The Relationship Between Mental Abuse and Addiction
Mental abuse and addiction have a close and complicated relationship, with mental abuse making addiction more likely and addiction making mental abuse more likely. Mental abuse is the same as emotional abuse and psychological abuse. Emotional and mental abuse involves a person acting in certain ways to either control, isolate, manipulate or scare someone else. This form of abuse may be in statements or threats and are seen as regular, persistent behaviors.
Defining Mental Abuse
Mental abuse can be described as acts that can cause someone to feel insulted or demeaned or wear down someone’s self-esteem. Examples include making unreasonable demands, being overly critical, wanting a partner to sacrifice needs for others, and causing them to doubt their perception (gaslighting). There are numerous ways someone can inflict abusive behavior onto others, but the results can be devastating. Other examples of mental abuse can range from bullying, withholding kind words, negging, passive-aggressive backhanded compliments, verbal abuse, and mental manipulation. When someone has realized they are a victim of mental abuse, some decide to stay, while others develop unhealthy methods to deal with the trauma.
Mental abuse is often a critical part of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse, or intimate partner violence, affects thousands of people daily. A reported 84% of people experience psychological abuse at the hands of their romantic partners.
The Effects of Mental Abuse
Mental abuse has a destructive impact on mental health. Mental abuse can occur directly, by abusers making victims feel inadequate, insecure, unsafe, and traumatized. Furthermore, mental abuse can also trigger emotional helplessness, dependence on the abuser (i.e. narcissistic and codependent dynamics). In other cases, individuals on the receiving end of mental abuse can develop mental disorders, like anxiety, depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Like all forms of abuse, mental abuse acts control and overpower the victim, often leaving him or her to pick up the pieces. For example, if an abuser neglects, lies, belittles, and insults the victim, he or she can in turn develop negative self-beliefs that impact their mental health. Mental abuse can have devastating effects on the victim and can sometimes lead to emotional and physical abuse. The respect and value for the individual has been diminished and, his or her sense of self and self-worth is minimized. As a result, the individual can believe self-defeating thoughts and have a warped self-perception. Some can feel unworthy of healthy relationships, love, and life itself. Lastly, the victim of mental abuse can become a mental abuser. Oftentimes abusers have been abused and continue the cycle, sometimes unaware of the damage they cause others.
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Gaslighting as Mental Abuse
Gaslighting falls under the category of emotional abuse and mental abuse. Victims of gaslighting have their sense of perception skewed by the hand of the abuser. The intent of gaslighting is to diminish and devalue the mental and emotional confidence of the victim. For example, someone standing up to the abuser may confront them about their behavior and gets invalidated (“You’re crazy”) or told the event never happened. As a result, they begin to doubt themselves, feel powerless, a loss of confidence, become codependent, or leave the relationship.
Gaslighting is mental abuse that can also create anxiety and depression, low self-esteem, and trust issues, leading to unpredictable behavior and stress. Feelings such emotions and stressors can lead to difficulty in career, love, and family life, and can cause someone to need ways to cope, and in some cases, including drugs and alcohol. Narcissists and mental abusers use gaslighting to maintain control and break their victim down. The victim in turn internalizes such abuse and can continue to form toxic relationships with the same types of abusive people.
Trauma, Mental Abuse, and Substance Abuse
Trauma is often the result of abuse, which reveals itself as Post-Traumatic Disorders (PTSD), Complex Post-Traumatic Disorders (C-PTSD), Depression, Borderline Personality Disorder, Suicide, Suicidal thoughts, stress, and eating disorders. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is marked by sleep problems, anxiety, depression and irritability. Some people can isolate themselves in order to feel safe, hence withdrawing from connection.
Statistically, “one quarter to three-quarters of people who have survived abuse or violent traumatic experiences report problematic alcohol abuse.” Women who suffered PTSD were more likely to drink alcohol versus women who were not abused. Mental abuse causes trauma which can lead to destructive tendencies. For example, individuals who have been emotionally, physically, or mentally abused may not seek therapy, and instead can create unhealthy coping mechanisms. These can include drinking, partying, compulsions (e.g. gambling, shopping, binge eating), smoking, and experimenting with harmful drugs. This, for example, is called self-medicating. Self-medicating coping strategies can spiral out of control, quickly becoming a substance use disorder.
Finding a Way Out
Abusive relationships are often more complex and damaging than some people realize. Emotional and mental abuse leave no visible scars of pain but can have lasting effects on the victim. It is important to get the help needed to overcome abuse; if illicit substances are part of the equation, treatment would be the best solution. Individuals who have taken on drinking or have abused prescription or illicit substances to lessen the effects of abuse are more vulnerable to dysfunction. Finding a counselor while being treated for drug use creates effective remedies for recovery. 12-Step groups allow for safe spaces of support and community.
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Getting treatment for substance abuse as a coping mechanism doesn’t have to be a shameful act. Victims of abusers are no weaker or unworthy than those who have not been abused. Take back your power, and contact a dedicated treatment provider to discover the path to safety and strength.