Here are some of the tricks that psychologically controlling adults use:
“Invalidation, possibly more than anything, shatters one’s integrity.””
Patricia Evans (1993, p. 49)
A common variation of the emotionally abusive environment is one where the only opinion that is correct is that of the abuser. Any other opinions or observations are simply wrong. The abusive caretaker attempts to define what others think, how they should feel, and what they should believe; and in this way invalidates others, stripping them of a personal identity. This is done through lots of defining “you” statements: “You are; you were; you should; you’re just; you think; you don’t”; all attempts to define the other’s intentions or alter their reality.
- Defining intentions: That’s not what you meant; You don’t actually care; I know you were just saying that to be difficult; You don’t really feel that way; You did that just to drive me crazy; You knew that would make me mad when you did it.
- Defining events (Usually through blatant denial): That’s not what happened; I never did that; you must be crazy.
- Defining perceptions or viewpoints: You think the entire world revolves around you; You think you’re the only one that matters; You think you’re so special.
- Defining emotions: You’re not really upset, you’re just pretending to put on a show; Don’t act like you’re really angry about this.
Through invalidation, the parent, for lack of a better descriptive term, drives the child crazy. Nothing they feel is ever supported, nothing they say is ever taken the way it was intended. They’re not even allowed to have their own identity as a person. The abusive person presumes to be in charge of their very thoughts – telling them how they should feel, what they think, what they believe. The child feels misunderstood, and is in a constant defensive mode of trying to explain themselves, because what they actually think, feel and believe is being contradicted by the abusive adult. It creates an overall environment of conflict, stress, and frustration.
This form of abuse is most commonly inflicted against teenagers and older preteens. Younger children escape it simply because younger kids tend to have their voices silenced entirely in abusive households such as this. It’s only as the child grows older and becomes more self-aware and individualized that these types of exchanges occur. At its core, invalidation is an attempt to control and have power over another by manipulating their reality.
This is another common technique used by abusive controllers, and involves intentionally preventing the targeted person from developing other means of social support. You most commonly see this coming from a jealous and insecure mate, but many children experience this type of psychological control as well. It might involve confining a child within the home or restricting their interactions within the community. For example, isolation can include things like…
- Making a child eat separately and apart from the rest of the family.
- Confining a child to certain areas of the house while allowing other family members to roam freely.
- Screening calls and telling people the child isn’t home or can’t come to the phone when they are otherwise available to take the call.