Glossary of Terminology

Throughout this site, and perhaps in your own research, you may have come across certain terms used to describe methods or situations of, or conditions that result from, domestic violence.

With the help of relevant modern resources we have pulled together and outlined some of the most common terms and theories used in discussions of domestic violence in the following glossary of terminology. In no means is this glossary meant to diagnose, but rather serve as a resource in an effort to help you better understand and advocate for awareness of and strengthen the dialogue on domestic violence. Furthermore, if you are a victim of domestic violence, you may find comfort and healing in being able to identify what is happening to you.

Abandonment (also called emotional abandonment). A subjective emotional state in which a person feels undesired, left behind, insecure, or discarded. Someone experiencing emotional abandonment may feel at loss, cut off from a crucial source of sustenance that has been withdrawn, either suddenly, or through a process of erosion. In a classic abandonment scenario, the severance of the emotional bond is unilateral, that is, the person feeling abandoned sees the object of his or her attachment as the one who chose to break the connection.

Abusive power and control (also called coercive control). The way that an abusive person gains and maintains power and control over another person. The victim is subject to psychological, physical, sexual, or financial abuse. The motivations of the abusive person are varied, such as personal gain and/or gratification, psychological projection (see below), envy (see below) or just for the sake of it as the abuser may simply enjoy exercising power and control. See also coercion

Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD or APD). A personality disorder characterized by a long term pattern of disregard for or violation of the rights of others. Both the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) have referred this disorder to psychopathy (see below) and sociopathy (see below). Individuals with this personality disorder will typically and frequently manipulate and deceive other people through wit and a facade of superficial charm (see below) or through intimidation and violence. They may display arrogance, think lowly and negatively of others, lack remorse for their harmful actions, and have a callous attitude to those they have harmed. Irresponsibility is the core characteristic of this disorder: they can have significant difficulties in maintaining stable employment as well as fulfilling their social and financial obligations. Those with this disorder are often impulsive and reckless, failing to consider or disregarding the consequences of their actions. Serious problems with interpersonal relationships are often seen in those with this disorder. Attachments and emotional bonds are weak, and interpersonal relationships often revolve around the manipulation, exploitation, and abuse of others. While they generally have no problems in establishing relationships, they may have difficulties in sustaining and maintaining them. Relationships with family members and relatives are often strained due to their behavior and the frequent problems that these individuals may get into.

Anxiety Disorders. A group of mental disorders (see below) characterized by significant feelings of anxiety and fear. Anxiety is a worry about future events and fear is a reaction to current events. These feelings may cause physical symptoms, such as a fast heart rate and shakiness. There are a number of anxiety disorders: including generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobia, social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, panic disorder, and selective mutism. The disorder differs by what results in the symptoms. People often have more than one anxiety disorder. See also personality disorders.

Attention Seeking (also called drawing attention, or garnering attention). A type of behavior that is likely to draw attention, usually to build oneself up by being the center of attention or to obtain validation from others.

Battered Person Syndrome (also sometimes referred to as Battered Woman Syndrome). Refers to a circumstance where a person kills their partner in response to what they claimed was cumulative abuse, rather than in response to a singular act. The term evolved from an ongoing study centered around battered women of American psychologist Lenore Edna Walker.

Brainwashing (also known as mind control (see below) or coercion (see below)). A concept that the human mind can be altered or controlled by certain psychological techniques. Brainwashing is said to reduce its subject’s ability to think critically or independently, to allow the introduction of new, unwanted thoughts and ideas into the subject’s mind, as well as to change his or her attitudes, values, and beliefs. See also manipulation

Charming. See Superficial Charm

Coercion or coercive control. The practice of forcing another person to do something by using force, demands, or threats. See also abusive power and control

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). A psychosocial approach (see below) or intervention that is the most widely used evidence-based practice for improving mental health. Guided by empirical research (evidence) CBT focuses on the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems and changing unhelpful patterns in cognitions (e.g. thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes), behaviors, and emotional regulation. It was originally designed to treat depression, and is now used for a number of mental health conditions, for example anxiety (see above) which can occur as a result of surviving trauma. CBT is a "problem-focused" and "action-oriented" form of therapy and is used to treat specific problems related to a diagnosed mental disorder (see below), such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (see below) and complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) (see below). The therapist's role is to assist the client in finding and practicing effective strategies to address the identified goals and decrease symptoms of the disorder.

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). Also referred to as “complex trauma disorder" it is a psychological disorder that occurs as a result of repetitive, prolonged trauma involving sustained abuse or abandonment in an interpersonal relationship that involved an uneven power dynamic. Signs of C-PTSD may include flashbacks and/or hallucinations, nightmares, heightened anxiety, intense fear, loss of interest and sense of purpose, or insomnia. Those who have been diagnosed with C-PTSD are usually encouraged to follow a specific therapy regimen specific to their needs. See also post traumatic stress disorder


Need Help?

If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic violence, or if you think you may be harming your partner, there are resources available in your community and nationally that can provide support and assistance.


Compliance. A kind of social influence (see below), in which a person appears to agree with others but actually keeps their dissenting options private. When someone is compliant, they may also be considered to be submissive. Not to be confused with internalization (see below) in which a person both publicly and privately accepts and agrees with another opinion.

Conditioning. When considering domestic violence and abuse, conditioning (or training) refers to a learning process that results from a pairing of potent and neutral stimuli. Fear being the main component, an abuser may condition his victim to avoid any behavior that may upset him. See also manipulation and operant conditioning.

Cyberstalking. Use of electronic means (e.g. internet) to harass or stalk an individual, group, or organization. It may include threats, vandalism, solicitation for sex, or gathering information that may be used to threaten, embarrass or harass. See also harassment, intimidation, and stalking.

Cycle of Abuse. Often used to describe cases of domestic violence. The cycle is comprised of four phases, and the cycle continues until the conflict is resolved (reconciliation, separation, divorce, or death).

  • Tension Building. Stress builds from a variety of factors - daily life, work, illness, etc. To prevent violence the victim may try to reduce the tension by becoming compliant and nurturing, or submissive.

  • Acute violence. The point when the abuser attempts to dominate, or take control of, the victim through psychological or physical violence.

  • Reconciliation/honeymoon. The abuser may begin to feel remorse, or fear that the victim will leave or call the police. This phase is characterized by affection, apology, or alternatively: ignoring the incident. Sometimes the abuser will shower the victim with affection, or love bomb (see below), or sometimes the abuser will use emotional blackmail (see below) such as threatening to self-harm or take his or her own life in order to gain sympathy.

  • Calm. The relationship is peaceful. At this point the abuser may agree to therapy, or ask for forgiveness in order to establish normalcy.

The cycle may restart and continue when the abuser leaves the phase of calm by offering less affection, less sincere apologies, and when tensions begin to rise again.

Destabilization. With regard to cases of domestic violence and abuse, the term refers to psychological contexts where the abuser uses tactics of manipulation to disorient and disarm the victim. This technique is often used by an abuser who is gaslighting (see below) his victim.

Disinformation. When false information is spread deliberately to deceive.

Displacement. In Freudian psychology, displacement is an unconscious defense mechanism whereby the mind substitutes either a new aim or a new object for goals felt in their original form to be dangerous or unacceptable. See also scapegoating

Dissociation. In psychology, dissociation can be a wide array of experiences from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experiences. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality, rather than a loss of reality as in psychosis (see below). Dissociation often occurs during hypervigilance (see below) and dysphoric hyperarousal (see below).

Divide and Rule. Often called “divide and conquer” this technique is often employed by narcissists (see below) in order to obtain and retain power and control in the relationship. The abuser will create divisions among individuals in order to weaken and isolate them, making it easier for the abuser to manipulate and dominate his or her victim.

Domestic Violence. Violence or abuse by one person against another in a domestic setting, such as marriage or cohabitation. Often referred to as Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) (see below) when involving individuals in an intimate relationship. 

Dominance. The way that an abusive person gains and maintains power and control over another person.

Dysphoric Hyperarousal. Also called “flashback” or “involuntary recurrent memory” it is a psychological phenomenon in which an individual has a sudden, usually powerful, re-experiencing of a past experience or elements of a past experience. These experiences can be happy, sad, exciting, or any other emotion. The term is used particularly when the memory is recalled involuntarily, and/or when it is so intense that the person "relives" the experience, unable to fully recognize it as memory and not something that is happening in "real time.” Those who suffer from dysphoric hyperarousal may also experience episodes of dissociation (see above) and/or hypervigilance (see below). Dysphoric hyperarousal is common for victims of domestic violence, particularly those who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (see below) or complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) (see above).

Enabling. With regard to the discussion of domestic violence and abuse, it is the encouragement of dysfunctional behavior. Most common examples of enabling is a third party taking responsibility or blame for the abuser’s actions, or making accommodations for a person’s harmful conduct. 

Emotional Blackmail (also associated with FOG: Fear, Obligation, and Guilt). Psychotherapist Susan Forward established the term to describe when, in an intimate or close relationship, one person uses fear, obligation, and guilt (FOG) to ensure the other person will be scared or guilted into submission, or giving in to the wishes of the other. An undeveloped, and arguably innocent, method of emotional blackmail is often employed by children who use special pleading to promote their own interests. In cases of domestic violence and abuse, the abuser uses emotional blackmail to control his victim. The victim may become a sort of hostage, forced to act under pressure of threat of responsibility for the abuser’s breakdown; the victim could fall into a pattern of letting the abuser control her decisions and behavior, lost in what has been referred to as a psychological fog. In terms of punishment (emotional blackmail is a kind of negative punishment (see below)) psychotherapists Forward and Donna Frazier have determined that there are more than one type of emotional blackmail employed as a means of negative punishment in psychological manipulation. There is the “punisher’s threat” which involves statements and behavior that imply, implicitly or explicitly, that the abuser will harm or kill the victim. Then there is the “self-punisher’s threat” where the abuser threatens to harm or kill himself. See operant conditioning and manipulation

Emotional Self-Regulation. Also called “regulation of emotion” it is the ability to respond to the ongoing demands of experience with the range of emotions in a manner that is socially tolerable and sufficiently flexible to permit spontaneous reactions as well as the ability to delay spontaneous reactions as needed. It can also be defined as extrinsic and intrinsic processes responsible for monitoring, evaluating, and modifying emotional reactions. Survivors of domestic violence who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (see below) or complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) (see above) who also experience hypervigilance (see below) and/or dissociation (see above) may make efforts to employ emotional self-regulation.

Envy. An emotion that occurs when a person feels inferior and desires or wishes that others lacked what they perceive to be superior qualities. Borrowed from the German language, Schadenfreude (see below) refers to taking pleasure in the misfortune of others and can be understood as an outgrowth of envy in certain situations. Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder (see below) are often envious of others or believe others are envious of them, not to mention also exhibit elements of Schadenfreude.

Explosive Anger. See Rage

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). A psychotherapy (see below) treatment that was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. EMDR therapy facilitates the accessing and processing of traumatic memories and other adverse life experience to bring these to an adaptive resolution. After successful treatment with EMDR therapy, effective distress is relieved, negative beliefs are reformulated, and physiological arousal is reduced. During EMDR therapy the individual attends to emotionally disturbing material in brief sequential doses while simultaneously focusing on an external stimulus. Therapist directed lateral eye movements are the most commonly used external stimulus but a variety of other stimuli including hand-tapping and audio stimulation are often used. EMDR therapy facilitates the accessing of the traumatic memory network, so that information processing is enhanced, with new associations forged between the traumatic memory and more adaptive memories or information. These new associations are thought to result in complete information processing, new learning, elimination of emotional distress, and development of cognitive insights. EMDR therapy uses a three pronged protocol: (1) the past events that have laid the groundwork for dysfunction are processed, forging new associative links with adaptive information; (2) the current circumstances that elicit distress are targeted, and internal and external triggers (see below) are desensitized; (3) imaginal templates of future events are incorporated, to assist the individual in acquiring the skills needed for adaptive functioning. Our thanks to EMDR, Inc. for supplying the information used in this entry.

False Self. Also referred to as “pseudo self” or “idealized self”, false self is mainly considered a term within psychoanalysis that also corresponds to the idea of true self (see below). The contradictory relationship of true and false selves is used often when describing situations that involve a narcissist (see below). The false self is a defensive facade, used for a variety of reasons and strategies, often connected closely to situations of abuse or mental illness and almost always as an escape mechanism from the intense feeling of loneliness. Those who present a false self may feel dead and empty behind the appearance of what is real.

Financial/Economic Abuse. A form of abuse in a relationship when one partner has or takes control over the other partner’s access to economic resources. This abuse is typically a form of negative punishment (see below). 

Flashback. See dysphoric hyperarousal.

Gaslighting. If you look at the sky and say "the sky is blue" and your partner looks at you and says "no, you're mistaken, the sky is red" then you are a victim of gaslighting. While the example here is incredibly simplified, it is intentional so as to illustrate as clearly as possible one of the most common tactics of domestic abuse in which the perpetrator (the abuser) uses persistent denial, contradiction, manipulation (see below), and lying to destabilize (see above) the victim's own sense of sanity and self-awareness. The term originates from the 1938 British stage play Gas Light in which the husband systematically manipulates his wife's manner of thinking and perception. In the story, the husband convinces his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating elements of their environment and insisting that she is mistaken, remembering things incorrectly, or delusional when she points out changes in their home. One of these changes was the dimming of gas lights in the house (to hinder the search for jewels that belonged to a woman the husband had murdered); when the wife correctly notices the dimming lights and discusses it with her husband, he insists that she merely imagined this change. A real-life example of gaslighting could involve a partner denying specific actions, words spoken, or the existence of something or someone. Typically gaslighting is a slow burn (pun intended) that often and unfortunately goes on undetected for long periods of time. 


Why is this Happening? / Is this Happening? / How Do I Know?

At several points during or after an abusive relationship a victim may ask him- or herself Why is this happening? or Why did this happen? The victim may also even question the existence of abuse (a side effect of gaslighting (see above), among other types of abuse) or how to spot it. We have compiled a set of resources that help individuals reach an answer to these Who, What, How, and Why questions.


Harassment. Offensive behavior that disturbs or upsets and is characteristically repetitive. Persistent unwanted phone calls and texts, stalking (see below), or repeated unwanted social media and email communications are all types of harassment. 

Histrionic Personality Disorder. A need to be the center of attention. Individuals with this personality disorder (see below) typically draw people in so they may use the relationship to their benefit; often the person with this personality disorder will then dispose of the relationship when it no longer satisfies his or her agenda. Those with this disorder may exhibit the following symptoms: self-centeredness, uncomfortable when not the center of attention, constantly seeking reassurance or approval, inappropriately seductive appearance or behavior, rapidly shifting emotional states that appear shallow to others, overly concerned with physical appearance and using physical appearance to draw attention to self, opinions are easily influenced by other people but difficult to back up with details, excessive dramatics with exaggerated displays of emotion, tendency to believe that relationships are more intimate than they actually are, highly suggestible (easily influenced by others). 

Hypervigilance. An enhanced state of sensory sensitivity (see below) accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect activity. Hypervigilance may bring about a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion. Other symptoms include: abnormally increased arousal, a high responsiveness to stimuli, and a constant scanning of the environment. In hypervigilance, there is a perpetual scanning of the environment to search for sights, sounds, people, behaviors, smells, or anything else that is reminiscent of activity, threat or trauma. The individual is placed on high alert in order to be certain danger is not near. Hypervigilance can lead to a variety of obsessive behavior patterns, as well as producing difficulties with social interaction and relationships. Hypervigilance can be a symptom of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (see below) and complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) (see above), and various types of anxiety disorders (see above). Hypervigilance is different from dysphoric hyperarousal (see above) in that the person remains aware of their surroundings. In dysphoric hyperarousal, a person with PTSD or C-PTSD may lose contact with reality and re-experience the traumatic event verbatim. Where there have been multiple traumas, a person may become hypervigilant and suffer severe anxiety attacks intense enough to induce a delusional state where the effects of related traumas overlap. This can result in dissociation (see above) or the thousand-yard stare (see below). Hypervigilance is a common condition with survivors of domestic violence who suffer from PTSD or C-PTSD.

Idealization and Devaluation. In psychoanalytic theory, when an individual is unable to process difficult feelings, specific defenses are mobilized to overcome what the individual perceives as an unbearable situation. One of these defenses is called splitting: when someone sees people as either “all good” or “all bad.” When the individual uses the defense mechanism of idealization, the person is attributing exaggerated positive qualities to the self or others. When viewing people as “all bad” the individual employs devaluation: attributing exaggerated negative qualities to the self or others. In child development, idealization and devaluation is normal, since children are only starting to become capable of perceiving others as complex structures that exhibit both good and bad qualities. If this development stage is interrupted (e.g. by childhood trauma), these defense mechanisms may persist into adulthood leading to problems in maintaining healthy relationships. 

Identification. A kind of social influence (see below) in which a person is influenced by someone who is liked and respected (e.g. celebrity or social figure).

Intermittent or Partial Reinforcement. To establish an effective climate of fear and doubt an abuser may use negative reinforcement (see below) intermittently or partially. To encourage the victim to behave in a certain way that is pleasing to the abuser, the abuser will employ partial or intermittent positive reinforcement (see below). 

Internalization. A kind of social influence (see below) in which a person accepts a belief or behavior and agrees both publicly and privately. Not to be confused with compliance (see above), which is when a person accepts publicly a belief or behavior, but not necessarily privately. 

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Is domestic violence (see above) by a current or former spouse or partner in an intimate relationship against the other spouse or partner.

Intimidation (also called cowing). An intentional behavior meant to instill fear into the sensibility of another person. In many legal cases in the United States, intimidation can be classified as a criminal and/or civil offense. One example of an intimidation technique is stalking (see below).

Involuntary Recurrent Memory. See dysphoric hyperarousal.

Isolation. With regard to domestic violence and abuse, this term refers to a tactic employed by the abuser to facilitate power and control over the victim. Not to be confused with abandonment (see above), isolation reduces the opportunity of the abused to be rescued or escape from the abuse while still maintaining an unbalanced power dynamic. An example of isolation in domestic violence cases may involve the abuser convincing the victim to stay away or move far away from family and friends. Another example would be when the abuser prevents the victim from interacting with the outside world, or, dictates the when, who, where, and how of the interactions.

Jealousy. See Pathological Jealousy

Legitimization. Often referred to as normalization (see below), the term refers to the act of justifying poor behavior by attaching it to social norms and values. Also see manipulation

Love Bombing. While this term can be seen as both positive and negative in certain circumstances, the term is largely considered to be negative with regard to cases of abuse. Regardless of circumstance, love bombing is meant to describe when someone attempts to influence someone else by offering attention and affection. The term is commonly used to describe the methods and behavior of narcissists (see below) who try to win the confidence of a victim, which is a kind of positive reinforcement (see below). 

Manipulation (also called Psychological Manipulation). A kind of social influence (see below) that aims to change the behavior or perception of others through abusive, deceptive, or underhanded tactics (such as positive and negative reinforcement, positive and negative punishment and traumatic learning - see below for those terms). Successful manipulation would entail the perpetrator (the manipulator, or the abuser) concealing aggressive intentions and behaviors, and knowing the emotional weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the victim. Manipulators use specific techniques, such as:

  • Lying. Psychopaths (see below) are experts in lying frequently and doing so in subtle ways that often go undetected until later.

  • Lying through withholding. A very subtle form of lying that involves withholding a significant amount of truth. This technique is often employed in propaganda (see below).

  • Denial. A refusal to admit to or acknowledge wrongdoing. This is often used in gaslighting (see above).

  • Rationalization. An excuse to justify inappropriate behavior. This is closely related to spin (see below) which is used in propaganda (see below). This is also very closely related to legitimization (see above) or normalization (see below).

  • Minimization. Almost always corresponds with rationalization (see below) where the manipulator claims that their behavior is not as harmful or as extreme as the victim is suggesting. The manipulator will sometimes classify said behavior as a joke or teasing.

  • Selective Inattention or Selective Attention. A refusal to address something that otherwise distracts from the manipulator’s agenda, often saying things like “I don’t want to hear it.” This is closely connected with denial.

  • Diversion. When the manipulator does not provide a straight answer to a straight question, instead he or she steers the conversation in a different direction or to another topic.

  • Evasion. Like diversion, but giving irrelevant, rambling, or vague responses.

  • Guilt trip. A technique used to ensure that the victim remains in self-doubt and/or a submissive state.

  • Shaming. The use of sarcasm or name-calling, or even non verbal gestures such as a specific glare, to increase the level of fear and/or self-doubt in the victim.

  • Vilifying the victim. A powerful means of keeping the victim in a defensive state by making false accusations of abuse or poor behavior. This is sometimes referred to as “flipping the script”.

  • Playing the victim. When a manipulator portrays himself as a victim as a result of someone else’s behavior in order to gain pity, sympathy or evoke compassion and thereby gain something favorable from another. In some cases this is also referred to as "flipping the script".

  • Seduction. When the manipulator uses charm, praise, flattery or overtly supporting others in order to get them to lower their defenses and give their trust and loyalty to the manipulator.

  • Projecting the blame. When the manipulator projects his or her own thinking onto the victim, making the victim think he or she has done something wrong. This, too, can be considered "flipping the script".

  • Feigning innocence. When the manipulator suggests that harmful actions were done unintentionally, or that the actions did not take place the way they were described. When this happens the manipulator will often have a look of surprise or exhibit indignation.

  • Feigning confusion. When the manipulator pretends that he or she does not know what the victim is talking about, in an effort to place the victim in a position of questioning his or her own judgement and sanity. This tactic is one of the most common ones used in gaslighting (see above).

Mental Disorder. Also called "mental illness" or "psychiatric disorder" it is a behavioral or mental pattern that causes significant distress or impairment of personal functioning. Such features may be persistent, relapsing and remitting, or occur as a single episode. Many disorders have been described, with signs and symptoms that vary widely between specific disorders. Such disorders may be diagnosed by a mental health professional. Official criteria for diagnosing mental disorders, including personality disorders (see below), are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).

Mind Games or Mind Control. A term used to describe the conscious struggle for psychological power and control, resulting in the undermining of the victim’s own sense of perception or sanity. 

Minimization (also called trivialization). A technique of deception used in cases of manipulation (see above) that includes denial coupled with rationalization. Not to be confused with exaggeration, which is actually the opposite of minimization, those who employ the minimization technique downplay the significance of an event or emotion so as to buffer the feeling of guilt or the need to take accountability. Belittling is a form of minimization. 

Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or Narcissism. Someone who has an inflated sense of self-importance, hypersensitivity to criticism and a sense of entitlement that compels them to persuade others to comply with their requests. The tactics and techniques employed by narcissists are countless. The most common include but are not limited to: isolation (see above); love bombing (see above); superficial charm (see below), manipulation (see above) including vilifying the victim, denial, rationalization and minimization, shaming, seduction, projecting the blame, and feigning confusion; and gaslighting (see above). Proxy abuse (see below) is also associated with this disorder.

Negative Punishment. A kind of operant conditioning (see below), negative punishment uses aversive stimuli in an effort to end what is considered to be unfavorable behavior. An example in domestic violence cases could include when the abuser takes away a debit card, or a phone, or something otherwise preferred by or useful to the victim in an effort to end what the abuser considers to be unfavorable behavior (e.g. spending money on things, or speaking to individuals that the abuser does not like). See also negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and positive reinforcement

Negative Reinforcement. A kind of operant conditioning (see below), it is a term that is used to describe when the rate of a behavior increases because an aversive event or stimulus is removed or prevented from happening. With regard to domestic violence, an example could include when an abuser has cornered a victim in a room in order to elicit the kind of behavior he wishes (e.g. to force the victim to say or do certain things). When the victim‘s behavior satisfies the abuser, the abuser backs away and appears less threatening. See also negative punishment, positive punishment, and positive reinforcement. 

Normalization. See legitimization

Operant Conditioning or Classical Conditioning. A learning process that uses reinforcers and punishments to modify the strength of behavior. Reinforcers and punishments can be positive or negative. See negative reinforcement, positive reinforcement, negative punishment, and positive punishment.

Passive Aggressive, and Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder. An avoidance of direct confrontation usually accompanied by a resistance to expectations. Specific behaviors of someone who is passive aggressive may include procrastination, forgetfulness, purposeful inefficiency - especially in reaction to demands from authority figures, stubbornness, silent treatment (see below), resentment, evasion of problems, making excuses, blaming others, obstruction, victim playing (see below), sarcasm, backhanded compliments, and hiding anger.

Pathological Jealousy. (Also called “Othello Syndrome” after the Shakespeare play Othello in which the protagonist murders his wife as a result of a false belief that she has been unfaithful.) A psychological disorder in which a person is preoccupied with the thought that their spouse or sexual partner is being unfaithful without having any real proof, along with socially unacceptable or abnormal behavior related to these thoughts. Symptoms of pathological jealousy include but are not limited to:

  • Accusing partner of looking or giving attention to other people

  • Questioning the partner’s behavior

  • Interrogation of phone calls, including wrong numbers or accidental phone calls, and all other forms of communication

  • Not allowing or demanding control of social media accounts

  • Going through the partner’s belongings or phone

  • Always asking where the partner is and who they are with

  • Isolating partner from their family and friends

  • Not letting the partner have personal interest or hobbies outside the house

  • Controlling the partner’s social circle

  • Claiming the partner is having an affair when they withdraw or tries to escape abuse

  • Accusing partner of holding affairs when the marriage’s sexual activity stops because of the abuse

  • Verbal and/or physical violence towards the partner, the individual who is considered to be the rival, or both

  • Blaming the partner and establishing an excuse for jealous behavior

  • Denying the jealous behavior unless cornered

  • Threatening to harm others or themselves

Personality Disorders. A class of mental disorders characterized by enduring maladaptive patterns of behavior, cognition, and inner experience. Official criteria for diagnosing personality disorders are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).

Positive Punishment. A kind of operant conditioning (see above), positive punishment uses stimuli in an effort to end behavior. With regard to domestic violence, an example of positive punishment would be when an abuser physically assaults his victim in an effort to end what he considers to be unfavorable behavior. Also see positive reinforcement, negative punishment, and negative reinforcement. 

Positive Reinforcement. A kind of operant conditioning (see above), positive reinforcement is a term that is used to describe when a desirable event or stimulus is presented as a consequence, or result, of a behavior and to promote the continuance of said behavior. While it can be very difficult to distinguish between positive and negative reinforcers, an example of positive reinforcement in domestic violence may involve the abuser showing affection to the victim after an incident of abuse (e.g. after an argument, and the victim becomes submissive and so then the abuser shows affection in an attempt to keep the victim submissive). Another example would be when narcissists shower their victims with affection, in order to manipulate perceptions. Positive reinforcers typically include: praise, superficial charm (see below), superficial sympathy, excessive apologizing, money, approval, gifts, attention, and public recognition. Also see love bombing, narcissism, positive punishment, negative punishment, and negative reinforcement


Voices: Tell Your Story

Voices is a safe platform for survivors, families and friends, therapists and other professionals working in the field to share their stories and experiences.

By sharing our stories with one another we not only help ourselves heal, but help each other heal, too. We also bring attention to and educate others on the truths of domestic violence.

We welcome individuals to share their stories or some other form of written work that serves the purpose of inclusive conversation and transparent sharing of information.

If you would like to participate please contact us. We understand sharing your story may be difficult, and so will be happy to discuss publishing your work anonymously.

We look forward to hearing from you.


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A mental disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event, such as sexual assault, warfare, traffic collisions, or other threats on a person’s life. PTSD is different from C-PTSD, which is typically diagnosed in cases of prolonged and repeated abuse. Signs of PTSD may include flashbacks and/or hallucinations, nightmares, heightened anxiety, intense fear, elevated anger or even explosive anger (see above), loss of interest and sense of purpose, or insomnia. Those who have been diagnosed with PTSD are usually encouraged to follow a specific therapy regimen specific to their needs. See also complex post traumatic stress disorder

Propaganda. Subjective or biased information used to persuade someone or a group of people in order to push a self-satisfying agenda (or in order to further an agenda set by a group or connected with an idea). See also spin

Proxy Abuse. Often used when describing cases of narcissism (see above). Proxy abuse occurs when individuals help promote an abuser’s agenda. “Flying monkeys” is often used to describe cases of proxy abuse, and the term comes from the story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz where the Wicked Witch employs her monkeys to carry out her attacks. Abusers by proxy are typically family members or close friends who do not believe, or cannot see through, the abuser’s facade. 

Psychological Projection. A theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is a habitual liar may constantly accuse other people of being liars. Projection is often employed in cases of scapegoating (see below). 

Psychopathy. Sometimes considered synonymous with sociopathy (see below), psychopathy is traditionally defined as a personality disorder (see above) characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, and egotistical traits.

Psychosis. An abnormal condition of the mind that results in difficulties telling what is real and what is not. Symptoms may include false beliefs and seeing or hearing things that others do not see or hear. Other symptoms may include incoherent speech and behavior that is inappropriate for the situation. There may also be sleep problems, social withdrawal, lack of motivation, and difficulties carrying out daily activities. Different from dissociation (see above) where the individual experiences a detachment from reality, an individual who experiences psychosis is unaware of the existence of reality.

Psychosocial Approach. Looks at individuals in the context of the combined influence that psychological factors and the surrounding social environment have on their physical and mental wellness and their ability to function. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) (see above) is an example of taking a psychosocial approach in trauma-related or other kinds therapy treatments.

Psychotherapy is the use of psychological methods, particularly when based on regular personal interaction, to help a person change behavior and overcome problems in desired ways. Psychotherapy aims to improve an individual's well-being and mental health, to resolve or mitigate troublesome behaviors, beliefs, compulsions, thoughts, or emotions, and to improve relationships and social skills. Certain psychotherapies are considered evidence-based (or use empirical research) for treating some diagnosed mental disorders (see above), such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (see above) or complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) (see above). An example of psychotherapy is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) (see above).

Rage (also referred to as explosive anger). Intense, violent or growing anger often associated with the “fight or flight response” and often activated in response to oneself being in the presence of what one considers to be a threat. A person in a state of rage may lose much of their capacity for rational thought and reasoning, and may act violently upon their impulses to the point of attack or assault. 

Rationalization. An excuse to justify inappropriate behavior. See also manipulation and legitimization

Sadistic Personality Disorder. A condition that involves sadism - pleasure obtained by inflicting pain. Commonly associated in cases of manipulation (see above). 

Scapegoating. The practice of singling out a person or group for unmerited blame and consequent negative treatment, in an effort to project or displace feelings of aggression, hostility, or frustration. See psychological projection and displacement

Schadenfreude. German in origin, a term that refers to taking pleasure in the misfortune of others and can be understood as an outgrowth of envy (see above).

Self-Awareness. How an individual consciously knows and understands his or her own character, feelings, motives, and desires. Introspection is intrinsic to self-awareness as well as the ability to recognize oneself as separate from anyone or anything else. Self-consciousness is considered to be a heightened sense of self-awareness, that involves a preoccupation with oneself (as opposed to the state of self-awareness). Self-awareness is often considered to answer the “why am I like this?” question.

Self-Concept (also called self-identity or self-structure). A collection of beliefs about oneself that generally answers the question “who am I?”. Your self-concept is made up of self-schemas (see below), your past self, your present self, and your future self, and is not to be confused with self-awareness (see above) - the “why am I like this” or self-esteem (see below) - the “how am I like this”. Self-concept is meant to describe the examination of our past and future selves and how this examination is related to the perception of our current selves. For example, a survivor of abuse may recognize the strength of resolve she now possesses, versus the lack thereof during the period of abuse, and, she may also recognize how much stronger she will continue to become in the future. Self-concept is owning an identity (e.g. “I am a strong person”) whereas self-esteem is evaluative and opinionated (“I feel good about being a strong person”). 

Self-Esteem. An individual’s overall subjective emotional evaluation of his or her own worth. As opposed to self-awareness (see above) and self-concept (see above), self-esteem is beliefs of oneself that include both positive and negative evaluations and how we feel about them. It answers the “how am I like this” question.

Self-Knowledge. Whereas self-concept (see above) answers the question “who am I?”, and self-awareness (see above) answers the question “why am I like this?”, and self-esteem (see above) answers the question “how am I like this”, self-knowledge answers the question “what am I like?”. Self-knowledge requires an ongoing self-awareness and is a component of self-concept. It is the understanding of oneself and one’s properties and the desire to seek said understanding that guide the development of the self-concept. For example, a woman who considers herself to be a strong person (her self-concept), has the self-knowledge of what makes her a strong person with an ongoing self-awareness of why she is strong.

Self-Schemas. Closely connected to the study and consideration of self-awareness (see above), self-esteem (see above), and self-knowledge (see above), self-schemas refer to an established set of specific memories that summarize a person’s beliefs and experiences about the self. For example, someone who has a sensitive sensibility, or self-schema, considers herself to be a sensitive person and also believes that being a sensitive person is central to who she is. Her self-schema for sensitivity may include a corresponding self-concept (“I am sensitive”), and self-esteem or beliefs about how they act (“I feel I have an emotional response to many things”). 

Sensory Sensitivity. A sensitivity to sensory processing, which is the process that organizes sensation from one’s own body and the environment, thus making it possible to use the body effectively within the environment. Specifically, it deals with how the brain processes multiple sensory modality inputs, such as vision, auditory system, tactile, olfactory, interoception, and taste. A heightened state of sensory sensitivity is referred to as hypervigilance (see above).

Silent Treatment (also referred to as sulking). A term that describes when someone refuses to speak to or acknowledge someone else, usually a result of hurt feelings or disapproval and in an effort to control someone or the situation. Silent treatment can be employed as a method of manipulation (see above) and is considered a passive aggressive (see above) behavior. See also negative punishment.

Social Influence. Occurs when someone’s emotions, opinions, or behaviors are affected by others. This may take many forms, such as in conformity, socialization, peer pressure, obedience, leadership, persuasion, sales, and marketing. Psychologist Herbert Kerman identified three broad varieties of social influence: Compliance (see above), identification (see above), and internalization (see above). 

Social Undermining. An expression of negative emotions directed towards a particular person or negative evaluations of the person as a way to prevent the person from achieving his or her goals, or as a way to damage his or her reputation. It is seen predominantly in close relationships such as between family members, friends, and personal relationships. 

Sociopathy. Often synonymous with psychopathy (see above), this kind of personality disorder (see above) is not only characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, and egotistical traits, but also narrows in on the defining features that are in violation of social norms.

Spin. A form of propaganda (see above) achieved through providing a biased interpretation of something or someone or some event in order to persuade or convince opinion in favor or against something or someone or some event.

Splitting. A tendency to view people as “all good” or “all bad”. See idealization and devaluation

Stalking. Unwanted and repeated surveillance by an individual or group toward another person. This is a type of behavior closely linked to harassment and intimidation (see above). In many legal jurisdictions stalking is a criminal offense.

Stockholm Syndrome. A condition that causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity. It is also sometimes used to describe cases in which a victim defends the action of her abuser, whether as a result of brainwashing (see above) or as a coping mechanism. The name comes from a 1973 bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden, where four hostages upon release defended their captors and refused to testify against them in court. See also traumatic bonding

Submissive. See compliance.

Superficial Charm. A term often associated with narcissism (see above), superficial charm involves flattery, charisma, and enchantment. It is employed in an effort to attract, and ultimately trap, the victim. 

Teen Dating Violence. Like Intimate Partner Violence (see above) Teen Dating Violence (TDV) is violence or abuse by one person against another when involving individuals in an intimate relationship. In cases of TDV the individuals involved are most commonly between the ages of 13 and 17.

Thousand-Yard Stare. A phrase most commonly used to describe the blank, unfocused gaze of soldiers who have become emotionally detached from the horrors around them. It is also commonly used to describe the look of dissociation (see above) among trauma victims who suffer from hypervigilance (see above) and/or dysphoric hyperarousal (see above).

Traumatic Bonding. A term that refers to a strong emotional attachment between an abused person and his or her abuser, usually formed as a result of one or more cycles of abuse (see above). The longer the abuser employs manipulative and deceitful tactics, the stronger the bond. See also Stockholm Syndrome

Traumatic Learning. When a manipulator (see above) uses verbal abuse (see below), rage (see above), or other intimidating behaviors to establish dominance or superiority; it can take just one incident of this kind of behavior to condition (see above) or train victims to avoid upsetting, confronting or contradicting the manipulator. This often leads to traumatic bonding (see above). 

Trigger. Also referred to as “trauma trigger”, “trauma stimulus” or “trauma stressor”, it is the subjective attribution that a psychological stimulus caused someone to recall the memory of a previous psychological trauma, although the stimulus itself need not be frightening or traumatic and can be indirectly or superficially reminiscent of an earlier traumatic incident. Trauma triggers are related to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (see above) and complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) (see above), both conditions in which people often cannot control the recurrence of emotional or physical symptoms, or of repressed memory. Triggers can be subtle and difficult to anticipate, and can sometimes exacerbate PTSD and C-PTSD. A trigger for victims of domestic violence may include loud noises, a certain phrase, song, or location, to name just a few examples.

Trivializing. See minimization

True Self. A term often connected with narcissism (see above), and corresponds with the concept of false self (see above). The true self is connected to the sense of self based on authentic experiences, the fact of being alive and being a human being. A narcissist feels the need to maintain their self-esteem (see above) and protect their vulnerable true self (or, arguably, to rescript their self-concept (see above)) and so by extension they feel the need to control others’ behavior. 

Verbal Abuse. Characterized by an underlying anger and hostility, verbal abuse is a destructive form of communication intended to harm the self-esteem (see above) or self-concept (see above) of the other person and produce negative emotions. It is one of the most common tactics employed by psychological manipulators. See also manipulation

Victim Blaming. When the victim of a crime, assault, or wrongful act is held at fault whether in part or fully. This may happen in cases of rape, domestic violence, or sexual assault. Also see manipulation

Victim Playing. Often called “playing the victim” the “victim card” or “self-victimization”, this tactic involves someone who fabricates being a victim in order to meet a variety of strategies related to abuse, manipulation (see above), and attention seeking (see above).

Why is this Happening? / Is this Happening? / How Do I Know?

At several points during or after an abusive relationship a victim may ask him- or herself Why is this happening? or Why did this happen? The victim may also even question the existence of abuse (a side effect of gaslighting (see above), among other types of abuse) or how to spot it. We have compiled a set of resources that help individuals reach an answer to these Who, What, How, and Why questions.

Where Can I Find Help?

If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic violence, or if you think you may be harming your partner, there are resources available in your community and nationally that can provide support and assistance.

The majority of definitions here are adapted from encyclopedic resources that have previously cited additional sources. We have also referenced some of the leading psychology resources.