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Psychological abuse and mental control

It’s going on our survey about mental control and the activity of sects that devote to this kind or practices. In this issue we host the contribution of two CeSAP’s researchers- that is the Study Centre on Psychological Abuses – and an interview of Luisa Miccoli to a victim of moral subjugation that saved by a miracle from the annihilation and is still upset by the experiences she lived.

As the deepening of these problems goes on, it is ever more evident the range these phenomena reach in our country.


There are words, actions, behaviours, interactions no law punishes, but that may result heavily injurious for persons. This kind of violence, defined as psychological, concerns several situations: the continuous provocation, the offence, the disrespect, the derision, the emotional blackmail, the silence, the deprivation of freedom, the mendacity, the betrayal of the reposed trust are only some of the forms the psychological violence may shape into.

To talk about psychological abuse it is required that one or more of these aspects are enough pervasive.

Actuation range of the psychological violence

The psychological kind violence manifests in several places, home, work and society, and so it is featured by a kind of aggressive relationship that can run along with a situation of physical or sexual ill-treatment, and that is featured by a especially threatening relationship approach.

The aspect that distinguishes such situations from others that on the other side could be defined the same way, is represented by the strongly violently intrusive behaviour put in act by the aggressor against the attacked person, that may be a weak partner or more often a son, or a pupil, a colleague…

The psychological violence put in act in families is the most acknowledged by the juridical viewpoint.

Early sentences underlined the characteristic of the home psychological violence and its effects on relationships.

A sentence by the Court of Appeal at Turin, I Civil Section, (RG. 895/99), for example attributed the failure of a marriage to the psychological violence the husband practiced over his wife:

“Indeed it emerged that the behaviour hold by S. produced for all the relationship duration, offence to the dignity of the other partner, as regard to the outward aspect by which it was cultivated and the range it was expressed, and it was objectively such to cause pains and upheaval, injury to the image and prejudicial offences to the personality of the partner…”.

The sentences denominated such methods of attack against the personal estimation using the term ‘mobbing’, charging the husband the responsibility for divorce.

The Sixth Crime Section of the Court of Cassation (3750/99) supported that the man that makes life impossible for the ex-wife, subjecting her to any kind of annoyance and vexation, is punishable with detention, for he does no perform the reciprocal respect duties he must perform even if divorced, not standing out the fact the cohabitation is over. By this assertion the court rejected the appeal of a divorced man that had tormented his ex-wife with any kind of annoyance (puncturing tyres, menaces) and for that he was condemned by the Court of Appeal of Venice for the crime of ill-treatment in family. So continuative vexations, menaces, injuries, damns etc. inside a relationship are signals of psychological abuse.

The psychological violence is practiced at work too.

Mobbing (from To mob = to assault tumultuously) is indeed a clear form of psychological violence, defined also as psychological terror, practices at job by repeated attacks by colleagues or bosses. The mobbing victim, often unaware, enters a relationship vicious circle that makes him a victim of a light and diabolic attack by a torturer. But attacks are not always striking and the victim is not able to identify clearly what is happening to him: wickedness, gospels…are the rule of the game and further they are minimized by relatives and friends to whom are told. This way the individual starts feeling a sense of inadequacy, of guilt since he does not succeed in being better and so impregnable. Psychosomatic disturbs and damages to the self-estimation are unavoidable.

One of the most invasive forms of psychological abuse is the mental control or destructive persuasion the torturer puts in act against the designed victim. Persuasion, or mental control, represents the effort to lead a person to a wanted direction, with means different from the force. The destructive persuasion is prepared according to an exact and hidden program, by the means of the strategic controls of the needs of the individual

An ambit where this form of pervasive relationship is widely applied, but in more devious way, is the radical or sectary ideology. The conviction that a “psychological outline ” features the members of radical groups is wrong, several factors act simultaneously at the recruitment. There are groups highly specialized in the recruitment techniques and mix psychoanalysis, religion, science and esoteric practices to create acquiescence in individuals. Often they circumvent defences by masking as training schools or specialist courses for operators and managers. Those groups, today very trendy are linked to the variegated world of the New Age.

The long report that the Public Security Department of the Home Office sent to the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Chamber points especially this kind of groups, defined as ‘psycho-sects’ or ‘self-religious’, that are active in our country and practice high harmful and aggressive recruitment methods. As far as those groups support that they act in order to warrant the personal and psychological welfare of individuals, the sole thing they get with unquestionable success is recollecting huge amounts of money for their bosses. Against this kind of organizations, the report highlights, the crime action risks not having enough means: there’s not the crime of “aggression to the psychical freedom” and it is not in force anymore the crime of moral subjugation.

The maintenance inside the group is ensured by a set of techniques. Many of these groups employ also the mass hypnosis that favours an ecstatic kind attention and finally obedience. Means of hypnosis are the prey or the repetition of ritualistic phases or mantra. The words employed in these cantilenas must not be meaningful to be effective. Psychology has indeed proved that words without meaning are remembered much easier than those with sense.

Another technique, functional to the mental control and effective for the maintenance of individual in the role of victim is the manipulation of guilt: any gap in the way of living the cult is attributed to some leak in devotees. When a member starts putting in doubt that his needs find really a solution, his protests against the leaders provoke only accusation according to which he is the responsible for his own troubles (as it happens for the mobbing victim at job).

The process of turning someone in guilty is a vicious circle: the remarkable number of suicides among the practitioners of a cult, suggest that the only solution to this dilemma is the self- destruction.

Psychological abuse effects

In 1999 at our Centre’s offices (Ce.S.A.P.) 763 users applied for denouncing situations of psychological abuse: 16,4% (equal to 125 individuals) within the home ambit, 18,4% (140) at job, while nearly 57% (436) submitted at our attention a mental control problem due to one’s own adhesion to a personal cult or a relative’s adhesion. Approaches usually are by telematics ways (605 e-mail of applications per year) or by phone (65 calls) or by direct contact with our operators (93 visits). The average age of petitioners is nearly 43 years, the most it concerns women (55,5%), married (76% circa). Usually they denounce experiences of endured abuses, vexations, and lesions to their own rights, both direct and indirect. It concerns painful, menacing events, pointing out the seriousness of problems, and that let understand widest dimensions.

230 out the arrived petitions were took in charge by our professionals for:

– Psychotherapy (25%)

– Medical/pharmacological therapy (5%) – Divorce causes (56,5%)

– Educational intervention for minors (10,5%)

The feeling of personal violation is beyond description. If the petitioners had an experience inside a destructive cult, they are angry, disappointed and most times they do not want to hear about spiritual themes. In less cases the anger for they were deceived is such that victims more than apply for a help want to get the most information it’s possible about the cult they belonged to in order to take revenge (specially if they left a dear person inside the cult), or they want to make denunciation immediately.

The sizeable show emotional kind troubles and sometimes real mental disturbs. The adhesion to destructive cults, for example, lasting a distortion in a relationship, eases the structuring of physical and mental problems (it starts manifesting psychosomatic problems, nourishment disorders till getting to psychotic kind disturbs, chronic depression, alcoholism…). Several are the attempts of making suicide, specially because the victim often does not feel supported in his pain by anybody, does not find the way out and thinks that the guilt of his responsibility is only his.

The causes of divorce are different, especially when the other partner is still inside the cult. The causes are not easy especially when there are children.

Victims assert that they do not succeed in bringing in their work or engagement in the daily life, they feel shame and they still have feelings of guilt even if at distance of time. Once one of them asserted that he felt guilty for having wasted 20 years of his life in a cult, years he lived not living. Victim’s relatives, especially those of the adherents of destructive cults, and that are who more easily apply for the help centres, develop a sort of co-dependence relationship with their relative that is the adept. After several beginning experiences of failure when they attempted to solve the situation by themselves, they trend to deny the fact, when they are in front of their relative trapped, they lie to not face the situation. Most of them apply us for help to receive a miracle more than moved by the desire to engage seriously in the attempts of recovering. Some of them contact all the associations and professional they heard about on newspaper or TV, in Italy or abroad, and they send all them at the same time petitions of help. This way they turn the intervention action much more complex, due to the waste of energy. The victims’ relatives too develop psychosomatic diseases due to the disturbs related to the stress the live daily.

Help and recovering methods

During our experience we have developed methodologies, even more specific for help and recover from psychological abuse. Victims contact our operators whose task is that to check the kind of petition and according to cases sending them to the most adequate professional (physician, psychologist, psychotherapist, psychiatrist, lawyer, pedagogist). It belongs to our group also the former victims that are on disposal in the several phases of recovering with their personal experience within the specific ambit.

Once taken in charge, everyone is required to write a memorial concerning their own experience, that helps both them and operators to focus rationally their past history.

When the several users are taken in charge by the experts, some of them receive at the same time emotional support by the help-help groups. The help groups are places where processing ones’ own recovering, talking about the past trauma with individuals that had the same experience and that have been trained to give them support.

From January 2000 it has been established a help-help group for the victims of destructive cults, to which 15 person adhered. Thanks to the success of this initiative on September it will be established other groups for the victim of destructive cults and mobbing victims and their relatives.

When victims succeed in solving their problem, they develop new ways to communicate with themselves and others and have recovered their trust in neighbour, the sizeable times they want to offer their experience on others’ benefit.

© Leadership Medica year XVI – Issue 06-2000


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