Preliminary Taxonomy of Psychological Abuse Strategies

International Journal of Cultic Studies Volume 4, 2013, pages 1-13

Preliminary Taxonomy of Psychological Abuse Strategies: Within Partner Relationships, at the Workplace, and in Manipulative Groups

Álvaro Rodríguez-Carballeira,


Jordi Escartín,

Clara Porrúa,

Javier Martín-Peña,

Federico Javaloyn,

José Antonio Carrobles


Based on a review of the literature on psychological violence or abuse, the authors make an approach to its definition. They analyze three different settings in which such violence takes place in order to study the similarities and differences in psychologically abusive behaviours. Specifically, they study psychological abuse as it takes form within manipulative groups such as coercive cults, in partner violence settings, and at the workplace (workplace bullying or mobbing). After an extensive analysis of existing research and instruments related to the issue, and from a psychosocial approach, they propose three new classifications of psychological abuse strategies, one for each context. Comparative analyses show an important parallel between the strategies used in the three settings, especially between those employed for the submission of a cult member and the ones used for submission betweenthe couples.

The study of aggression and violence is one of the traditional research topics in social psychology and in the social sciences in general. That research has been characterized by focusing mainly on physical aggression, while analyzing the effects, consequences, or psychological damages caused by this aggression. In the past two decades, we have seen a marked increase in scientific research on psychological aggression, in association with the increased social relevance of the matter in the Western world. This relevance runs in parallel with a greater social awareness in respect for human rights in general, and specifically with the fight for women’s equal rights and with claims of nondiscriminatory treatment to less socially protected minorities. We can find some examples of the social relevance of aggression or psychological abuse behaviors in the areas of partner violence, workplace violence (workplace bullying or mobbing), violence at schools (bullying), or in manipulative groups, such as so-called coercive cults.

In general, research done on aggression or psychological abuse has centered on one of these areas of application. The focus of this study is aimed at analyzing psychological abuse as a unique phenomenon with its own characteristics and that shows common elements in the different areas of application, as well as differential elements that distinguish and define this abuse in each of these areas. This study includes a brief review of the research on the assessment of psychological abuse performed in the areas of coercive cults, partner violence, and workplace bullying or mobbing. Following this review of psychological abuse and how to evaluate it in the three areas, the objective of the study is to propose a new categorization of psychological-abuse components for each of the three areas, and to assert that the phenomenon in each area has a common base.

On Defining the Scope of Psychological Abuse

The limited attention given to the study of psychological aggression in the scientific literature also leads us to see some lack of maturity or some conceptual confusion about it. Most investigators appear to agree that aggression occurs mainly in three different forms: physical, sexual, and psychological (Slep & Heyman, 2001), with the understanding that sexual aggression contains elements of the other two. However, it deserves differentiation from the other forms to acknowledge the specific objective of its action. While physical aggression appears to be easily delimitable, defining the scope of psychological aggression involves some problems. These issues focus mainly on whether or not, in addition to the more obvious acts such as threat or humiliation, psychological aggression covers other actions that are more subtle (Marshall, 1999), such as manipulation of information or disregard for the emotions of the other person. This difficulty in establishing the limits of nonphysical aggression may be the major hindrance to obtaining an agreed definition thereof, and also the primary contributor to the number of terms used to name it. In fact, various authors have used expressions with very similar meanings, such as psychological abuse (Hoffman, 1984), psychological aggression, psychological violence, psychological maltreatment, emotional maltreatment, emotional abuse (NiCarthy, 1986), nonphysical abuse (Hudson and McIntosh, 1981), indirect abuse (Gondolf, 1987), verbal abuse (Straus, 1979), mental abuse, mental torture (Russell, 1982), psychological manipulation, or moral harassment. In practice, the nouns aggression, violence, abuse, or maltreatment have been combined with the adjectives psychological and emotional in particular. In conclusion, all these expressions share their concern for nonphysical forms of aggression, and the conceptual difference between them refers mainly to the more limited scope or, on the contrary, the more comprehensive scope each shows for psychological aggression strategies.

The expression psychological abuse may be achieving a greater consensus in the scientific literature, and it has the advantage of allowing for a comprehensive definition of any nonphysical abusive behavior, including the most subtle. Many researchers agree that psychological abuse is usually as harmful as the physical or sexual (Egeland & Erickson, 1987; O’Leary, 1999). Recent investigations suggest that the adverse consequences caused by this type of violence on the health of those suffering it are evident even before the occurrence of physical maltreatment (Follingstad, Rutledge, Berg, Hause, & Polek, 1990); and its psychological impact is equal to or greater than that caused by physical aggression (Henning &Klesges, 2003; Marshall, 1992; Sackett & Saunders, 1999; Street & Arias, 2001). Some researchers have found that most victims judged humiliation, ridicule, and verbal attacks as more unpleasant than the physical violence they experienced (Walker, 1979; Follingstad et al., 1990), which is also noted in a WHO report (1998) that states that the worst issue in maltreatment is not violence itself, but “mental torture” and “living with fear and [being] terrified” (p. 7). Sackett and Saunders (1999) and Marshall (1999) found that the occurrence of psychological abuse was a better predicting factor of fear in the victim for future aggression than the severity of previous physical violence. In addition, physical or sexual abuse practices almost always involve psychological abuse of the victim (Follingstad & DeHart, 2000; Henning & Klesges, 2003; Stets, 1990; Tolman, 1999; Vitanza, Vogel, & Marshall, 1995). To a large extent, in the case of partner violence, psychological abuse is usually a significant precursor of physical violence (Murphy & O’Leary, 1989; Tolman, 1999), as various investigations have shown (cited in Echeburúa, 1994). They demonstrate how the gradual increase of coercive interaction (insults, devaluation, threats, isolation, etc.) precedes physical aggression. Many times, the desire to dominate the other starts with the traditional forms of influence and persuasion; and, when these fail, the strategies of so-called coercive power and control start and are extended to other forms of psychological abuse and sometimes lead to physical violence. In addition, the environment of fear and humiliation generated by physical abuse would enhance the impact of the use of psychological abuse by the aggressor, as Shepard and Campbell (1992) confirm. We also must note that, often, one’s being able to force another to act as instructed causes one to have feelings of domination and superiority (Worchel, Cooper, Goethals, & Olson, 2002).

From the viewpoint that the final objective of physical and psychological abuse is to achieve domination and control of the victim, some authors consider a separation between these different forms of abuse—physical and psychological—to be artificial, when physical abuse also causes psychological damage (Tolman, 1992). This trend to nondistinction, together with the difficulties in establishing an operational definition of psychological abuse that is useful for both health professionals and jurists, helps us understand why psychological abuse until recently was not studied as a single entity and differentiated from physical abuse (Jory, 2004; O’Leary, 1999; Tolman, 1992; Vitanza et al., 1995). Other reasons for the delay may have been the social tolerance for some types of behaviors that can be included in psychological abuse (Vissing et al., 1991; cited by Hamby & Sugarman, 1999); a trend among professionals to consider psychological abuse as a secondary concern to physical aggression, assuming implicitly that the consequences of psychological abuse were less severe and more transient (Arias & Pape, 1999); the development of many of these abusive behaviors in the area of personal intimacy, together with the trend of aggressors and victims to hide those behaviors; and the “invisibility” of some victims having less prominent social positions (Jory & Anderson, 2000).

A major issue for us to consider here is the significant influence of social and cultural variables that characterize each social context when we interpret what psychological abuse is or not. And this is all the more so true in a world with increasing interrelations between people with different values, beliefs, and cultures of origin.

Study Areas in Psychological Abuse

The use of psychological-abuse strategies is to some extent at risk of occurring in any relationship of ongoing interaction between two or more people. A variable that facilitates abuse and is often present is when the abuser has a priori some capacity of power and control over the other party. This study focuses its analysis on three possible types of abusive relationships: those that can occur in manipulative groups, such as in coercive cults over a member or follower; those that can occur in an unequal partner relationship, usually from a man to a woman; and those that can occur toward a worker at a workplace, usually from someone with a higher status. However, we can find the application of psychological abuse in other types of paired relationships, such as teacher-student or therapist-patient; this abuse may range from possible totalitarian dynamics of some of the so-called “total institutions” (Goffman, 1961) to more generic forms, as with the case of the “psychological war” strategies, or under the control or interventionism of a dictatorial government system.

The studies on manipulative or cult groups have a background in the research in the mid-20th century, which Schein, Schneier, and Barker (1961) and Lifton (1961), among others, did on coercive persuasion and thought reform, respectively. They performed these studies after the Chinese implemented imprisonment and indoctrination for reeducation of US soldiers they captured during the Korean war, in which many prisoners adopted Chinese perspectives and experienced what was later called Stockholm syndrome, or positive feelings toward their captors. Subsequently, these studies had been used since the late ‘70s to investigate the possible parallelisms with psychological manipulation strategies or “brainwashing” that some cults supposedly implemented to attract and subdue group members (Andersen, 1983; Clark, Langone, Schecter, & Daly, 1981; Langone, 1982, 1985, 1988; Rodríguez-Carballeira, 1992; Singer, 1984, 1988; West & Singer, 1980). The most recent contributions to the matter focus on the development of the Group Psychological Abuse Scale (Chambers, Langone, Dole, & Grice, 1994; Almendros, Carrobles, Rodríguez-Carballeira, & Jansà, 2004) that we will discuss below.

The subject of domestic violence has been studied particularly in the past 30 years, mainly concerning partner violence. Within this context, psychological abuse has been studied in most cases as a simple complement of physical violence. However, with regard to the other two abuse environments discussed herein, assessment of psychological abuse comprises the highest number of instruments, including its measurement since the pioneer Conflict Tactics Scales of Straus (1979). In an extensive study of partner-violence scales, Strauchler, McCloskey, and Malloy (2004) conclude that the scales are much more focused on physical violence than on psychological factors such as control or threats, despite the fact that health professionals consider these latter factors essential to understanding the abusive relationship. Some studies have investigated the parallelism between psychological abuse in partners and psychological abuse in cults (Andersen, Boulette, & Schwartz, 1991; Boulette, 1980; Boulette & Andersen, 1985; Graham, Rawlings, & Rimini, 1988; Herman, 1992; Romero, 1985; Schwartz, Andersen, & Strasser, 2000; Ward, 2000; Wolfson, 2002), listing some of the most common abuse forms for both of them; this research led other authors to discuss the abusive-partner relationship as a cult relationship, or to consider that relationship between the dominating person and the dominated person as a “one-on-one cult” (Tobias & Lalich, 1994, pp. 16, 17).

Psychological abuse at the workplace, also known as workplace bullying or mobbing, has attracted significant interest and social relevance in recent years (Escartín, Arrieta, & Rodríguez-Carballeira, 2009; Zapf, Escartín, Einarsen, Hoel, & Vartia, 2011). Unlike the other two forms, this type of abuse appears to search for the individual, not to subdue, but to exclude him/her, similarly to the cases of bullying at school. Leymann (1990) and Olweus (1994), respectively, promoted the studies on both types of abuse, mobbing and bullying, from Northern European countries. Although exclusion is the objective of abuse, the strategies used to achieve it are strategies to dominate the other person, and in this regard they have some parallelism with those approaches cults or partners apply. An example of this is the investigation that reduces to four the psychological abuse factors at work: (a) verbal aggression, (b) undervaluing, (c) isolation-exclusion, and (d) coercion (Fendrich, Woodword, & Richman, 2002). We also must remember that many other variables characteristic of the organization interact with and influence the mobbing event in the work environment. For instance, a study by Einarsen, Raknes, and Matthiesen (1994) showed a significant relationship between mobbing and several work-environment measures that suggested low worker satisfaction (a) with the leadership, (b) with the control of work, (c) with the social environment, (d) with the role conflict experienced, (e) with the ambiguity of role, (f) with the challenging tasks, and (g) with the work overload.

One objective of this study is to analyze the three psychological abuse areas (in groups, with partners, and in the workplace) specifically, but also simultaneously and from the common perspective of abuse for dominating the other, either for subduing or for exclusion purposes. This viewpoint will allow us to highlight more clearly the common and distinctive parts in the psychological-abuse strategies in the different areas.

Approaches to the Assessment of Psychological Abuse

One of the greatest challenges, which researchers and professionals recognize, is the assessment of psychological abuse. Some of the characteristics that can help explain this challenge are the cultural component of its definition, such that the same behavior can be considered abusive in one context and nonabusive in another; the beliefs and values of specific groups, which set different limits on the tolerance and acceptance of abuse; the subjective component of the perception of abuse and its possible intentional nature, which can lead to clear disagreements in the interpretation of the same behavior (Follingstad & DeHart, 2000); the frequent external invisibility of those behaviors that do not leave any mark, unlike with physical aggression (Auburn, 2003); the wide range of intensities of the abusive behaviors, which reflect a continuum, from the most subtle to the most explicit (Marshall, 1999; Vitanza et al., 1995), and create difficulties in being able to clearly perceive the most subtle; establishing a limit of frequency that distinguishes between some isolated actions of an abusive nature and the systematic repetition of a pattern of behavior of clear psychological abuse (Murphy & Hoover, 1999; Tolman, 1992); the use of combined and systematic abusive strategies that involves an increasing effect of abuse due to the continuous interaction of these strategies; and, finally, the difficulties of reaching an operational, agreed-upon definition of psychological abuse.

Therefore, it is common to mention the lack of appropriate measurement instruments to evaluate psychological abuse (Murphy & Hoover, 1999; So-Kum Tang, 1998), in addition to the limitations of the existing instruments, which are almost always self-reporting and so based on the information the victims of the abuse provide, and for which there are doubts that these instruments adequately evaluate the extent of the psychological abuse (Murphy & Hoover, 1999).

For the purpose of reviewing the current status of the assessment of psychological abuse, and to provide a new categorization of the abuse strategies from a psychosocial perspective, we performed a comprehensive classification process of the components of psychological abuse, from which a new proposal resulted.

Operating Procedure

In the first stage, we performed a search, selection, compilation, and analysis of the studies about psychological abuse we identified through the main databases we identified by this or other similar forms mentioned above. We limited the study to the above-mentioned three areas in which abuse might occur: manipulative groups, partner violence, and mobbing. From the set of theoretical and empirical studies, we obtained the different classifications of psychological abuse components they contained, including factors or items from the measurement scales we reviewed.

By way of illustration, we will mention some of these classifications in each area. In line with the definitions of psychological abuse, which can range from a specific, reduced view to an extensive, more comprehensive view, there are also classifications of abuse strategies within the same spectrums.

In the area of partner violence, Tolman (1992) pointed to the following as main psychological forms of abuse: causing fear, isolation, monopolization, economic abuse, degradation; having rigid expectations of sexual roles; and creating psychological destabilization, emotional and interpersonal denial, and contingent expressions of love. In contrast, Sackett and Sauncers (1999) reported only ridiculing of traits, criticisms to behavior, ignoring, and jealousy–control.

In the area of manipulative groups, Biderman and Zimmer (1961) proposed eight forms of abuse: (a) making the other satisfy minor demands, (b) showing omnipotence and omniscience, (c) making occasional concessions, (d) making threats, (e) degrading the individual(s), (f) controlling perceptions, (g) isolating the individual(s), and (h) promoting weakness and exhaustion. More recently, the authors of the Group Psychological Abuse Scale (Chambers et al., 1994) obtained four subscales from its items; namely, compliance, exploitation, anxious dependency, and mind control.

In the area of psychological abuse at the workplace, Leymann (1990) proposed five abuse categories: (a) limit communication, (b) limit social contact, (c) discredit the person before colleagues, (d) tarnish the person’s reputation and discredit professional and work capacity, and (e) threaten the person’s health. In contrast, Zapf, Knorf, and Kulla (1996) proposed the following seven ways to attack victims: (a) with organizational measures, (b) with social isolation, (c) through their private lives, (d) with physical violence, (e) by attacking their attitudes, (f) with verbal aggression, and (g) with rumors.

From this material, our research group created a new categorization from a psychosocial perspective similar to that used previously for manipulative groups or cults (Rodríguez-Carballeira, 1992). This approach allows for and facilitates the objective of classifying abuse strategies in a way that is inclusive and comprises both those strategies that are evident and those that are more subtle.

The main objectives of this classification are, on the one hand, to develop from it a new measurement instrument, and, on the other and more immediately, to allow for a practical application thereof. This application could be used as a guideline to evaluate the presence or absence of psychological abuse in a given case within the three above-mentioned areas.

In the area of manipulative groups or cults, we reviewed the studies by West and Singer (1980), Clark et al. (1981), Langone (1982), Andersen (1983), Singer (1984, 1988), and Rodríguez-Carballeira (1992), amongst others, and also the following specific measurement instruments:

Group Psychological Abuse Scale (Chambers et al., 1994)

Individual Cult Experience Index (Winocur, Whitney, Sorensen, Vaughn, & Foy, 1997)

Questionnaire with no specific name (Bohm & Alison, 2001)

Across Groups Psychological Abuse and Control Scale (Wolfson, 2002)

In the area of psychological abuse on the partner, we reviewed the studies performed by Boulette and Andersen (1985), Follingstad et al. (1990), Pence and Paymar (1993), Walker (1994), Bonino (1995), Horley (2000), Taliaferro (2000), Garrido (2001), Barea (2004), Labrador, Paz, de Luis, and Fernández-Velasco (2004), and also the following specific measurement instruments:

Conflict Tactics Scales (Straus, 1979) and the Revised Conflict Tactics Scales (Straus, Hamby, Boney-McCoy, & Sugarman, 1996)

Index of Spouse Abuse (Hudson & McIntosh, 1981)

The Psychological Maltreatment of Women Inventory (Tolman, 1989, 1995)

Abusive Behaviour Inventory (Shepard & Campbell, 1992)

Non Physical Abuse of Partner Scale (Garner & Hudson, 1992)

Emotional Abuse Questionnaire (EAQ) (Jacobson & Gottman, 1998)

Emotional Abuse Scale (Murphy & Hoover, 1999)

Profile of Psychological Abuse (Sackett & Saunders, 1999)

Composite Abuse Scale (Hegary, Sheehan, & Schonfeld, 1999)

Subtle and Overt Psychological Abuse Scale (Marshall, 1999)

Across Groups Psychological Abuse and Control Scale (Wolfson, 2002)

Abuse Within Intimate Relationship Scale (Borjesson, Aarons, & Dunn, 2003)

Psychological Violence Inventory (Sonkin, 2003)

Intimate Justice Scale (Jory, 2004)

Cuestionario de Maltrato Psicológico (Psychological Maltreatment Questionnaire) (Navarro-Góngora, Navarro-Abad, Vaquero, & Carrascosa, 2004)

In the area of mobbing or psychological abuse in the workplace, we reviewed the studies performed by Vartia (1991), Ashforth (1994), Zapf et al. (1996), Neuman and Baron (1998), and Fendrich et al. (2002), among others, as well as the following measurement instruments:

Leymann Inventory of Psychological Terrorization – LIPT-45 (Leymann, 1990, 1996) (González de Rivera, 2002, added 15 items and called a Spanish version LIPT-60)

Negative Acts Questionnaire (Einarsen & Raknes, 1997), adapted and revised to Spanish (García, Ruiz, Llor, Blasco, Sáez, & Campillo, 2004).

Generalized Workplace Abuse (Richman, Rospenda, Nawyn, Flaherty, Fendrich, Drum, & Johnson, 1999)

Barómetro Cisneros (The Cisneros Barometer) (Fidalgo & Piñuel, 2004)

Cuestionario RED (RED Questionnaire) (Salanova, Grau, Martínez, Cifré, Llorens, García, Burriel, Bresó, & Schaufeli, 2003).

Cuestionario MOBB-90 (MOBB-90 Questionnaire) (Boada, De Diego, & Virgil, 2003)


After a comprehensive analysis of the above-mentioned studies and measurement instruments, and following a psychosocial approach to identify the inclusive characteristics, we obtained a classification of the abuse strategies for each of the three evaluated areas. Upon naming the categories and subcategories, we attempted, as far as possible, to use terms to define each psychological abuse component by its abusive action, trying to avoid mentioning the reaction caused or the possible most common consequences. We can refine these names in the future when we develop the operating stage. Three tables with their respective classifications, which can be used as guidelines for evaluating psychological abuse in each area, follow.

Table I

Categorization Guide for the Assessment of Psychological Abuse in Group Contexts: Abuse Strategies


1.1. Isolation from the family

1.2. Isolation from friends and social support network

1.3. Isolation from work, studies, and interests

1.4. Isolation in another place of residence


2.1. Manipulation of information

2.2. Manipulation of language


3.1. Control over-abuse of finances

3.2. Control over activities and use of time

3.3. Control-inspection of behavior

3.4. Control of affective relationships and sexual life

3.5. Control-weakening of physical and mental health

3.6. Control of self-existence


4.1. Self-interested activation of positive emotions

4.2. Demands for affective and enthusiastic commitment

4.3. Intimidation or threats

4.4. Contempt, humiliation, or rejection

4.5. Manipulation of blame

4.6. Induction to confessing "deviated” behaviors, thoughts, and feelings

4.7. Granting forgiveness


5.1. Reconstruction of a negative past and previous identity

5.2. Denigration of critical thinking

5.3. Demand for full identification with the doctrine and its application

5.4. Imposition of the doctrine above people and law

5.5. Glorification of the ingroup and rejection of the outgroup


6.1. Imposition of an absolute authority

6.2. Implantation of the belief in the special qualities of the leader

Table II

Categorization Guide for the Assessment of Partner Psychological Abuse: Abuse Strategies


1.1. Isolation from the family

1.2. Isolation from friends and social support network

1.3. Isolation from work, studies, and interests

1.4. Isolation at home


2.1. Manipulation of information

2.2. Concealment of abuse


3.1. Control over-abuse of finances

3.2. Control over children

3.3. Control over everyday activities and use of time

3.4. Sexual coercion

3.5. Control-weakening of physical and mental health


4.1. Self-interested activation of positive emotions

4.2. Intimidation or threats

4.3. Contempt, humiliation, or rejection as a person

4.4. Contempt for roles

4.5. Manipulation of blame

4.6. Disregard for other person’s emotions and ideas


5.1. Denigration of critical thinking

5.2. Redefinition of reality

5.3. Self-interested idealization of the bond of dependence


Table III

Categorization Guide for the Evaluation of Psychological Abuse in the Workplace (Workplace Bullying or Mobbing): Abuse Strategies


1.1. Physical isolation

1.2. Social isolation



3.1. Obstructionism

3.2. Dangerous work


4.1. Intimidation or threats

4.2. Contempt, humiliation, or rejection as a person



Each categorization is subdivided into six types of psychological abuse strategies. The first three types cover the main components of the context or situation: (a) on isolation, (b) on the control of information, and (c) on other controls of daily life. The last three cover the main components of a personal nature: (d) emotional, (e) cognitive, and (f) behavioral. These are the names of the categories based on the primary emphasis in each strategy type, although it is understood that these components interact with each other and, therefore, are not exclusive.


The accurate study of psychological abuse is still recent in the scientific literature, and there is no agreement around the conceptual definition thereof that marks and delimits the phenomenon, or around its name, which still varies. This study starts from the study of psychological abuse as a single phenomenon with specific applications in different areas—the three evaluated herein, and others already mentioned. This simultaneous study of several areas of the application of psychological abuse, which from a joint viewpoint is uncommon, enhances their mutual enrichment and allows for a better comparative analysis thereof.

The extensive review of the studies performed allows us to approach an old phenomenon that has gained social relevance only in recent decades and is gaining progressively more scientific relevance. Of the three areas we evaluated, psychological abuse of the partner has resulted in more studies.

From a psychosocial viewpoint, psychological abuse is approached as an interaction among the parties involved, which is also strongly influenced by the situation or environment in which it occurs, as shown by the above-mentioned categories of abuse. This perspective has guided the development of the three proposed categorizations. The result shows consistently a common pattern of six very similar major categories to classify the specific psychological abuse forms in each of the three areas of application studied. We have made an attempt to understand the range of abuse strategies, from subtle to the most evident, while also considering that each strategy itself usually involves another continuum, from the most indirect to the most direct forms of concrete application.

Based on the three proposed categorizations of psychological abuse, the first finding of this study is the significant parallelism between the abuse strategies used in manipulative groups such as coercive cults and those used in violent partner relationships, as other studies already have shown in part (Boulette, 1980; Boulette & Andersen, 1985; Ward, 2000; Wolfson, 2002). In both contexts, the aim is generally to subdue the person suffering the abuse, either to the group authority, or to the spouse or abuser partner. In both cases, the relationships also are ones in which the establishment of an intimate tie prevails. Mobbing reflects a significant difference because the relationship is less intimate and the objective is usually the exclusion of the worker. In the work environment, emotional-abuse forms appear not to be so extensive, and in most situations the categories of the control of personal life and the imposition of beliefs are less applicable. The common grounds of abuse the three areas share appear to be the search for isolation of the person, the intervention in the possible variables of the person’s immediate environment, and emotional abuse of the person.

The attempt for an exhaustive approach to develop each of the three categorizations enables their use as guidelines for those evaluating the application or not of psychological abuse in one of the three areas here studied. When we are talking about psychological abuse (harassing, intimidation, etc.), it entails a systematic and continuous application of the abuse strategies, wherein it will be necessary to check the number, intensity and frequency of use. Future investigations should continue studying the phenomenon of psychological abuse per se and in its different applications to introduce improvements in the definition, assessment, and its general knowledge.


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This is a modified version of an article, “Un estudio comparativo de las estrategias de abuso psicológico: en pareja, en el lugar de trabajo y en grupos manipulativos,” published in 2005 by Universidad de Barcelona, ISSN: 0066-5126 Anuario de Psicología, 2005, 36(3), 299–314. Translated and modified with permission.

About the Primary Author

Álvaro Rodríguez-Carballeira, Ph.D., is Full Professor of Social and Legal Psychology at the University of Barcelona (Spain). From 1999 to 2008 he had been head of the Social Psychology Department at such University. He has been Director of the Invictus Research group ( since 2003 and is the coordinator of the PhD program in Psychosocial Intervention at UB University. His research lines comprise mainly the psychology of influence, harassment, and violence, especially in relationship to group settings (cults), the workplace, partners, and terrorism, and he has abundant projects and international publications in such areas. Dr. Rodriguez-Carballeira was awarded ICSA’s 2011 Margaret Singer Award “for advancing the understanding of coercive persuasion and undue influence.”

International Journal of Cultic Studies ■ Vol. 4, 2013