Emotional abuse is defined as inflicting feelings of anxiety, fear, stress, or duress in another person, and can be conducted by an individual or a group. Regardless of origin, emotional abuse can have lasting negative effects on the health and life of those subjected to it.
About ten years ago, the phenomenon of school and workplace harassment and psychological attacks struck my curiosity—especially the causalities and motives behind such acts and how this pertinent information was missing from almost all reports on the subject. Given that in many cases bullying is alluded to, there is seldom any mention of the mechanics of antisocial behaviour that goads such deranged assaults. That lack of information built upon my interest in learning about the psychological processes that motivate bullying and psychological assault. Years passed, and incidents of emotional abuse such as bullying led to countless youth being driven to psychotic breaks or suicide. Through my research, I discovered various kinds of bullying and emotional and psychological abuse that often fly under the radar of social awareness—acts of harmful aggression that many people can relate to, though may not know how to identify or label.
In some instances, less salient forms of harassment, such as rumouring or gaslighting—which can be as simple as a small group of students targeting and mocking another student in front of others—constitutes emotional abuse.
Gossip that belittles or demeans others with negative connotations, when used repeatedly over time, can have a cumulative and destructive personal impact upon a target’s psyche. However, many such acts of emotional abuse may be preventable through a process of cultural interest in emotional intelligence—which entails the capacity to identify and regulate one’s own emotions, recognize the emotions of others, value emotions as a form of intelligence, and apply awareness of emotions to problem-solving and interpersonal relationships.
Emotional Intelligence is a learned cognitive ability that helps a person manage internal psychological
functioning as well as interpersonal behaviour. Emotional intelligence comprises five main abilities:
1) self-awareness; 2) self-regulation; 3) motivation; 4) empathy; and 5) social skills.
Emotional intelligence comprises a constellation of learned skills that is being
increasingly applied to early age educational curriculums.
Emotional abuse enacted through bullying and other forms of harassment can be embedded in systemic abuse—which comprises the ways in which abuse is espoused and promulgated by the society and culture in which one exists. For instance, in the early 1900s it was common for racist views of whites against blacks to go unchecked—because these views were a consensually agreed upon aspect of American culture. Cultural motifs that embroil abuse against particular societal subgroups can be as simple as movies in which the (unpopular) school “nerds” are mocked, threatened, and beat up by the (popular) school jocks. When the media presents abuse against certain subgroups or ‘types’ of students as funny, then the idea of rejecting and terrorizing these subgroups is forwarded and more generally tolerated by the society—in this case, “nerds” who constitute a demographic of students who may feel emotionally fragile and interpersonally vulnerable in school.
Although this is a severe generalization, it depicts a dynamic of bullying and psychological abuse that is functional against many minority groups who are identified by their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Hence, it becomes more justifiable for others to prey upon those who do not fit neatly into the mainstream ideal of society, or who are viewed as weaker or as deserving of ridicule. Through applying emotional intelligence and achieving a better understanding of the causes of systemic abuse, injury can be reduced.
After a decade of self-education and trying to “connect the dots,” I built a website—antiss.net—a compilation of relevant information and educational resources on the topic of antisocial behaviour and emotional abuse. It is my hope that this website will provide the general public with access to information that will better enable them to understand emotional abuse in society, so that we can reduce its incidence and live in a more compassionate and humanitarian world.
Social maladjustment, neuroses and mental disorders can manifest quite easily within environments that influence negative behaviour and are hostile or abusive. In order to reduce such problematic conditions, it is important that we understand how they are caused and seek ways to change the causes. It may be that the root of a tendency towards emotionally abusive behaviour is empathetic deficiencies—which, in plain English, means the lack of an ability to perceive, value and understand the experiences (thoughts, feelings, and perspectives) of others. If the causality of antisocial behaviour is not genealogical or biochemical (which, in some cases, it is), the causality of a diminished capacity to experience empathy must be an environment—be it familial, societal, educational, governmental, etc.—that lacks in care, concern, and understanding for the individual. In other words, we are more likely to be caring towards others when we have been cared for by others. We are more likely to recognize and value the needs of others when our own needs have been recognized and respected. Unfortunately, our social and cultural climate readily ignores how it grooms bullying and emotional abuse through lack of empathy for the individual.
Persons with empathetic deficiencies may orient themselves around obtaining antisocial supply (A.S.S.), which is the attention and perceived self-benefit gained through antisocial behaviour. A.S.S. is not limited to a specific psychopathology or neurosis, but is broadly applicable to identifying the causality behind antisocial behaviour. A.S.S. is a term that is based on the concept of narcissistic supply, in which there is a compulsive need for attention—regardless of the impact upon others—that provides the individual with a boost in self-esteem. Arguably, antisocial supply could also be defined as an addiction to the “neurochemical rewards” attained during antisocial attention-seeking behaviour. For example, through bullying, manipulation, and denigration of others, one may receive dopamine or serotonin rewards from the social attention, improved self-esteem, increased feelings of power and control, or financial gain they obtain from their misdeeds. Similar to how joggers become addicted to the dopamine rush entailed in a “runner’s high,” it is likely that abusers can become dependent on various neurochemical rewards attained through antisocial and abusive behaviours.
Identifying the lies, manipulations and other tactics employed by emotionally abusive individuals to obtain antisocial supply can be tricky, as the deceptive and sometimes charming behaviours of antisocial persons can beguile even the most attuned psychoanalyst. Often times, it is difficult for a targeted victim to know that they are being manipulated because the antisocial behaviour is so subtle—however; usually the victim will have an unsettling feeling that something is not quite right. Abusers learn that the emotional damage suffered by the victims of their abuse often isn’t apparent enough to warrant concern from others—so when it is difficult for the abused person
to articulate the damaging behaviour of the abuser, the abuser is more
likely to succeed at normalizing the relationship.
Learning about the traits and patterns of antisocial behaviour enables one to identify the logical fallacies, cognitive distortions and other manipulation tactics utilized by abusive people. An explanation of these psychological processes will help the reader to better understand. Logical fallacies are improper or unsustainable arguments or points of contention that do not adhere to logical reasoning. Confirmation biases, red herrings, ad hominem attacks, appeals to emotion, slippery slopes, and bias generalizations are all logical fallacies that misrepresent arguments in different ways. Cognitive distortions can be just as misleading as they influence irrational thoughts and maladaptive behaviour. Thought-terminating clichés, “should” statements, and magical thinking are examples of common cognitive distortions. Although logical fallacies and cognitive distortions may not always be used nefariously, they are extremely common and, therefore, can be employed to manipulate unwitting individuals or entire populations quite easily.
Manipulation tactics—such as defamation, cheating, and harassing—are ways that some people influence and harm those around them, so as to fast-track perceived social or financial success. However, such success is never “prosocial” because it is achieved through the donning of a facade. Unfortunately, antisocial tactics tend to result in self-satisfying benefits that reinforce the need for antisocial supply and, hence, impel the person towards increased antisocial behaviour.
A central tactic of someone seeking antisocial supply is unwarrented or unnecessary criticism or cynicism. For example, annoying, offending, denigrating or abusing others without provocation may be an indicator that the individual is fulfilling antisocial supply. The best questions to ask when witnessing such behaviour is: Is the person interested in only being offensive? What was the anticedent of their antisocial behaviour? Are they attempting constructive conflict resolution?
Often times people who participate in abusive conduct will objectify their targets because it relieves them of the human tendency to experience others subjectively. In this way they become divorced from the target’s suffering that they inflict and can more easily justify or rationalize their abusive behaviour. Recognizing objectification is important in curtailing systemic emotional and psychological abuse as well as its escalation.
Once a target is understood and primed as an object of abuse, abusers feel more detached from civil rules and standards of ethical conduct that forbid abuse. For example, when an office bully refers to a co-worker or employee as a “lazy slob,” they are modelling an abusive mentality that may ruminate and spread. Furthermore, they are inhibiting corrective action regarding their original qualm, while dehumanizing the person—who has become a target for their downward social comparisons—and negating the person’s positive qualities.
The behaviour of a bully is cathartic as it transfers their own internal dissonance through causing reactions in their targets. The controlling and manipulative “transference” of internal dissonance—i.e. anger, helplessness, internal conflict—from him or herself to the target victim is the abuser’s sole objective. After the abuser has made the target angry, upset, and disoriented, they feel somewhat relieved of their own internal suffering and bolstered by a perception that they are in control of the situation—even though they feel out of control and are only able to control or moderate their internal dissonance through transferring it via abusive behaviour to others. In other words, a lack of capacity to control oneself—which basically renders the abusive person with feelings of helplessness and powerlessness—drives him or her to manipulate others, thus restoring a sense of effective agency, satisfaction, and control to the abusive person. Such tactics are used to obtain antisocial supply that effectively relieves the abuser’s own toxic thoughts.
Another tactic used in antisocial behaviour is projective identification, in which a person projects parts of themselves onto another so that certain feelings that one does not want to experience directly can be experienced via the other person. This is ultimately a defensive posture against parts of oneself that one does not wish to encounter, and thus applies to the sense of loss of control, helplessness, lack of power and low self-esteem that drives much antisocial behaviour.
Confiding in friends and family about emotional or psychological abuse can be tricky—especially when confidantes themselves have antisocial traits—and attempts to articulate such abuse to someone not familiar with it can be difficult, clumsy and unnatural. Confiding can also be difficult when the antisocial behaviours and forms of emotional abuse are more or less sanctioned or unrecognized by the surrounding culture. Whether or not the confidante believes the person is based upon the level of understanding that the confidante has in regards to antisocial behaviour, as well as their willingness to admit the prevalence of psychological and emotional abuse in general. When the confidante is able to understand the emotional abuse enacted upon the victim, the experiences of the victim are validated and a resolution to the problematic relationship is more likely to unfold. If the confidant does not or cannot understand the emotional abuse suffered by the victim, the experiences of the victim are invalidated, which may condition the victim to think the emotional abuse is normal and cannot or should not be changed.
In regards to a friend or family member, a confiding target runs a real risk of being misunderstood; and in regards to a psychologist or any medical practitioner, they risk being misdiagnosed. Without direct evidence, it is difficult to prove that someone is being targeted. Further, the signs and symptoms of stress and psychological or emotional trauma affecting the target may be interpreted in such a way that suggests the victim to be suffering from a delusional disorder. This is especially true when a target complains about things such as being rumoured or gossiped about, being followed, and utterances or collective actions used to distract, annoy or otherwise produce anxiety in a person, i.e. gaslighting.
In gaslighting, for example, the victim is targeted by antisocial people who are trying to make the target antisocial by doing very subtle antisocial things to the target. Therefore, it can be extremely difficult for someone to approach a police officer and describe gaslighting or even community mobbing.
A common hurdle to reporting less salient social crimes may come in the form of another logical fallacy “appeal to incredulity,” which effectively states that because an argument seems incredulous (or unbelievable) it must not be true. Therefore, a confiding target who is tasked with describing concerns that are usually indicative of paranoid features may be simply ignored on the grounds of incredulity. Similarly, the “burden of proof” is always upon an already traumatized target who usually has diminished or no emotional stamina to intellectually convince someone of such things.
Standard police procedure is that there will be no investigation of a reported crime without direct evidence. Even if there is evidence, they can “drag their feet” on matters that don’t seem like an emergency. Officers are known to use minimization or victim-blaming arguments when reviewing reports of bullying as they seriously consider approving further police involvement and allocation of resources.
Mobbing and other ghastly abuse cases—such as stalking—can be beaten, but it takes coordination and strategy from several trustworthy people. The same goes for ambient abuse and gaslighting, wherein “exposure awareness” and simply talking about it are the best defence. The only realistic way of circumnavigating all of the critical pitfalls is for a target to educate themselves on how and why people commit social crimes. Only then can the target thoroughly understand the situation, and thus begin to explain how they are being targeted and how to exit the abuse.
Remaining calm, cool and collected at all times is essential for a targeted individual. Concentrating on life priorities, such as food, shelter and sustainable employment are key. Maintaining a social and or creative outlet is also essential. Through art, sports or hobbies, victims of bullying abuse obtain what their abusers sought to deprive them of—maturation and social contentedness. Such constructive and fulfilling activities serve as a kind of “white magic” to off-set the “black magic” of their abuser.
First world 21st-century “witch hunts” still exist. Community mobbing and gaslighting are forms of suppression upon an individual and their constitutional freedoms. Such idiotic and cruel routines are often viewed by constituents as a form of social justice, even though they themselves are inherently corrupt and unaccountable. Although modern-day bullies are no longer able to physically burn their targets, they try their best to incinerate the lives of their targets, socially and psychologically, in order to garner attention and disturbed reactions—which meet their needs for antisocial supply (A.S.S).
Calculated attacks of bullying upon targets are enacted by the same individuals who would have participated in witch burnings centuries ago. In fact, considering the mechanics of slander campaigns, rumours, and doxing, etc., the modus operandi of community mobbing and stalking is basically the same as that employed in the inquisition conducted in the Middle Ages. Networks of antisocial people who manufacture consent in policing their community often form pockets of vigilante-esque gangs that concoct social causes based on logical fallacies, cognitive distortions, nuisance, fear, and abuse. However, such causes in the name of good or positive change are intrinsically biased, hypocritical, counter-intuitive, deranged, and, in fact, antithetical to morality and civility. Within any given community, these groups are largely populated by poorly educated, misguided, or apathetically maligned individuals who experience satisfaction through participating in any sort of ritualistic harassment via emotional, social, and psychological abuse.
The negative sensationalism that is garnered from an attack on a target can effectively bind them in a sort of social pillory wherein the perpetrators parasitically consume their targets misery—which becomes a feeding frenzy of antisocial supply. Targets are often used as pawns by abusers simply to gain antisocial supply, popularity, social status or notoriety. Unfortunately, mentally ill people and outgroups alike are “low-hanging fruit” for anyone with antisocial inclinations. For millennia humans have been fighting each other. It’s insane to expect that without change we will find peace. Collectively, humanity needs to realize what is needed to change. Ideally, for an individual to recognize and change any unwanted condition, they need:
A. The desire to change.
B. A supportive environment to change.
C. Access to the necessary people and tools that will allow them to change.
For too long, our current societies have allowed unaccountable incidents of exploitation and various acts of abuse to exist. Not only have our “established” philosophies created avoidable social problems, but they have also been instrumental in worsening them, all in vain attempts to remain faithful to what group will “benefit” the most–while ignoring legitimate unity.
Ultimately, people want to change for the better and are demanding increasing degrees of social justice. Less salient “social crimes” are gradually becoming more readily recognized, and the ignorance that enables the escalation of emotional abuse will diminish. Through information technology, as a society, we are recognizing increasingly safer, more efficient, and healthier life strategies.
Albeit slowly, society is evolving!