Healthy relationships are built on trust, healthy communication and mutual respect. Unfortunately, not all relationships adhere to these principles. Some individuals may find themselves in an unhealthy relationship involving abuse. Abusive relationships include both physical and psychological violence or psychological aggression. Because of the lack of physical evidence, psychological aggression often goes unnoticed or dismissed, and its impact can be even more damaging than physical violence. Recognising the signs of psychological aggression is essential because it is the first step toward addressing, getting out and healing from it.
Psychological aggression is a form of behaviour that seeks to control, manipulate, or belittle a partner in a relationship. There are two primary types of aggression: "overt" and "covert" aggression.
Overt psychological aggression is more prominent and often involves direct verbal or behavioural attacks. It can include yelling, name-calling, threats, and acts of intimidation. Overt aggressors use these tactics to instil fear and control in their partners.
Covert psychological aggression is subtler and more complex to detect. It involves manipulation, passive-aggressive behaviour, and tactics like gaslighting, where the aggressor makes the victim doubt their reality and perceptions.
Identifying psychological aggression can be challenging because it often occurs behind closed doors and leaves no visible scars. However, several signs and behaviours may indicate that you or someone you know is experiencing psychological aggression in a relationship:
Dominance: All behaviours that seek to control and produce fear in the other person, including explosive anger, frequent shouting, and intimidation.
Restrictive control: The aggressor may try to isolate you from friends and family, cutting off your support network and seeking to control your every move.
Denigration: A partner who constantly criticises, belittles, or humiliates you, making you feel inadequate or worthless.
Continuing a relationship where there is psychological aggression is damaging to the individual's self-esteem and overall mental health, and continuing a relationship with someone with abusive behaviour is only possible if the other person acknowledges the offensive behaviour, stops the abuse immediately and seeks help. It is essential, too, that the survivors of psychological aggression seek help from someone they can trust to plan how they can stop the abuse or move out of the situation. As psychological aggressions often leave long-lasting scars on the survivors' mental health and self-confidence, it is helpful to seek psychotherapy intervention to work on healing from the psychological trauma. Therapeutic interventions, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), can aid in the healing process for individuals who have experienced the trauma of enduring psychological aggression.
Restoring Peace is a private mental health centre which provides counselling and psychotherapy services for mental health and relationship challenges. Our counsellors and psychotherapists work with children, adolescents, youths and adult individuals, couples and groups facing anxiety, depression, grief, low self-esteem, PTSD, trauma, and other life difficulties. For more information, please visit www.restoringpeace.com.sg or WhatsApp at
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Keywords: Psychological aggression, communication, relationships, signs, behaviours, therapy, trauma, counselling, EMDR