Colors of Abuse: The Pillars of Personhood

We see it everywhere we go. Men and women have these subconscious tactics of control, ways to get exactly what they want from the people they want it from. Of course, not all are harmful – a warm smile for example goes a long way in getting extra avocado on that burrito bowl.  

As young babies, we learn the ways of manipulation. We learned that crying leads to being held – so we cried. As we got older, we learned that excluding other children made us feel powerful – if we let it. And in grade school, we learned that sucking up to the teacher gave us special privileges, but disrespect for authority made us cool. And as we all hate to learn, popularity gives us power.

Gradually, we learn the rights and wrongs of the universe, and reign in our tendencies for manipulation so that we may choose what is “right”.

But not everyone fine tunes their moral compass. Some allow their impulse for control too much freedom, and in this freedom, we find abuse.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, “domestic violence (also called intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic abuse or relationship abuse) is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.”

Over the next four weeks, I’ll be diving into what the ‘pattern of behaviors’ actually look like in the context of emotional/psychological abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse and verbal abuse. Together we’ll be able to specifically identify these behaviors and know them for what they are in real and practical ways.

But first, what does it really mean to have power over another person? According to Dr. Diane Mandt Langberg, to abuse, to maintain control, is to injure the personhood of another human being.

Three main components come together to form our personhood: our voice, our community, and our power to choose.



Our voice is an extension of our selves. It is how we express our emotions, our thoughts, our ideas, our hopes and our joys. Through patterns of controlling behavior, abusers silence the expression and voice of the abused. Abusers silence original thought until they only hear an echo of their own voice. In contrast, respectful and loving relationships will allow their partner to express themselves freely, with no fear of harm or shame.



Humanity was meant for relationship – we cannot live full and satisfying lives in isolation. Many actions of abusers lead to isolation of the abused, whether it be through insults, expression of jealousy, or neglect. The result can be isolation from friends and family, so that the abuser is the only source of meaningful relationship. In contrast, respectful and loving relationships encourage meaningful relationships with friends and family, and willingly engage with their partner’s loved ones.  



One of the biggest reactions to learning about an abusive situation is usually: “But why don’t they just leave?” Abuse makes the abused feel helpless and leaves them convinced that they have no better options, or that leaving would inflict harm on themselves or the people they love. Abuse goes beyond common sense and can deeply alter the way a victim views their situation, and often leads to idealization of their abuser, leaving them feeling powerless.

In contrast, respectful and loving relationships consider and compromise to include their partner’s opinions and desires, allowing them to explore their interests and dreams.


As we walk through what each type of abuse looks like, we’ll also be looking at the ways it takes away personhood by wounding our voice, community and power.

Having a deep understanding of the signs and symptoms of abuse is critical in identifying it in our own lives and in the lives of the people around us. Be sure to check out this blog every Wednesday night as we walk through what each type of abuse looks like – or scroll to the bottom of the menu to sign up for email alerts.

Information is power. We are a generation that is tired of releasing power to others and surrendering. It’s time to learn.



Vanessa is still conducting interviews for her upcoming book Prince or Poison: Identifying the Difference Between Love and Abuse. If you would like to share your story with Vanessa, please contact



One comment

  1. […] exactly is emotional abuse? We’ve already identified in last week’s post that abuse is an attempt to maintain power and control over someone else. Emotional abuse just […]


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