Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade offers advice for maintaining your mental health.
A mother looks her daughter in the face with the evil eye and forces an apology for something minor, something the daughter will forget. She repeats, "Look at me and say it," harshly, demanding subservience. The daughter cowers and concedes, learning fear, insecurity and hatred. She's eight years old. The mother is proud of her "strict discipline," thinking that she is teaching character. Actually, she's rigid, intolerant of ambiguity, and unable to empathize. Why can't she feel what it's like to be a child? What happened to her along the way? How safe is this little girl with her? Could the situation change? It's my job to figure it out.
A father praises his teenage daughter for dissing her mom, his ex-wife. He spoils the girl with luxuries and lets her determine her own schedule and activities. He doesn't screen her friends. She's in for trouble, eventually. The mother has no power and struggles to make emotional contact when she sees her daughter, but the girl protects her relationship with her all-powerful father and wards off the mother's overtures. The father is mentally abusive in a passive-aggressive way. He believes that he is righteous and that his bond with his daughter is sacrosanct. He is using her as a tool of his anger. She's a victim. The courts favor her opinion at her age and let her make misguided decisions about custody. It may be too late, anyway. It's my job to tell the truth as I see it. That's all I can do.
A husband gets moody and temperamental. He beats up his wife verbally, saying every little quirk or detail of what she does which could possibly annoy him. She takes it, realizing that what he's criticizing is just normal human habits and traits, not letting herself fall victim to his insecure ranting. She's too strong to be mentally abused for long, but she still questions how she got so close to someone that weak and erratic. She learns to ignore him when he vents like that and reinforce his good moods and displays of affection only. She's doing well and he's improving. I helped her see that his low self-esteem, dependence and projection of self-loathing on her were his problem only and taught her to divorce herself from potential harm and take the upper hand in her own self-protection. It's my job.
Mental abuse comes in many forms, for example, threats, general put-downs and specific criticism, smoothering and possessiveness, overcontrol, the "silent treatment," ugly sarcasm, and mean slurs. No one needs to take it. In the case of children, especially, we need to take it as seriously as physical abuse. It slaughters self-respect and confidence, which are the keys to psychological adjustment, well-being, and success in life.