What is perspecticide and could it be happening in your relationship?

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Megan Murray
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Abusive relationships can take many forms and be difficult to understand or describe.

Someone in an abusive relationship could question their partner’s behaviour as normal, but feel stifled in their suspicions if the abuse isn’t physical.

But emotional manipulation is incredibly serious and if you’re worried that your relationship is damaging in some way, then that is probably a sign that something isn’t right.

One form of emotional abuse sees the abuser continuously corrode the beliefs and opinions of their partner, until they have essentially brainwashed them. This controlling and insidious behaviour has been receiving attention recently after being coined as “perspecticide”.

Lisa Aronson Fontes, an author and psychology researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, describes the word as meaning “the incapacity to know what you know”.

Speaking to Business Insider, Fontes explains that this form of manipulation redefines the victim’s “opinions, religious affiliations, views of friends, goals in life” and so on, so the abuser can change how they think.

She continues, “In an abusive or controlling relationship, over time the dominating partner changes how the victim thinks.

“The abuser defines what love is. The abuser defines what is appropriate in terms of monitoring the partner. The abuser defines what is wrong with the victim, and what [they] need to do to change it.”

Victims can be left isolated and with low self esteem

Eventually the victim loses their own independent thoughts and becomes influenced to see the world from the perspective of their partner, and what they believe constitutes as right and wrong.

The after-effects of this change in mindset can be damaging, as the victim often then aims to please their partner within the circumference of this new set of rules. While constantly trying to appease their controller, the victim will tend to change their behaviour and mindset to win approval that will never come, more likely being punished and convinced their efforts aren’t enough.   

On its website, domestic violence charity, Domestic Shelters, describes a list of behaviours or situations that could be familiar to you if perspecticide is happening in your relationship:

Confusing and destabilising a partner to increase their control

Examples could be an abuser disturbing sleeping patterns, positive life routines or consistently lying or forcing views on a victim, in order to increase sleep deprivation or stress that could destabilise or confuse them.

Controlling how a partner spends their time

Examples could be an abuser getting angry every time a victim wants to see their friends or family, convincing them that couples only socialise together until eventually the victim agrees that this seems normal.

Micromanaging unreasonable aspects of a partner’s life

Examples could be an abuser controlling what a victim eats and wears, as well as when they go to the toilet or how they organise their belongings. A victim could initially find this behaviour unreasonable but after time learn to abide by the rules and make this dynamic part of their routine.

Defining a partner’s personality for them

Examples could be an abuser constantly telling a victim that they are miserable, boring, ungrateful or any other kind of negative or insulting personality trait until the victim believes them and is left with little or no self-confidence.

Setting the terms for the relationship

Examples could be an abuser forcing a victim to act a certain way sexually, denying them privacy or demanding all their attention and time, or else berating them for being a bad partner.

Domestic Shelters also explains that “people subjected to perspecticide often blame themselves, as they feel despairing and disoriented”. If you recognise any of the behaviours or examples mentioned in this article it is important to remember that this isn’t healthy and isn’t your fault.

If you are concerned about your relationship please talk to your GP in confidence, or contact organisations such as Women's Aid and Victim Support.

Images: iStock


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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a senior digital writer for, who enjoys writing about homeware (particularly candles), travel, food trends, restaurants and all the wonderful things London has to offer.