Mental Illness and Abusive Behavior in Relationships

Mental Illness and Abusive Behavior in Relationships

It's important to take note of how mental illness can be associated with childhood trauma and learned maladaptive behaviors, but how much of those symptoms are attributed to abusive behavior, if at all?

It is important to note the distinction between the two that abuse is a learned behavior that comes in many forms.

It can be social, economic, physical, spiritual, sexual, racial, and ability-based.

Mental Illness is symptoms experienced that we are not necessarily in control of and can choose to cope with, whereas behavior we are always in control of.

 

Mental Illnesses as Manipulation

Having a mental illness can also be an emotional manipulation tactic used by abusers.

They essentially receive a 'label' by a mental health professional and automatically believe it excuses them from accountability and responsibility for their past and or current abusive behaviors.

It can also be used to gaslight victims and survivors into thinking "that wasn't the person being abusive, it was their mental illness,' which can then lead them back into an abusive relationship they may have previously departed from.

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Examples of Mental Illness where Abusive Behavior can be Inextricably Linked

Common mental illness diagnoses where abusive behavior is common are:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,
  • Bipolar Disorder,
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder,
  • Anti-Social Personality Disorder,
  • and Borderline Personality Disorder as well as general anxiety and depression.

While these are serious mental health conditions, it is important to continue to be mindful that mental illness is not a direct cause of abusive behavior.

Someone can be angry, sad, or manic and still behave kindly towards their partner, friend, etc.

Mental illness in relationships

 

Hiding the Behavior

A lot of times in social settings, abusive partners are very skilled at behaving in ways that do not exemplify or indicate their behaviors that they engage in at home when it is just them and their partner.

This can increase difficulty in the victim/survivor receiving validation for their experiences, and if mental illness is present, a lot of times the blame is assuaged onto the diagnosis.

"Oh since your partner is Bipolar, they are probably just manic right now. I would just be extra careful what you say or do so they don't become irritable with you."

Unfortunately, these statements from family and friends can be all too common and further blur the lines between abusive behavior and mental illness.

 

Understanding the Differences

If your partner has diagnosed with a mental illness and engages in behavior such as

  • name-calling,
  • gaslighting,
  • controlling what you do, wear, who you see
  • etc.

It is important to be mindful of separating those behaviors from emotions/symptoms like irritability, hopelessness, apathy, excessive worrying.

People can experience those emotions and symptoms without engaging in the above behaviors, especially if it is a partner or friend who is exclusively targeting you and no one else.

 

Resources

For anyone suspecting that they might be in an abusive relationship, there is an excellent resource in the form of a book entitled, "Why Does He Do That?" by Lundy Bancroft.

If you decide to purchase this book, it is important to make sure your partner does not know about it as it could lead to them to read it in order to manipulate/gaslight or endanger physical safety if you are experiencing physical abuse as well.

Tessa is a great resource in Colorado Springs for those currently experiencing domestic violence/abuse or who have past experiences of it.

 

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December 7th, 2022

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