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Charming or harming: Case studies of emotional abuse in heterosexual intimate partner relationships

Emotional abuse in the absence of physical abuse is often unrecognised. Although the literature identifies the insidious nature of this type of abuse and the physiological, psychological and emotional harm it often causes, knowledge of how women come to recognise they are being emotionally abused is underdeveloped. In response to this, the purpose of this research was to investigate the dynamics of emotionally abusive heterosexual intimate partner relationships and establish how women came to recognise their relationship as such. Four women who identified as having been emotionally abused by their male partner each took part in two in-depth semi-structured interviews about their experiences. The analysis and methodology of the research was underpinned by a feminist framework. The interviews are presented in case study form, showing in context the undermining effects of the abuse and any difficulties the women faced in pinpointing what was so wrong with their relationships. Gender socialisation, myths surrounding abuse, and mixed messages from potential support systems, all influenced recognition. Theories useful for disentangling the complex social structure which may support emotional abuse of women included gender theories from Goffman and Connell, relational theory, and total institution theory among others. The research highlights the importance of rethinking the nature of abuse from individual explosive acts of violence perpetrated by a certain type of person, to a continual process of more subtle undermining factors which are underpinned by patriarchy and gender inequality. For a more comprehensive picture of emotional abuse it becomes clear there is a need to step away from conceptualising it in a similar manner to physical abuse and to look not only in terms of acts done, but also in terms of reciprocity and neglect.
Type of thesis
Corbett, C. (2013). Charming or harming: Case studies of emotional abuse in heterosexual intimate partner relationships (Thesis, Master of Social Sciences (MSocSc)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8444
University of Waikato
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