In the context of family violence, psychological abuse is when someone makes you or other people question your sanity or recollection of reality through manipulation and lying. Psychological abuse and emotional abuse often occur in tandem, and emotional abuse can have psychological impacts (like causing depression and anxiety) but psychological abuse is slightly different to emotional abuse.

Some examples of psychological abuse are when someone…

  • Makes you doubt your own recollections or tells you things didn’t happen when they did (this is sometimes called gaslighting)
  • Tells you that you are crazy or have mental health concerns
  • Tells you you are imagining or over-exaggerating their abusive behaviour
  • Tells you or other people – including friends, police, doctors, counsellors or legal professionals – that you are the one being abusive towards them when you are not or you are just defending yourself in response to their abuse or manipulating behaviour (this is sometimes called victim-playing)
  • Telling other people – including friends, police, doctors, counsellors or legal professionals – that you are unstable, have mental health problems or substance abuse problems when you don’t

Impacts of psychological abuse

Long-term psychological abuse can leave a person feeling totally unsure of their own sanity and perception of reality – individuals who experience psychological abuse often think that they are misremembering events or start thinking that they are ‘going crazy’. In other cases, psychological abuse can lead to emotional instability, anger or aggression born out of frustration at being accused of something you didn’t do.

If the person experiencing family violence is incorrectly misidentified as the perpetrator by police, counsellors or other support service providers it can have significant emotional and practical impacts. In extreme cases, the person experiencing the abuse may be unfairly served an intervention order or have access to their children limited or removed.

If you are experiencing psychological abuse, call safe steps

If you are experiencing psychological abuse from someone close to you, you can call safe steps 24/7 on 1800 015 188 for confidential support, information and assistance.