A QUALITATIVE EXPLORATION OF PSYCHOLOGICAL AND EMOTIONAL ABUSE WITHIN THE WHOLE FAMILY: A DIALOGUE IN RESPONSE TO SILENCE
The deleterious effects of psychological and emotional abuse upon individuals in relationships are seen regularly in family therapy practice and are increasingly acknowledged in the wider community. Yet literature rarely considers these forms of abuse as a whole family problem, even though those who abuse commonly use similar controlling behaviours within all family relationships. Clinical experience reveals that family members rarely speak together about their past experience, whether as a result of complying with family silence or lacking recognition of non-physical abuse.
This qualitative study explores psychological and emotional abuse in relation to four aspects of family: family functioning, family relationships, sense of family, and family conversation about past abuse. A unique dialogical methodology, based upon Buber’s philosophy that dialogue is the source of knowing, is operationalised by creative methods involving 11 interviews with nine individuals from five families.
Analysis privileges the participant-researcher intersubjective process with a Buberian microanalysis of moments where new knowing emerges. It then considers each participant’s subjective experience as it relates to each of the four areas of exploration, including a compilation of each participant’s I-statements in an I-poem. Finally, analysis includes consideration of the systemic view of each family, including what the researcher denotes as a We-poem, a collation of we-statements from each family member which suggests a dialogue between them.
The research highlights a number of family processes around psychological and emotional abuse, which inform more nuanced thinking on such non-physical abuse. Overall, the research reveals that psychological and emotional abuse is generalised to the whole family over time, from the couple relationship, to physical abuse of children, and sibling abuse. The researcher denotes this as ‘family relational abuse’. Additionally, the research points to psychological abuse and emotional abuse as distinct forms of abuse, which engender cumulative individual and family trauma, are enacted through a family relational web of control, are upheld by othering processes based on societal norms of family and abuse, and which compromise family communication.
Psychological and emotional abuse is affirmed as directly impacting upon human dignity by significantly compromising the individual’s opportunities to experience dialogue, to engage in it with others, or even trust that it is possible. This negation of the I-Thou relation that is necessary for human beings to become whole persons, influences the capacity of non-abusive family members to subsequently engage in a healing dialogue about their past experience of these forms of abuse.