A study of the factors of psychological abuse and control in two relationships: Domestic violence and cultic systems

Date of Completion

January 2002


Education, Educational Psychology




This study explored the factors of psychological abuse and control, as it exists in different types of abusive relationships. A review of the literature reveals that this type of abuse has been noted in such relationships as domestic violence, cultic systems, prisoners of war and hostage detainment (Boulette & Anderson, 1986; Herman, 1992; Ward, 2000; West, 1993). However, although evidence regarding these factors of control across groups of abusive relationships is reported in the literature, it is only noted on a clinical basis without any empirical support. ^ This study focused on the presence of these factors of abuse and control across two groups, victims of domestic violence and cultic systems. The first part of the research involved the development of an instrument, Across Groups Psychological Abuse and Control Scale (AGPAC), to measure psychological abuse and control in these two populations. A Factor Analysis derived three factors in the new scale, Verbal Abuse, Isolation and Activity Control and Emotional Abuse, each with a high degree of internal consistency. ^ The second part of this study involved administering the AGPAC to 98 ex-cult and 100 domestic violence participants in order to determine how each of these groups related to the factors of psychological abuse and control. In addition, participants in the study were given a questionnaire on anxiety, the Multidimensional Anxiety Questionnaire (Reynolds, 1999), a frequently noted consequence of abusive relationships (Herman, 1992; Jones, 1994; Singer, 1992; Walker, 1979). Both groups were profiled as experiencing the factors of psychological abuse and control while in their respective relationships. However, the domestic violence participants were profiled as severely anxious while the ex-cult participants were mildly anxious. This study indicated that there are also differences in both groups as they relate to the subscales of the AGPAC, which warrants further investigation. ^ This research has just begun to explore the similarities and differences in psychological abuse and control as experienced in two different types of abusive relationships. Additional investigation into a more universal understanding of this abusive behavior should provide important information for a society struggling to better serve victims of abuse. ^