Perceived acceptability of abusive behavior in the maintenance of psychologically abusive relationships
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In this series of studies, I hypothesized that people’s perceptions of certain psychologically abusive acts as acceptable or not acceptable would impact whether they would remain in psychologically abusive relationships. In Study 1, I explored the historic link between low self-esteem in women and receiving high levels of abuse. I found that women who were low in self-esteem found psychologically abusive behavior depicted in a series of vignettes to be significantly more acceptable than did women who were high in self-esteem. In Study 2, I found that women who were currently in abusive relationships found psychologically abusive behavior depicted in a video to be significantly more acceptable than did women who were currently in non-abusive relationships. Furthermore, I found that the woman’s own abusive behavior toward her partner was a stronger predictor than the abusiveness of her partner of whether she endorsed that she would stay in the depicted abusive relationship. Also, I found that among women who were highly abusive toward their partners and high in self-esteem, the more abuse they were receiving from their current partners, the more acceptable they found the depicted abusive behaviors. Based on these findings, in Study 3 I explored whether priming women’s (a) awareness of their own aggressive behaviors and (b) how these behaviors could change might have stronger impact on women’s views of the acceptability of their own abusive behaviors than women’s awareness of their partner’s aggressive behaviors. Furthermore, I explored whether these different foci would have impact on real-life consequences in changing abuse levels in the current relationship. The findings were mixed; short-term effects implied that writing about conflict, no matter whether the focus is on the self’s aggression or the partner’s aggression, seemed to encourage women to regard leaving an abusive relationship as more acceptable than writing about a neutral topic. Over the long-term, however, writing about conflict, no matter whether the focus was on the self’s aggression or the partner’s aggression, exacerbated the partner’s psychologically aggressive behavior.