Guide To Abusive Relationships and Abuse Terms

Louis Laves-Webb

September 6, 2018

Abuse and abusive relationships can cause great damage to one’s self-esteem and can cause heavy tolls on the confidence needed to enjoy life. To properly understand the elements that come into play in abusive relationships, it’s necessary to understand the wide varieties of abuse that can take place.

Below find terms and phrases used to describe actions and words that are used by psychotherapists to identify abusive behavior.


Abusive Cycle: Term used to describe the ongoing rotation between destructive and constructive behavior that is typical with dysfunctional relationships and families.

Abuser Profile: A description used to describe what a typical abuser acts.

Alienation: Cutting off or interfering the relationships of one person with others.

“Always” and “Never” Statements: Declarations containing the words “always” or “never” which are commonly used but rarely true.

Anger: Feelings of heightened or exaggerated perception by someone that they have been wronged, invalidated, neglected, or abused. Those with personality disorders often feel a sense of unresolved anger.

Avoidance: Withdrawing from relationships with other people as a defensive measure to reduce the risk of rejection, accountability, criticism, or exposure.


Baiting: An act use to provoke or solicit an emotional response, often angry or aggressive, from another individuals.

Belittling, Condescending, and Patronizing: Speech that is kind of passive-aggressive approach to give someone a verbal put-down while maintaining a facade of friendliness or reasonableness.

Blaming: The practice of identifying a person or people who was responsible for causing the problem instead of finding a way of dealing with the problem.

Bullying: Any systematic action that hurts another person as a result of a position of relative physical, social, economic, or emotional strength.


Catastrophizing: Automatically assuming a “worst case scenario” and characterizing minor or moderate problems or issues as catastrophic events.

Chaos Manufacture: Creating or maintaining an unnecessary environment of risk, destruction, or mess.

Cheating: Sharing a romantic or intimate relationship with another person despite already being in a committed monogamous relationship with someone else.

Chronic Broken Promises: A trait shared by people who suffer from personality disorders where the individual makes and then breaks commitments and promises often.

Circular Conversations: Endless arguments that follow a repeated pattern with no resolution.

Confirmation Bias: A tendency to pay more attention to things that reinforce your beliefs rather than things which contradict them.

“Control-Me” Syndrome: The tendency found in some people that inclines them to seek out relationships with people who have a controlling narcissistic, antisocial, or “acting out” nature.

Cruelty Towards Animals: Acts of cruelty against animals are commonly found in people who suffer from personality disorders when compared to the general population.


Denial: Denying the existence of an event, memory, or circumstance that is painful or traumatic.

Dependency: The inappropriate and chronic reliance by an adult individual on another for their health, subsistence, decision making, personal, and emotional well being.

Depression: Symptoms of persisting sadness or negative thoughts that are often diagnosed in people with personality disorders.

Dissociation: Term used to describe a mental departure from reality.

Domestic Theft: Taking control of a resource or asset belonging to or shared by a family member, partner, or spouse without asking for their approval.


Emotional Abuse: Pattern of behavior directed by one individual to another which promotes a destructive sense of fear, obligation, or guilt (FOG).

Emotional Blackmail: System of threats and punishments used in an attempt to control another person’s behaviors.

Engulfment: Unhealthy and overwhelming level of attention and dependency on another individual. This often comes from the person in question believing or imagining that they only exist within the context of that relationship.

Escape To Fantasy: Daydreaming or imagining an excursion to a more hopeful and happier place.


False Accusations: Unwarranted or exaggerated criticism directed towards someone else, often displayed as patterns

Favoritism and Scapegoating: Systematically giving preferential positive or negative treatment to one individual among a group of peers.

Fear of Abandonment: Irrational belief that one is in imminent danger of being rejected, discarded, or replaced in a relationship.

Feelings of Emptiness: Acute or chronic sense that daily life has little worth or significance. This could lead to impulsive appetite for strong physical sensations and dramatic relationship experiences.

Frivolous Litigation: Use of unmerited legal proceedings to hurt, harass, or gain an economic advantage over an individual or organization.


Gaslighting: Brainwashing or convincing a mentally healthy individual that their understanding of reality is mistaken or false or that they are going insane. The term gaslighting derives from the 1944 movie Gaslight.

Grooming: A predatory act of maneuvering another individual into a position where they are more isolated, dependent, likely to trust, and more vulnerable to abusive behavior.


Harassment: Sustained or chronic pattern of unwelcome behavior by one individual to another.

High and Low Functioning Personality Disorder: A High-Functioning personality disordered individual is one that conceals their dysfunctional behavior in public while maintaining a positive public/professional profile while exposing their negative traits to others behind closed doors.

A Low-Functioning personality disordered individual is one who is capable of concealing their dysfunctional behavior in public or maintain a positive public/professional profile.

Hoarding: Accumulating items to an extent where it becomes detrimental to quality of lifestyle, comfort, security, or hygiene.

Holiday Triggers: Mood swings in personality disordered individuals are often triggered or amplified as a result of emotional events such as family holidays, significant anniversaries, and events that trigger emotional memories.

Hoovers / Hoovering: Metaphor taken from the popular brand of vacuum cleaners that describes an abuse victim trying to assert their own rights by leaving or limiting contact in a dysfunctional relationship and later being “sucked back in” when the perpetrator temporarily exhibits improved or desirable behavior.

Hysteria: An inappropriate overreaction to bad news or disappointments that diverts attention towards the person having the reaction and away from the real problem.


Identity Disturbance: A term used to describe a distorted or inconsistent self-view.

Imposed Isolation: Abuse that results in a person becoming isolated from their support network, including friends and family.

Impulsiveness: Tendency to act or speak based on current feelings rather than on logical reasoning.

Infantilization: Treating a child or individual as if they were much younger than their actual age.

Intimidation: Veiled, hidden, indirect, or non-verbal threats directed toward someone else.

Invalidation: Creation or promotion of an environment which encourages an individual to believe that their thoughts, beliefs, values, or physical presence are flawed, inferior, problematic, or worthless.


Lack of Conscience: A term used to describe the preoccupation felt by an individual with their own agendas, sometimes to the exclusion of the needs and concerns of others. This is sometimes interpreted by others as a lack of moral conscience.

Lack of Object Constancy: Inability to remember that people or objects are consistent, trustworthy, and reliable, especially when they are out of your immediate field of vision.

Low Self-Esteem: Common term used to describe negatively-distorted self-view which is inconsistent with reality.


Magical Thinking: Looking for supernatural connections between external events and one’s own thoughts, words, and actions.

Manipulation: Steering an individual into a desired behavior for the purpose of achieving a hidden personal goal.

Masking: Covering up one’s own natural outward appearance, mannerisms, and speech in dramatic and inconsistent ways depending on the situation.

Mirroring: Imitating or copying the characteristics, behaviors, or traits from another person.

Moments of Clarity: Periods of time where the person with the personality disorder tries to make amends as a result of their actions and becomes more objective.

Mood Swings: Rapid, dramatic, and unpredictable emotional cycles which are not explained by changes in external circumstances.

Muchausen’s and Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome: Disorder in which an individual repeatedly fakes or exagerrates medical symptoms in order to manipulate the attention of medical caregivers or professionals.


Name Calling: Using profane, derogatory, or dehumanizing terminology to describe another individual or group.

Narcissism: Behaviors characterized by a pattern of grandiosity, self-centered focus, need for admiration, and self-service attitude. Narcissism can often include a lack of empathy or consideration for others.

Neglect: Passive form of abuse in which the physical or emotional needs of a dependent individual are disregarded or ignored by the person responsible for them.

Normalizing: A tactic used to desensitize an individual to abusive, coercive, or inappropriate behaviors. Normalizing is essentially the manipulation of another human being to get them to agree to or accept something that is in conflict with the law, social norms, or their own code of behavior.

“Not My Fault” Syndrome: Avoiding personal responsibility for one’s own words and actions.

No-Win Scenarios: When you are manipulated into choosing between two bad options.


Objectification: Practice of treating a person or group of people as if they were objects

Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior: Inflexible adherence to cleanliness and an orderly system.


Panic Attacks: Intense episodes of fear or anxiety which are often short and accompanied by physical symptoms of hyperventilating, shaking, sweating, and chills.

Parental Alienation Syndrome: When a parent convinces their child that their other parent is bad, evil, or worthless.

Parentification: Role reversal in which a child is inappropriately given the role of meeting the emotional or physical needs of the parent or of their siblings.

Passive-Aggressive Behavior: Expressing discontent or negative feelings in a passive, unassertive manner.

Pathological Lying: Deception by an individual in a persistent manner that is used to serve their own interests and needs with little to no regard to the needs of others.

Perfectionism: Maladaptive practice of holding oneself or others to an unrealistic or unattainable standard of organization, order, or accomplishment in one particular area of living. This sometimes neglects common standards of organization, order, or accomplishment in other areas of living.

Physical Abuse: Voluntary behavior done by one individual which inflicts pain, disease, or discomfort on another, depriving them of comfort, health, or nutrition.

Projection: The act of attributing one’s own feelings or traits to another person and believing that the other person has those same feelings or traits.

Proxy Recruitments: Controlling or abusing another person by manipulating others into unwittingly “doing the dirty work”.

Push-Pull: Chronic patterns of sabotaging and re-establishing closeness in a relationship without appropriate cause or reason.


Ranking and Comparing: Drawing inappropriate comparisons between individuals or groups that are unnecessary.

Raging, Violence, and Impulsive Aggression: Verbal, physical, or emotional elevations often displayed in explosive manners during disputes. These acts of rage could violate their personal boundaries and threaten the security or safety of another individual.

Relationship Hypervigilance: Maintaining an unhealthy level of interest in the behaviors, comments, thoughts, and interests by others.

Riding The Emotional Elevator: Experiencing different levels of emotional maturity rapidly.


Sabotage: Spontaneous disruption of calm in order to serve a personal interest, draw attention, or provoke a conflict.

Scapegoating: Singling out a single individual for unmerited negative treatment or blame.

Selective Memory and Selective Amnesia: Reinforcing a bias, belief, or desired outcome through the use of memory or lack thereof.

Selective Competence: Showing different levels of intelligence, memory, resourcefulness, strength, or competence as a result of the situation or environment.

Self-Aggrandizement: Displaying an appearance of superiority through pompous behavior, boasting, or narcissism.

Self-Harm: Cutting, poisoning, or inflicting harm into oneself deliberately.

Self-Loathing: Extreme hatred of one’s self, actions, or background.

Self-Victimization: Casting oneself as the victim in a variety of situations.

Sense Of Entitlement: Unrealistic, unmerited, or inappropriate expectation of favorable mannerisms or treatment at the hands of others.

Sexual Coercion: Using subtle pressure, trickery, emotional force, drugs, or alcohol to force sexual contact with someone else against their will. This includes persistent attempts to have sexual contact with someone who has refused any such contact.

Sexual Objectification: Viewing another individual in terms of their sexual usefulness or attractiveness rather than pursuing or engaging in a quality interpersonal relationship with them.

Shaming: The act of telling someone that you are bad or inadequate.

Silent Treatment: Passive-aggressive forms of emotional abuse where disapproval or displeasure is exhibited through nonverbal gestures while maintaining verbal silence.

Situational Ethics: Philosophy which promotes the idea that the end justifies the means and that any rules or laws can be set aside for the greater good.

Sleep Deprivation: Practice of routinely interrupting, impeding, or restricting another person’s sleep cycle.

Splitting: Regarding people and situations as only “completely good” or “completely bad”.

Stalking: Pervasive and unwelcome pattern of pursuing contact with another individual.

Stunted Emotional Growth: Difficulty, reluctance, or inability to learn from mistakes, work on self-improvement, or develop more effective coping strategies.


Targeted, Humor, Mocking, and Sarcasm: Any sustained pattern of joking, sarcasm, or mockery designed to reduce another individual’s reputation in their own eyes or in the eyes of others.

Terminal Uniqueness: False belief that the situation a person is facing is unlike anything anyone else has faced before.

Testing: Forcing another individual repeatedly to demonstrate or prove their love or commitment to a relationship.

Thought Policing: Any process of trying to question, control, or unduly influence another person’s thoughts or feelings.

Threats: Intentional or inappropriate warnings of destructive actions or consequences.

Triangulation: Gaining an advantage over perceived rivals by manipulating them into conflicts with each other.

Triggering: Small, insignificant, or minor actions, statements, or events that produce a dramatic or inappropriate response.

Tunnel Vision: Habit or tendency to only see or focus on a single priority while neglecting or ignoring other important priorities.


Verbal Abuse: Repeated pattern of inappropriate, derogatory, or threatening speech directed at one individual.

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