What Is Abuse By Proxy?

Young Woman Sitting On Bed At Home

Ol'ga Efimova / EyeEm / Getty Images

What Is Abuse By Proxy?

Abuse By Proxy

Abuse by proxy is another term for the emotional abuse that occurs in domestic and intimate partner violence. This emotional abuse occurs when an abuser inflicts harm upon the victim through third parties.

Domestic and intimate partner violence includes physical, sexual, emotional, and economic abuse that takes place between intimate partners or between parents/caregivers and children.  

And, examples of abuse by proxy include spreading lies about the victim to their friends and family, sabotaging their career by communicating with their employer and even calling upon the authorities equipped with false information.

The perpetrator may turn the victims’ children against them in some circumstances. Each of these examples functions as a way to intimidate, isolate and inflict punishment upon the victim. Sometimes this form of abuse can result in humiliation, thus resulting in the victim’s self-esteem becoming significantly impacted.

It is worth noting that abuse by proxy is an under-researched phenomenon, with minimal scholarly articles recognizing this form of emotional abuse under the term abuse by proxy. Due to this, we will explore abuse by proxy in this article through the lens of domestic and narcissistic abuse. 

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Domestic Violence and Abuse by Proxy

Domestic and intimate partner violence is an issue that impacts up to 10 million people every year. Unfortunately, it is often underreported, and thus many go without accessing the care and support they need.

Furthermore, many can overlook emotional abuse within domestic and intimate partner violence. A way to increase knowledge about the different forms of domestic abuse is to examine the more unknown forms of abuse.

A common form of emotional violence that occurs in abusive relationships is isolation. An abusive partner accomplishes this by sabotaging the victim’s closest relationships.

An example of this could be destroying the victim’s work equipment or telling mutual friends that the victim is “crazy.” This allows the perpetrator to enlist others to perpetuate the abuse, making it harder for the victim to spot the abuse and ultimately seek help.

The perpetrator isn’t directly causing harm but instead uses others in proximity to the victim to inflict damage, qualifying this act as abuse by proxy. The perpetrator then ends up having increased control over the victim.

Is Narcissism Related to Abuse by Proxy?

Research has shown that those experiencing narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) have traits aligning with the profile of those who inflict intimate partner abuse. Therefore, narcissism has a link to abuse by proxy.

For those in relationships with someone who has NPD, which has a high risk of being abusive, it is possible to experience abuse by proxy. 

Signs of Abuse By Proxy

Once you know the signs of abuse by proxy, it is much easier to get help for yourself or a loved one. Signs of this type of emotional abuse include:

  • Loss of power and control
  • A sense of entrapment within the relationship
  • Feeling unsafe or that danger is imminent
  • Receiving consistent ridicule from your partner
  • Feeling dominated and intimidated by your partner
  • Experiencing issues instigated by your partner in your relationships with your employer, community, friends, and family

If you feel that a loved one’s partner is utilizing this form of emotional abuse within the relationship, you can reflect some of these signs on your loved one. Of course, speaking up won’t guarantee that they will get help, but it could be incredibly healing to have their experience validated, which ultimately could result in them getting the help they need.

Impact of Abuse by Proxy

Emotional abuse can lead to intense and long-lasting effects, including emotional distress, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and depression.

A recent study states that emotional abuse can result in long-term emotional effects that are more severe than those of physical abuse. Furthermore, the damage abuse by proxy can cause to the victim’s relationships can be devastating. 

Such abuse isn’t only harmful to the victim. It can be detrimental to children in the household, regardless of whether the child was directly involved in the abuse. It can also lead them to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, behavioral disorders, and physical symptoms like bedwetting and diarrhea.

How to Get Help

One of the most complex parts of emotional abuse is that it undercuts one’s self-esteem, making it harder to seek help.

First and foremost, remember that someone who loves you would never work to have others harm you. Reaching out to the Domestic Violence Hotline is a way to start turning towards help. Not only can they help you identify the type of abuse you’re experiencing, but they also have a wealth of resources, including support groups and shelters, that can aid in getting you help as soon as possible.

Healing From Abuse By Proxy

Healing is possible. It is imperative to remember that having your community turned against you is not a regular occurrence in healthy relationships. It isn’t uncommon to be gaslit by perpetrators of abuse by proxy.

Let this article serve as an unshakable reminder that you deserve safety, healthy connections, and security. Seek out a support group, local resources in your area, and a trusted psychotherapist to get you help.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Rakovec-Felser Z. Domestic violence and abuse in intimate relationships from a public health perspective. Health Psychol Res. 2014;2(3):1821. doi: 10.4081/hpr.2014.1821

  2. Heise L, Pallitto C, García-Moreno C, Clark CJ. Measuring psychological abuse by intimate partners: Constructing a cross-cultural indicator for the Sustainable Development Goals. SSM Popul. Health. 2019;9:100377. doi: 10.1016/j.ssmph.2019.100377

  3. Huecker MR, King KC, Jordan GA, Smock W. Domestic violence. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022

  4. Rakovec-Felser Z. Domestic violence and abuse in intimate relationship from public health perspective. Health Psychol Res. 2014;2(3):1821. doi: 10.4081/hpr.2014.1821

By Julia Childs Heyl
Julia Childs Heyl, MSW, is a clinical social worker and writer. As a writer, she focuses on mental health disparities and uses critical race theory as her preferred theoretical framework. In her clinical work, she specializes in treating people of color experiencing anxiety, depression, and trauma through depth therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) trauma therapy.