Definition of Psychological Violence

1. Psychological violence is defined as any abusive or threatening behavior intended to inflict emotional harm on an individual.

Grammatical category: noun fem.
in syllables: vio-lence + psi-co-lógi-ca.

psychological violence

Marco Antonio Villanueva Bustamante
PhD in Psychology

Psychological violence is a particular type of violence that is characterized by being composed of aggressive behaviors of a cognitive or emotional nature. Many times we think that violence should only be considered as such when it is expressed through physical aggression (eg, hitting, pulling hair or even using some type of weapon), so other expressions such as offenses, the deprivation of resources financial losses, denial of services, or other non-physical actions are typically not considered violence. This discussion about what we consider violence is not so common in the academic field; rather, the discussion lies outside this field.

People, mainly on social networks, discuss what behavioral and verbal expressions can be considered violence; It is common for some generations to consider that actions such as spanking their children or calling them nicknames or rudeness cannot be considered violence, since this is part of “educating” them to have respect for their elders. Not only that, recently non-physical violence (psychological/emotional violence) towards various minorities (particularly the LGBT+ collective) has increased significantly; Thus, the perpetrators of this type of violence have justified themselves by arguing that this is not violence and that they are only making use of their freedom of expression. Therefore, recognizing what elements make up non-physical violence is a crucial element in reducing its prevalence.

Conceptualization of psychological violence

Understanding the elements that make up psychological violence is not an easy task, because as is often the case with other psychological phenomena, from the conceptualization of this phenomenon we find multiple definitions. So let’s start from the beginning.

To understand what psychological violence is, it is necessary to refer to the concept of general violence. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) violence is the intentional use of physical force or power, with a certain degree of threat or effectiveness and that causes, or has a certain probability of causing, injury, death , psychological damage, developmental disorders or some kind of deprivation. Based on this definition we can see that psychological damage is inherent to violence as such, therefore it is not surprising that it is difficult to separate physical violence from psychological violence.

Therefore, some theorists have considered that psychological violence can be conceptualized from two perspectives:

1. As a consequence of any type of violent aggression.

2. As a phenomenon of violence by itself, which can be identified, evaluated and, consequently, denounced. It produces damage to the victim that is proportional to the intensity of the violence exerted, however, this damage may also depend on the victim’s ability to cope with these situations.

This text focuses on this second paradigm. Thus we can understand psychological violence as a heterogeneous set of attitudes and behaviors that produce a form of aggression or abuse of a cognitive or emotional nature. Among their expressions we can find actions such as devaluing, ignoring, frightening, expressing negative attitudes, threats, insults (which can be presented as generalized insults or as words that have a certain meaning for the victim and the perpetrator). Consequently, unlike physical violence that comes to show its consequences in an obvious way (in the form of bruises or scratches), in the case of psychological violence, its identification is more difficult.

Purpose and consequences

In a similar way to other types of violence, psychological violence intends to seek that the abuser has total control over his/her victim(s), gradually degrading their integrity, particularly their self-esteem; Such degradation causes the victim to recognize her abuser as an authority figure. Multiple consequences have been described for those who experience a situation of psychological violence, among these are:

• psychosomatic illnesses
• aggravation of pre-existing illnesses,
• start of consumption of legal drugs (tobacco and alcohol) or illegal
• negative feelings (guilt, shame, humiliation)
• anxiety and/or depression
• loss of self-esteem
• modification of interpersonal relationships
• suicide

Ramifications of psychological violence.

• Economic abuse: This is reflected as a control over the victim’s finances, demanding a specific amount and generating punishment, or in contrast, giving certain rewards. It can also be expressed through the contempt or underestimation of labor capacities.

• Learned helplessness: Awareness of the victim that regardless of the action they take, the perpetrator will become irritated and perform any of the behaviors previously described.

• Isolation: It is expressed as the control and hypervigilance of the victim’s life, preventing her from having a relationship with someone outside the violent dynamics (eg, family or friends).

• Verbal abuse: Minimizing, humiliating, insulting, ridiculing and/or ironicizing the behavior or thoughts of the victim.

• Emotional abuse: Use of important people, use of stereotypes or expressions of affection as a means of blackmailing and coercing the victim.



Hernández Ramos, C., Magro Servet, V. & Cuéllar Otón, JP (2014). Psychological abuse. Causes, consequences and jurisprudential criteria. The evidentiary problem. Aequitas, 3 (7), 27-53