I am going to be brutally honest right now and I am not going to apologize for that.
Jennifer Marie Gady

You absolutely do not have to. If you did I would tell you ‘I do not need any apologies, I want to hear why you think I am wrong’. I think we are on much the same page, but we don’t know it. By saying psychological violence is worse than physical violence I was not intending to in any way diminish what we both think about physical DV. Not in any way.

I have listened to what you say and I have heard.

You are not the only person who thinks I am wrong, I forwarded our correspondence to a woman I know, a survivor of physical and emotional violence by her partner some years ago. Here’s what she emailed to me:

“You are wrong when you say broken arms heal, it sounds like you are saying ‘your bones are mended now, your scars have gone, you’re OK now’. I know you know that’s not true. For me, for the rest of my life, if I am walking a dark street at night and there’s a man behind me, I will cross over. There’s people I no longer feel safe with. I leave parties early. I drink but I am ultra careful to only get drunk with one or two people who have ‘passed the test’. I will always be scarred, always have a heightened sense of my vulnerability. And so on. I know you know that, but it’s not what came across”.

Then she rang me and we had a long talk. She said something along the lines ‘Dave, you’re a rather unusual fruit loop, I think you should tell Jennifer where you are coming from and why’. So I will presume to bore you a little more. I’ll try to be brief.

About ten years ago I was the partner of a rather extraordinary woman: politician, feminist, anti-DV campaigner (she prosecuted the Police Minister of South Australia for assaulting her when she was his partner), TV and radio personality, law reformer, media tart (‘where’s the camera, interview me…’). She was also very emotionally abusive, but I was too obsessed with her to be able to see that. A person I did not know was so concerned that she broke professional confidence to tell me my partner had been diagnosed with severe narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), had attempted suicide, and had been detained in a psychiatric hospital.

I won’t bother you with the details, can I just say that my partner was highly intelligent, that the emotional abuse was very subtle, and very devastating. Being the person who is blessed with the absolutely perfect partner, one that you mesh with on every level in every possible way, .. — I’ve just deleted several examples, but here’s one: she was on first name terms with all the important politicians of SA, from the premier down, we used to pass a lot of time talking and drinking with them in the members-only area of Parliament House. They used to ask her for advice, and I believe she had a lot to do with drafting the official Labor policy.

One night she and I intercepted a beautiful young woman, my partner pulled her in from the street. She had escaped her boyfriend who was holding her hostage at knife point. We did everything we could to try to help — called police (useless), offered money, a place to stay, a motel, a refuge, etc. But she insisted on going back. And we tried to dissuade her, but I didn’t stop her. Three days later she was dead and I was at the police station identifying her as the woman we had tried to help.

Months later my partner and I split up, and the NPD, the guilt and the relationship failure overwhelmed me, I had a rather nasty breakdown. I ‘recovered’ several years ago, but the NPD experience has left me scarred. I’ve lost my sense of humor, it has fundamentally changed the way I relate to people, it has left me angry — not at my then partner, she was the victim of severe psychological illness, at the world and the lunatics and savages that inhabit it — so while I do not equate the effect my partner’s NPD had on me to the effect of emotional abuse on the women who experience it, when I got back into anti-DV work and other people were saying, ‘we have to get across that DV isn’t just physical, it can be psychological, financial, familial, many other forms, bells went off in my head, I knew this was a fundamentally important message I have to try to convey.

So, I admit, I was wrong in saying emotional violence is far worse. As I said before I wasn’t intending to in any way diminish the impact of physical violence but I think that my own experience led me to omit to say that I recognise the long-term damage.

The woman I talked to said I should make one point about emotional abuse. She said that it is very hard to get someone who has suffered extreme emotional abuse to recover a sense of ‘value’, they are overwhelmed by a sense of being worthless, and although she can try to ‘prop up’ their ego, and get them to agree that they are in fact fully worthwhile wonderful people, she knows they don’t really believe that.

So, I don’t know that emotional abuse is more or less appalling than physical abuse, I have to agree with you that they are both equally bad. In what I said before, I think I was insensitive, and I may have hurt you. If so, I am profoundly sorry. Mea culpa.