Relationships Violence and Abuse What Is Abuse By Proxy? By Julia Childs Heyl Julia Childs Heyl Julia Childs Heyl is a clinical social worker who focuses on mental health disparities, the healing of generational trauma, and depth psychotherapy. Learn about our editorial process Updated on May 08, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by David Susman, PhD Medically reviewed by David Susman, PhD David Susman, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist with experience providing treatment to individuals with mental illness and substance use concerns. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Ol'ga Efimova / EyeEm / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What Is Abuse By Proxy? Domestic Violence and Abuse by Proxy Is Narcissism Related to Abuse by Proxy? Signs Impact How to Get Help Healing 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. Stages of Healing After Narcissistic Abuse 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 controlA sense of entrapment within the relationshipFeeling unsafe or that danger is imminentReceiving consistent ridicule from your partnerFeeling dominated and intimidated by your partnerExperiencing 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. Signs That Indicate a Relationship Could Turn Violent 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. Mental Health Effects of Different Types of Abuse 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. Please Help Me: What to Do When You Need Help 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. 10 Ways to Heal From Trauma 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. 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 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 Huecker MR, King KC, Jordan GA, Smock W. Domestic violence. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022 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. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Relationships Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.