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Scars: The Tale of Mental, Physical and Emotional Abuse

People often directly assume ‘physical violence’ when they hear abuse, but that’s not always the case. Abuse is defined as any action that intentionally harms or injures another person.

“Abuse” is a word that is thrown around a lot in casual conversion; but what defines abuse? How does one know if they are committing the abuse or if they are being abused? The answer is actually very complicated, multi-faceted and frankly, just hard to explore.

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Therefore, to make things more factual and helpful, TheVibe spoke to specialists to try to find out some answers to the big questions regarding the topic and make sure that we advance towards a safer and learned tomorrow.

°What exactly is abuse and are there points of differentiation between the three types?

Ms Anisha, a known counselling psychologist believes that. “We often think that ‘Abuse’ is only something that’s physically visible or external. According to me, it’s internal as well as external. Sometimes you just slap a person as a joke or make a comment about them, there were a few clients who came to me with something like this, even if it’s done with jokes, it always has its implications and effects on people.”

“Physical abuse contains violence and physical harm (Intensity may vary) because even if it is light, doesn’t mean it isn’t ‘abuse’. If you are uncomfortable and it is still happening- it is abuse. Verbal abuse is basically the use of abusive languages as well as descriptive words and sarcastic comments- if they impact you deeply in a negative manner, it is verbal abuse. Meanwhile, mental abuse can be of any kind, if it’s making you feel bad intentionally and is affecting your mental state, it is abuse. One of the most common examples would be gaslighting.” Explained Ms Anisha Dhingra.

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While, Dr Himanshu Nirvan, the Senior Resident at the Department of Psychiatry, VMMC and Safdarjung Hospital) believes that “Anything which is uncomfortable for the person at the receiving end and puts him in a position where he feels there is something wrongful- lawfully or socially is abuse. You see, it varies from person to person and sometimes, situations might feel abused even if it isn’t lawfully wrong. It also depends on our social, cultural and economic backgrounds.”

He further adds, “Physical abuse includes bodily harm. It could be sexual, psychical alteration, pushing and shoving or slapping that feels uncomfortable because, at the end of the day, it is the attitude and intention of a person that matters (causing harm). Verbal abuse includes verbal content which is not social or culturally acceptable including abuses, slang words, derogatory statements, demeaning professions or social status or goes against a person’s basic rights which we see a lot in the behaviour that certain people have towards the people who identify with the rainbow. On the other hand, Mental abuse is multi-faceted and cannot be defined straight-forwardly, intent matters here too! Mental abuse has implications on the mental status of the person- is that person feeling violated or sad or low or has it caused a panic attack. Are the effects short-term or long-term? – lots of things need to be considered.”

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Ms Divyani Chawla, the Senior Psychologist at the Institute of Advancement of Mental Health added that “Anything done with an intention to harm or hurt anybody is abuse. So, the intent and motive really count when we talk about abuse!

It is very difficult to differentiate between mental, verbal and physical abuse because the impacts of these are the same and the set purpose is usually to undermine or harm the person. A lot of the people who have been through such a situation explain that they feel very emotionally exhausted and they felt very powerless, unsafe and helpless during the moment. This leads to a shaken belief about your own self and very low self-esteem along with low self-confidence.”

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°Is verbal abuse common in India? What do you think is the cause of this?

“Yes, Verbal abuse is actually very common and it also depends culturally. We know that some regions of our country are rough around the edges – Haryana, Punjab and Delhi but that’s just how they talk although, it won’t sound good to a person from the south and sometimes, he starts feeling unsafe in these circumstances. But, even in general, we see verbal abuse everywhere- on the internet every day. In YouTube videos, you can say anything to anyone and there are no implications to it. Drivers in Delhi fight with each other- roll their windows down and throw nasty comments at each other and move off. It needs to stop and all of us need to learn, be aware and be more conscious about it.” Exclaimed Dr Himanshu Nirvan.

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While Ms Anisha Dhingra said that, “I have been thinking about this for ages if a kid sees his parents fight or using abusive words, he adapts and uses it in school and thinks it is common. It has actually become propaganda and we don’t even see it as an abuse anymore. Look at popular people like ‘Hindustani Bhau’ it inculcates that it’s okay to use abusive language for people and such things need to be worked upon!”

And, Ms Divyani Chawla added, “I don’t know if I agree with this statement, we do realize it. Verbal abuse is again, something that is done with the intent of hurting the other person and I don’t know how common it is actually but I think I have heard more occurrences and stories of emotional and mental abuse. Especially, about how romantic partners were very abuse and they make the other person question the whole idea of relations and themselves.”

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°What are some major red flags to watch out for when it comes to abuse?

Dr Himanshi Nirvan suggests that “There’s this definite presence of mind required in every situation if you have people around who are intoxicated and their judgement is impaired or you don’t have any support around you and you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, remove yourself from the situations.

There are certain environments where abuse is more common, be careful in such situations and places. People who are arguing with you for no reason or have a psychotic or unstable behaviour, stay away from them. I think fear is a very good indicator, people trying to provoke you in any way, they are all red flags so, stay safe.”

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Ms Diyani Chawla believes that “Red flags are the vicious cycles that never break. There are a lot of people specifically if I give you an example of romantic relationships, they always see scope in the middle that the partner is willing to change and can change but after a while, again a pattern of mistreatment repeats and then again, they try to apologize, plead or emotionally manipulate them and after a while, it goes into a cycle again. This is the biggest red flag. They make the other person believe that they deserve it, when it is actually of course, not true!”

Ms Anisha Dhingra further adds, “The flags are clear- if you are saying no and the person isn’t listening or is entering your personal space, you feel uncomfortable and unsafe- a feeling of danger takes over when someone pushes your personal boundaries. It is also essential to notice abuse with the victims in case they stay quiet, and some indicators might be bruises, signs on the body, emotional withdrawal and away from society. They often are exhausted and cry and they fail to open up. Also, they avoid the conversation and do not want to talk about it. Sudden personality changes, as well as conversational changes, occur too.”

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°Are there any major triggers that we should avoid and how can we as a society support the victims?

Ms Divyani Chawla believes that “The major step to take is to create a support system for the victims because they feel very unsafe, the safer that they feel in your presence- the better. Talk to them. Form a non-judgmental environment where they know that they won’t be judged for who they are or what they went through, make them feel better by supporting them instead of making them feel bad about their past or weaknesses.”

Dr Himanshu Nirvan suggests that we should, “Remember, never go and say things like- do not pay too much attention to this, take it in your stride, don’t be so weak, buck up, sack up, you are a man! you shouldn’t feel this way, this happens in the society, this is common. Just Avoid generalizing or normalize a situation instead- empathize. Never say that it’s ok. The most important step is to understand the situation that the person is going through and empathize with them and try to consider what they are going through and feeling like.”

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He further recommends, “Try to understand what kind of support they need- do they need you to sit by and listen or take them to a psychiatrist or therapist even if they don’t want to or do, they need help or coaxing them to visit a therapist. Find out! Try to look out for the person and be vigilant around the person, be more supportive and try to look out for anything wrong going on – abnormal behaviour or panic attacks etc.”

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“Triggers can’t be avoided because everyone has their own triggers and we cannot always avoid them- they are so varied. Talk to the person. Ask them and carefully support them, it takes strength to talk about it. The emotional intensity reduces once you talk to people and hence, the effect reduces and we can manage it. Be there for that person, help them feel secure, do not blame them. Most clients can’t segregate between past and present and they feel insecure and unsafe till date and you have to break this and help them feel safer.” Suggests Ms Anisha Dhingra,

Abuse victims go through a lot on a daily basis. From being blamed to shamed, they have to work hard to ensure their survival and to resume their lives on a normal basis while trying to forego of the incident- it is essential to realize what you might be pushing them towards with hostile behaviour and hence, learn to stop.

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Learn to support the people who need it and be by their side, empathize with them rather than drenching them with sympathy- give them love and shower them with affection, they require the same old feeling of being safe- you can do that for them. Protect them and take care of them. Make them realize how normal as well as essential visiting a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist is.

Also, if you or any of your loved ones ever go through a situation where there is a requirement of psychological aid and support, please refer to these resources:

Important resources for aid

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