Abuse is a repeated pattern of aggression, unkindness, and cruelty to another person, involving unfair power and control dynamics. Abuse can be verbal, sexual, emotional, physical, spiritual, financial, or psychological and often has lasting impacts. Anyone of any age, race, ethnicity, ability, class, sexuality, gender, or background can experience abuse, and it is never the survivor’s fault.
The following articles explore the topic of abuse in more depth, offering resources to survivors and those who want to change unhealthy behavioral patterns. You may also find articles on attachment, growing up with abusive family members, and coping with post-traumatic stress disorder.
If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. You can also use the online chat.
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Medically Reviewed By: Andrea Brant, LMHC
What is Abuse?
Abuse intentionally harms a person, involving unfair power dynamics and repeated behavior patterns. Anyone can abuse another person, and anyone can be a survivor of abuse, including children, adults, and older individuals. Abuse can leave survivors with mental health challenges, sometimes causing mental illnesses like depression, PTSD, or anxiety.
If you know that you or a loved one is being mistreated, it can be crucial to find support. However, you’re not alone in this process. Calling the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or texting “START” to 88788 can connect you with a peer advocate to receive resources, validation, and guidance. You can also use the online chat.
Over time, abuse can escalate, particularly without intervention. Staying in an abusive relationship may lead to significant mental and physical health impacts. Recognizing the different forms of abuse and the signs is often the first step to getting away. Although leaving an abusive partner or individual can be challenging, you’re not alone, and hope is possible.
Forms Of Abuse
Abuse can look different from situation to situation. Recognizing that everyone can have a unique experience with abuse may help you identify the signs. The following are the various types of abuse that may occur, which may co-occur.
Physical abuse occurs when an individual intentionally physically harms another person. This abuse could include hitting, punching, spitting, kicking, restraining, or other types of physical violence. Hitting and spanking children can also fall into the category of physical abuse. People who physically abuse others may attempt to hide or disguise the marks they leave on survivors. However, even with no physical signs, the marks left on someone can be emotional and long-lasting, causing significant fear, sadness, and confusion.
If you are experiencing sexual abuse or have experienced assault, note that the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) has a hotline dedicated to supporting individuals experiencing sexual assault, harassment, or intimate partner violence. You can contact them anytime by calling 800-656-HOPE (4673) or using the online chat.
Sexual abuse is the sexual exploitation of another person. Consent is essential when it comes to any form of sexual activity, and it can be crucial to teach children at a young age that no means no. If all parties do not give enthusiastic consent during a sexual interaction, the act can be considered assault. In addition, a child or a person who is under the extreme influence of substances cannot give consent. Assault and abuse could include any sexual act, including but not limited to intercourse, fondling, kissing, or sexual comments. In addition, it can be essential to note that being in a romantic relationship or being married does not automatically equal consent to sex.
Emotional abuse occurs when a person verbally attacks another or puts them down with their words. The individual engaging in emotional abuse might belittle the survivor or call them names. Emotional abuse is often hidden from other people because of shame or doubt. However, although this form of abuse doesn’t cause visible scars, it can have significant impacts.
Emotional abuse can severely affect a person’s self-esteem and ability to function. Someone who is emotionally abused may struggle to know how to leave or stand up for themselves, as their abuser may have convinced them they are in the wrong or that they are worthless. Manipulation and tactics like “gaslighting” are often used by abusive individuals to keep survivors from knowing what they’re experiencing.
When an individual realizes that they’re experiencing abuse and not love, they may seek support and remove themselves from the situation. However, you’re not “weak” or alone if you struggle to do so. Because abuse is a cycle, it can be challenging to move forward, especially if you have positive intentions and love the person treating you unkindly.
Medical abuse occurs when a person in a position of authority conveys false information about another individual’s health or doesn’t allow their dependent to receive healthcare. This type of abuse is a form of neglect because the individual being abused is not receiving adequate healthcare.
Children may also experience medical abuse if their caregiver has a condition like factitious disorder imposed on another (previously called Munchausen syndrome by proxy). This mental illness may be diagnosed when a person falsely claims that their child or dependent has an illness, often intentionally creating symptoms to cause illness in that person. This condition may develop to receive sympathy from others.
Neglect is characterized by the failure to provide for a dependent’s needs. It may be most common in child abuse cases, where parents or guardians do not provide for the child’s basic needs, such as food, shelter, clothing, education, or medical care. It can also occur emotionally when a caregiver does not offer love or affection to their child. Neglect can also happen to older adults and the disabled community because these individuals may rely on others to care for them daily.
Child abuse is the intentional or unintentional harm of a minor— a person under the age of 18. Child abuse includes physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and neglect. Children who have been abused might show some or all the following signs:
- Withdrawal from activities with peers
- Aggressive behavior
- Absences from school
- Running away
- Rebellious behavior
- Suicide attempts
- Avoidance of specific locations, people, or topics
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or text 988 to talk to a crisis provider over SMS. They are available 24/7 to offer support. 988 also offers an online chat for those with an internet connection.
If you suspect a child is being abused, tell someone about it. You can call a school counselor, the police, or child protective services. Do not stay silent; you could save a child’s life.
Domestic violence or domestic abuse occurs within a home or family unit. It causes serious harm to another person and can happen to people of all ages. This form of abuse might occur from one partner to their spouse or between a parent and their child, among other combinations.
The term “violence” encompasses all forms of abuse, whether it involves physical actions or not. For example, mental and emotional abuse falls under the category of domestic violence because these forms of abuse cause harm. Seek support if you or a loved one are in a toxic domestic environment. Resources like Safe Horizon or The Hotline offer tips and support for those experiencing domestic violence.
You may benefit from speaking to a therapist if you are in an abusive relationship or environment or have escaped one. A therapist can help you find resources in your area and cope with the challenges of surviving abuse.
If you have experienced abuse or trauma, it may be challenging to trust in-person services. In these cases, online platforms like BetterHelp may be more flexible. With online therapy, you don’t have to leave home to receive support. Because you can chat with a therapist via phone, video, or live chat sessions, you may find it a more accessible, private, and convenient way to receive support after or during a challenging traumatic experience.
Research has shown that online therapy can benefit those who have experienced abuse. In one study, researchers assessed the efficacy of an internet-delivered cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) intervention for survivors of intimate partner violence. The study outcomes showed that participants experienced statistically significant reductions in PTSD, depression, and anxiety. They also showed improvements in their quality of life.
Abuse comes in many forms and can affect people of any background, age, gender, or race. The signs of abuse may not be evident to outsiders and can vary from situation to situation. Whether you’re currently in an abusive relationship or have experienced abuse in the past, healing is possible. While the journey to health and happiness after abuse may not be easy, it can be within reach with support. By working with a therapist, you can learn how to cope with your experiences. You’re not alone. Consider contacting a mental health professional online or in your area to get started.