2012, Number 4
La competencia emocional como recurso inhibidor para la perpetración del maltrato psicológico en la pareja
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ABSTRACTNowadays, violence within couples is the most alarming form of interpersonal violence. It could even be considered a public health problem.
Nevertheless, although the magnitude is as serious as the repercussions of the aggression suffered by the victims, there is a general tendency to restrict the focus of attention to the physical aspect of the problem.
Thus, the study of psychological abuse is relegated to a secondary plane, ignoring those works that demonstrate the presence of psychological aggression with serious consequences, comparable to or even greater than those of a physical nature, even though the former are more difficult to predict.
For this reason, there is little consensus concerning the specific behaviour patterns that make up psychological abuse.
Nevertheless, among its most evident characteristics, we can point to such manifestations as insults, criticism, humiliations, disparagement or ridicule, both in public and in private, social and economic isolation, repeated threats to either abandon the relationship or to seek a divorce, threats of abuse towards the victims or their loved ones and those related with harming or destroying the victim’s cherished belongings, whether they be objects or animals, which may be psychologically traumatic for the victim.
On the other hand, such conduct as manipulating information, affective neglect, denial of violence and putting the blame entirely on the victim can be listed as hidden expressions of psychological abuse in couples.
Similarly, several works have established a link between a wide range of psychological and behavioural symptoms connected to psychological violence in couples with numerous aspects of emotional intelligence.
On an interpersonal level, conflictive couples seem to respond to communicative registers far removed from emotional intelligence or such partner skills as empathy, self-control and co-operation, thus leading to violent relational dynamics.
The current research analyses psychological abuse in couples (disparagement, hostility, indifference, intimidation, imposition of behaviour patterns, blaming and apparent kindness) and its connection with the level of emotional competence (emotiveness, efficacy, rigidity and illusion) shown by the individuals that make up the couple.
The research was carried out in the context of the University of Extremadura (Spain). The sample was selected randomly and was made up of 1 080 university students, of whom 332 were male and 748 female, aged in four categories covering the range from 17 to 23 years or more.
Following the sample selection, the deans and department directors were informed of the aims of the research, their approval was sought to implement the research instruments and to guarantee the collaboration of the lecturers in the various degree subjects chosen.
Then, a joint calendar was established to apply the tests. The surveys were carried out during the academic years 2007/2008 and 2008/2009.
The tests were collectively administered in single sessions. Copies of the survey were handed out along with instructions. Volunteers were then told to fill in personal data and the instructions were read out aloud, stressing the importance of answering all the questions without exception. Finally, doubts were answered, taking care not to influence the subjects’ replies.
The confidentiality of the students’ answers was guaranteed by coding each questionnaire with a numerical identification. After the questionnaires were handed in, the students’ replies were checked for compliance with the protocols, and on the basis of atypical replies and questions left unanswered.
Only two questionnaires were eliminated due to protocol and no atypical answers or unanswered questions were found. The order was exactly the same for all the applications: First of all the Inventory of Constructive Thought (15 to 30 minutes), and secondly the Questionnaire on Psychological Abuse (15 to 20 minutes).
The main results of the study, with respect to the indicators of psychological abuse in couples, are as follows: the existence of patterns of psychological violence in the relationships of couples of university students is confirmed.
Of the most significant sub-factors of psychological abuse, the most frequently used by these young people were those included in (3) Indifference, while the least commonly used were those included in (7) Apparent Kindness.
As for the relationship between psychologically abusive behaviour patterns and emotional competence during pre-marital relationships, there are significant differences.
Finally, the presence of significant correlations between most factors and sub-factors of psychological abuse in couples and the different emotional skills is confirmed.
To conclude, it can be said that the research provides evidence that the indicators of psychological abuse in couples start to appear during pre-marital relationships.
An analysis of the results demonstrates that these subjects put into practice such indicators and/or manifestations as: trivializations, reproaches, lack of empathy or support, judging, criticising, correcting, abusive insistence and accusations.
The students from the sample show no marked tendency towards the exercise of any form of psychological violence in particular.
Rather, they exhibit a heterogeneous behavioural repertory made up of disparagement, confrontation, lack of interest or affection, coercion, attempts to restrict the victim psychologically or socially, and blaming the victim for the aggressor’s own violent response.
Also worthy of note are such specific manifestations as: the aggressor’s interest in disparaging any behaviour or attitude adopted by the partner, showing serious resistance to listening and sharing the partner’s reality, unless to chide them.
Similarly, the existence of behaviour patterns can be appreciated through which aggressors implacably and strictly censure their partner for not living up to their own expectations, forcing the situation until they can release their anger and personal tension and thus get their way with the victim.
In addition, the presence of indifference can also be appreciated as the commonest expression of psychological violence among young people aged between 17 and 23. This demonstrates a lack of affective involvement that makes empathy, support and respect towards the individuality of the victim impossible.
In turn, it promotes behaviour patterns of monopolising by the aggressor, at the same time as it generates problems for establishing effective communicative links within the couple and destroys the principles of mutuality and equality that are at the heart of any relationship.
On the other hand, in this pre-marital interaction, there are significant differences and relationships between the considered manifestations of psychological violence. There are certainly such behaviour patterns as disparagement, hostility, lack of affection, coercion, unreasonable demands, blaming and manipulative attitudes present in the relationships of the students studied.
There is also the development of such skills as the subject’s capacity to face potentially stressful situations (“emotiveness”), to adopt objective, optimistic and functional thought patterns (“efficacy”), to show tolerance when faced with frustration (“rigidity”) and to avoid making judgements about reality based on optimism without objective reasons (“illusion”).
However, such data are indicative of such revealing results as the existence of a greater tendency towards psychological violence in its different manifestations by those students with more precarious emotional resources, become even more consistent when the many related studies that act as empirical support are reviewed.
With this work, we aim to contribute to the scientific analysis of psychological violence in the relationships of couples, as well as in the design of primary prevention programmes focused on the development of emotional education as a key tool for establishing full and healthy relationships between couples.
Ellsberg M, Jansen H, Heise L, Watts CH et al. Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women Study Team. Intimate partner violence and women’s physical and mental health in the WHO multi country study on women’s health and domestic violence: an observational study. Lancet 2008;371:1165-1172.