The abuser Hirigoyen describes is a narcissist who envies the life energy of the victim and feels compelled to drain the victim of all that is good and joyful. Like a vampire, the abuser feeds on the lifeblood of the victim, ultimately destroying the victim before moving on. Hirigoyen discusses in detail the tactics the abuser uses in the pursuit of control and domination. As an observant clinician, she manages to capture the essence of both the abuser’s charm and his or her ultimate destructiveness. Techniques that distort reality and cause the victim to doubt his or her most intimate perceptions are part of the repertoire of emotional abuse. Hirigoyen elucidates the face of emotional abuse as it reveals itself in the family, in the workplace, and in romantic relationships.
The picture painted by Hirigoyen helps to explain the horror victims express when they discuss emotional abuse. At Community Connections, a nonprofit mental health clinic in Washington, D.C., where I work, clinicians lead trauma recovery and empowerment groups with women who have experienced sexual or physical abuse. Over the course of the 33-week intervention, many participants confide that the most damaging abuse they have endured has been emotional. Emotional abuse has robbed them of a sense of hopefulness about the future and has made them doubt that they have any worthwhile contribution to make or any right to go on living and asking for help. Clinicians who have questioned whether emotional abuse could possibly be as damaging as physical or sexual assault need only read of the human devastation detailed in Stalking the Soul.