Different Types Of Abuse And Possible Related Effects

Updated January 5, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Abuse can be an intensely personal experience and can look different based on individual accounts.  Understanding the range of abuse and the possible effects that children or adults may have to live with can help to create a more open, honest, and empathetic environment for survivors, 

Read on to learn more about the different types of abuse, possible methods of reporting and addressing abuse as well as the effects different abuse types may have on survivors. 

Recovering From Abuse?

Physical Abuse

 The definition of physical abuse covers intentional acts of aggression that may cause injury or trauma to someone else. Being hit, kicked, or otherwise injured by someone in your life can all be forms of physical abuse. 

Many survivors may have trouble stopping physical abuse, even if it's noticed and reported by a mediator.

Such abuse can feel overwhelming and be physically damaging, not only to the physical well-being of a person, but to their spirit and mental wellness as well. 

Physical abuse doesn't have to be extensive or constant. Even if it happens only once, it can be harmful. Survivors of physical abuse may consider addressing the abuse as it occurs, to prevent escalation or further harm. 

Symptoms Of Physical Abuse 

As with any form of abuse, survivor accounts are personal and individual. While there can be warning signs or symptoms of physical abuse observed, no one survivor experiences abuse in the same way. Understanding this range can help validate survivor experiences and offer a deeper level of understanding toward their experiences. 

Warning signs of physical abuse may include: 

  • Unexplained bruises, broken bones, or other injuries

  • Burns or scratches

  • Secretive or secluded behavior 

  • Withdrawn or sullen disposition 

  • Aggression or outbursts of anger 

There may be other signs as well, such as different behavior in the person than they otherwise would display, or inconsistencies in their appearance. For example, an abused person may be seen wearing clothes that seem inappropriate for the climate, such as long shirts in the middle of summer, in an effort to hide the injuries. 

Alternatively, some may become more boisterous or outgoing to hide the abuse, or as a form of defense mechanism to combat the possible experience of internal conflict and stress.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional and psychological abuse can be more subtle than physical abuse, and it can result in the survivor feeling sad, worthless or inferior to their peers.

Survivors may have difficulty explaining this type of abuse or understanding what it is, as it can be established as a rhythm in their daily lived experiences. 

The formal definition of emotional abuse can be complicated. Many sources agree that emotional abuse entails one person subjecting another to any type of behavior or treatment that can result in some type of psychological trauma. If someone says or does something intended to hurt you or make you feel bad about yourself, it can be considered a violation of trust. When someone does these things to you repeatedly and intentionally, it may be considered psychological or emotional abuse.

Those who are emotionally abused may react by emotionally abusing others, whether they are aware of the effects of their actions or not. Survivors of emotional abuse may also be prone to emotional outbursts over time.  

Possible signs of emotional abuse include: 

  • Self-conscious and withdrawn behavior 

  • Lack of emotional control

  • Possible regression of age or behaviors that may reflect a younger age 

  • Resultant or related anxiety or depressive disorders 

  • Gastrointestinal upset 

  • Headaches or chronic pain 

Due to the nature of the abuse, there can be many different ways that an emotionally abused person may act. Understanding this can support survivors in communicating and experiencing their reality. 

Sexual Abuse

Any type of undesired sexual behavior directed from one person to another can be considered sexual abuse.

Recovering From Abuse?

Sexual abuse can start at any time. It can occur as early as the first few months of life and may continue into adulthood. It may start out in ways that seem harmless, such as someone providing extra attention to another person or being extremely involved in their lives. 

However, these actions and patterns can turn into a type of "grooming" that the abuser may use to prepare the person for future escalation of the abuse. 

With grooming, attention, gifts, or involvement can turn into touching or other sexual acts. The person may feel that they invited the behavior themselves by allowing the abuser to continue, or by accepting the gifts and attention in the first place.  Abusers may even tell the person that the interactions are a secret they must keep or proceed to limit the survivor’s ability to respond or report the abuse.

Sexual abuse can present differently in both children and adult survivors. 

Signs that a child is being sexually abused may include:

  • Overt sexual behavior that is inappropriate and strange for their age

  • Increased withdrawal from social or home lives

  • Sudden regression, or age-inappropriate behaviors Extreme feelings of anger or sadness

  • Extreme clinginess or feelings of nervousness when separated from certain “safe” people in their lives

  • Sudden mood or personality changes

  • Inappropriate or unexplained fears of certain people or places

  • Bruising or chafing in the genital area.

Signs that an adult is being sexually abused may include: 

  • Pelvic or groin discomfort that can be either chronic or acute 

  • Symptoms or manifestations of anxiety or depressive disorders 

  • Development of PTSD, eating disorders, or other psychological disorders 

  • Disturbances of arousal, orgasm or desire with sexual partners 

  • Hypersexuality and related behaviors 

Child Neglect

The definition of child neglect can vary from state to state, but generally occurs when caregivers are not providing the resources to meet a child’s needs, whether that’s adequate food, supervision, emotional support, or educational support.

Types of neglect can include:

  • Physical neglect: Which may include not providing nourishing food, abandonment, or consistently leaving a child in the care of others

  • Medical neglect: Which can include denying a child adequate health care

  • Inadequate supervision: Which can include long periods without supervision where a child is not capable of caring for themselves, exposure to safety hazards like loaded guns or unsanitary living conditions

  • Environmental neglect: Which may include a lack of environmental safety (like above)

  • Emotional neglect: Which may include isolation, a lack of affection or abuse of another parent

  • Educational neglect: Which can include ignoring special educational needs, chronic truancy, or a lack of enrollment in school

Rates of child neglect are statistically suggested to be higher than every other type of abuse and can impact all areas of a child’s development. 

In families experiencing marital problems, domestic violence, intimate partner violence, single or financial issues, the chance for neglect can be higher. 

Having support and a strong social community can be a helpful resource in these cases.

If You Suspect Child Abuse

If you believe a child may be experiencing abuse or neglect, you may contact the appropriate human services to report it. Each state has different reporting numbers, and you can find your state’s information here. The Child Welfare Information Gateway provides information that can help to guide you through the reporting process. Doing this can pave the way for an investigation to help ensure children are in a safe environment, with all their needs being met. 

The Children’s Bureau helps fund investigations and follow-up treatment to help prevent future abuse and neglect.

Survivors of abuse as adults have resources they can use to self-report, or to report on someone’s behalf based on the nature of the abuse. You may use: 

  • The Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: Dial 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) 

  • National Sexual Assault Hotline: Dial 1-800-656-4673

How Can Online Therapy Help Survivors Of Abuse? 

If you've experienced any type of abuse as a child or an adult and you feel as though it's affecting your life, you may consider using therapeutic services. Licensed therapists and counselors can provide alternative solutions and resources for survivors at every stage of the healing process, offering a listening ear to empower and validate survivor experiences. 

However, as a survivor, you may find it difficult to open up to someone new in an unfamiliar environment or space. You may also have difficulty leaving the house and travelling to different locations. 

Online therapy can provide you with resources that are able to be obtained from the comfort of your home or any other safe space. You can also reach out to your therapist at any time using in-app messaging for more difficult moments or experiences you may encounter, which you may not be able to do with in-person therapy solutions.  

Is Online Therapy Effective For Survivors Of Abuse? 

Scientific literature suggests that online therapy can be helpful for those surviving and recovering from any form of abuse. A recent study published in Internet Interventions found that participants of the test group who had experienced trauma and abuse did find success using an online therapy format, suggesting that this type of delivery method could be helpful in environments with limited reach and therapeutic resources. 


Abuse is hurtful, traumatizing, and overwhelming at any stage of development. Its effects on an individual can last for a lifetime and can look different on an individual basis across types of abuse. It can be helpful to seek professional help from a licensed therapist as soon as possible, as this can support you in reaching a higher quality of life. BetterHelp can help you to connect with a licensed therapist that you can reach remotely for sessions and chat support. 

For additional help & support with your concerns

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started