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Verified by Psychology Today

Abuse Is More Than Just Physical

Family is not always a protective relationship.

Key points

  • Verbal abuse occurs when an individual continuously uses words as weapons to gain power or control over another individual.
  • Physical abuse is the most obvious and known form of abuse because it usually leaves a physical wound or scar.
  • Child abuse encompasses all forms of maltreatment, including sexual abuse, verbal abuse, neglect, emotional abuse and exploitation.
  • Elder abuse is a silent problem that robs senior citizens of their dignity and security—and is much more common than people assume.

Abuse is often defined as a pattern of behavior used by one individual to gain and maintain control and power over another.. One thing to keep in mind about this definition of abuse is that it refers to a pattern of behavior, in other words, not just one incident.

Verbal abuse

“I didn’t think I was being abused because he didn’t hit me”, is a common saying many people use when undergoing different forms of abuse besides physical abuse. Verbal abuse occurs when an individual continuously uses words as weapons to gain power or control over another individual. The words, in some form, are meant to cause emotional pain and harm. Verbal abuse is often difficult to spot and even harder to prove because there is no clear-cut definition.

Additionally, not all forms of verbal abuse involve screaming, nasty words, name-calling, or belittling. More subtle forms of verbal abuse include gaslighting or constantly correcting, interrupting, blaming, judging, threatening or putting down, and demeaning another individual. Gaslighting is a deceptive and sometimes covert form of emotional abuse, where the abuser makes the victim question his or her judgment and reality.

The prolonged silent treatment is a form of verbal abuse as the individual attempting to control and punish the victim does so by shutting them out and refusing to talk to them.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse is the most obvious and known form of abuse because it usually leaves a visible wound or scar. Physical abuse includes punching, hitting, strangling, or holding someone physically against his or her will. It can also include reckless driving or invading someone’s physical space. Physical abuse usually starts gradually with a shove or a slap, then progressively becomes worse over time.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is any form of unwanted sexual activity. Perpetrators use force, make threats or take advantage of their victims by making any unwanted physical, sexual contact, or verbal sexual comments. Most victims know their sexual abuser, which often makes it psychologically challenging to deal with the reality of the abuse and report it to the legal authorities. Many victims of sexual abuse struggle with future intimate relationships, as they have a difficult time trusting others.

Financial abuse

Financial abuse involves controlling a victim's ability to acquire, use, and maintain financial resources. For example, the abuser may prevent the victim from holding a job or having access to a bank account to control them. The abuser may also control all of the budgeting in the household.

The abuser may also open credit cards and run up debts in the victim’s name, ruining their credit, affecting their ability to secure housing, purchase a car or qualify for a loan. As a result, the victim is often stuck relying on the abuser because they have no means to earn their income and are usually in a mountain of debt. Financial abuse most commonly occurs in romantic relationships and within the elderly population.

Child Abuse

Child abuse is more than physical violence towards a child. It encompasses all forms of maltreatment, including sexual abuse, verbal abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, and exploitation. Neglect, exploitation, emotional abuse, and verbal abuse often go unnoticed and unreported because there is no lasting physical wound or scar.

However, perpetrators of abuse leave deep emotional wounds, often leading to years of distress in adulthood. Examples of emotional abuse and verbal abuse include yelling, name-calling, public shaming, withholding love, lack of supervision, allowing children to witness violence or trauma, and failure to provide adequate food, education, shelter, medical care, and clothing.

Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is a silent problem that robs senior citizens of their dignity and security. Elder abuse is much more common than people assume. In the U.S. alone, more than half a million reports of elder abuse reach authorities every year, and millions of more cases go unreported.

As adults become older, their minds and bodies frailer, they nay have diminished ability to properly care for themselves, stand up against bullying, or fight back if attacked. As a result, elders are often victims of sexual, physical, and financial abuse and neglect.

Elder abuse often occurs when seniors live with their adult children or other family members such as grandchildren or spouses. Elder abuse can also occur in institutional settings such as hospitals, rehabilitation settings, or long-term care facilities. In addition, elders are often the victims of financial telephone scams, investment frauds, phone charities, and healthcare fraud.

Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse is also referred to as domestic violence or intimate partner violence. It is a repeated pattern of behavior that can be verbal, physical, sexual, or financial, as a way to gain or maintain power or control over an intimate partner, whether that is a boyfriend or girlfriend or wife or husband. Domestic abuse can also be between family members such as children and parents.

Domestic abuse affects both men and women of all ages, ethnicities, and economic status. As a result, it can be very difficult to determine victims and culprits of domestic abuse. Anyone could be at risk.

Is there a difference between family bullying and domestic violence?

According to the law, family bullying is a form of domestic violence between married partners, parents, and children. Psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, social abuse, and financial abuse are all types of family bullying that can occur, with psychological abuse being the most common form. Psychological abuse includes emotional and verbal abuse in addition to consistently placing blame on the victim.

Seeking help

If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation, regardless of what type of abuse or regardless of who the abuser is, it is important to seek safety immediately. This can mean going to a friend’s house, leaving a toxic work environment, or going to a shelter.

You also have the right to report the abuse to local law enforcement officials and file for a restraining order through local courts. You can also call hotlines for domestic violence, child abuse, or elder abuse to gain support and resources.

Once you are in a safe and secure place, away from your abuser, and you have notified law enforcement, you can begin the healing process. Keep in mind that any type of abuse can result in lingering stress, anxiety, and depression. As a result, it is important to engage in therapy or support groups that can help you work through any lingering mental or emotional effects of the abuse. The sooner you seek professional help, the easier it is to prevent long-term mental health effects such as anxiety, PTSD, and depression.

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