wrong and I can look myself in the mirror knowing the truth." Dr. Phil tells a guest, "You have to decide that you believe in who you are, what you stand for, and what you do, and you just need to go forth and do it." You need to walk forward from the situation. "Who you are and what you do, that will win out in time."
- Know that it's normal to feel a twinge of guilt even if you're completely innocent. We always hear about guilt by association. But there is also guilt by accusation. People hear something negative and tend to believe it. If you accuse a person unfairly, he/she still has that twinge " just from having the finger pointed at him/her.
- Don't fall into the trap of acting out with non-directional frustration. The stress that comes with being wrongly accused can lead a person to act out with those closest to them, like a spouse or child. Remember that the enemy isn't your loved one; it's an outside force.