Have You Seen Any of These 8 Kinds of Abuse?

Before you can truly understand the effects of abuse, and remedy it, you need to know how to identify what abuse actually is. Looking for bruises, cuts, or other physical trauma is not enough to combat the wide range of abuse that exists. Although there are hundreds of legal definitions and terms describing abusive or unwanted behaviors (which vary in definition between states and between counties), here is a simple set of definitions that should apply to most places in the US.

Traditionally, there are 8 typical forms of abuse: physical, sexual, verbal/emotional, economic, spiritual, stalking/cyber stalking, harassment, and psychological. Although these 8 categories are highly simplified (some may overlap), most often abusers exhibit behaviors in several of these categories. Some abusers exhibit behaviors in all 8 forms of abuse because it allows them to create a fuller and more comprehensive impact on their victims. Though there is much that can be said for each of the individual forms, here will be discussed only a basic outline of each kind.

I. Physical Abuse:

Simply, physical abuse is harm resulting from damaging another person's body through physical interaction. The 3 sub-categories of physical abuse are simple battery, aggravated battery, and murder.

II. Sexual Abuse:

This broad area encompasses actions causing fear, discomfort, anxiety, stress, or other negative emotional changes in another through unwanted sexual conduct, making sexual remarks or innuendos, sexual assault, coercive intercourse, or rape. This type of abuse is not only targeted at turning the victim into an object and exerting control over someone's will power in the most intimate ways, but almost always creates long term emotional suffering and trauma for the victim. Some abusers rape their partners again and again to dehumanize them, to reduce self-worth, and to enforce obedience and subjugation. 

What makes sexual abuse unique is that this kind of assault is both physical and emotional in nature at the same time. Both men and women who are victims of sexual assault often undergo physical and cognitive changes that have a lifelong impact, i.e. some victims become pregnant, are infected with a sexually transmitted disease, show permanent physical scars, develop post-traumatic stress, and suffer from lifelong emotional effects. Some emotional changes may alter how the victim forms or acts in relationships, lowers the victim’s level of self-esteem and self-worth, and induces thoughts or acts of suicide and other self-destruction. The 4 subcategories of sexual abuse are sexual misconduct, sexual assault, sexual battery, and rape. For more on Sexual Abuse, see our previous post.

III. Verbal/Emotional Abuse:

Even without having any direct or physical contact, verbal and emotional abuse can be a very powerful weapon. Emotional abuse can be defined as degrading a person's feelings so that they perceive themselves as incompetent, uncared for, and worthless. There are many manifestations of verbal abuse such as yelling and screaming, making derogatory statements, lying and deceiving, making false claims of being a victim, and placing the victim in a subordinate role.

The emotional abuse component connects how the victim feels with the negative behaviors that are exhibited. These feelings also relate to the witnesses of abuse to include children, neighbors, friends, relatives, and co-workers. The 8 sub-categories of verbal/emotional abuse are manipulation, domestic bullying, coercion, humiliation, intimidation, self-mutilation, self-degradation, and false victimization. 

IV. Economic Abuse:

Economic Abuse relates to controlling the means and resources necessary to function in a healthy and comfortable way.

Controlling personalities use the manipulation of resources as a means of exerting domination over victims. Typical tactics include keeping all the money and issuing out very small portions to the victim, even if the money is earned by the victim; also restricting the use of the family car, credit cards, checking accounts, and savings. It is also common for abusers to prevent victims from working, as income equals freedom and it is the intention of abusers to reduce a victim’s freedom and choices in order to limit what the victim can do, where they can or can’t go, and with whom they meet. Even if there is no actual withholding of resources, threats of withholding can be used to submit to an abuser’s control and can be quite humiliating and degrading.

V. Spiritual Abuse:

"Assuming the Moral Authority" applies to an abuser who asserts their decisions as final and authoritative in order to replace authority and obedience. Comments like “your God is gone - from now on you only answer to me," and "let your God come down and save you, in the meantime, I am your God" are statements that attempt to disconnect one from a higher power. Some abusers go as far as saying that they have an exclusive personal relationship with God and that the victim must obey what the abuser says because these are the wishes of God.

"Manipulating one to act immorally" pertains to an abuser causing or forcing a victim to perform an act seen as improper by the victim’s own faith. Examples include, not permitting a Catholic to take communion, not permitting a religious Jew to observe the Sabbath, and forcing a Muslim woman to reveal her hair or body to a man other than her husband. This form of abuse not only creates shame, but also isolates and perhaps even banishes the victim from their faith community.

"Controlling religious participation" may manifest in ways ranging from making subtle complaints about the faith, its clergy, or beliefs, to more aggressive modes like forbidding the attendance of any services, forbidding meeting with anyone associated with the congregation, or denying access to a faith activity. A typical behavior by an abuser is not allowing the victim to attend a service, then calling the clergy and spreading false information as to why the victim did not attend.   

VI. Stalking and Cyber Stalking:

Stalking and Cyber Stalking are activities that intrude upon the privacy and peace of another. There are a number of reasons for an abuser to stalk, but this activity is intended to interrupt, intrude, or introduce an unwanted influence in the life of another person. These behaviors take many forms to include direct and indirect forms of intrusion. The 4 sub-categories of stalking and cyber stalking are trespassing, stalking, cyber bullying, and violation of sanctity. More information on stalking can be found in this post about how to keep safe from stalkers and in this post, which gives more details about the stalking type.

VII. Harassment:

Harassment is an aggressive act intended to torment another via a dramatic event or emotional manipulation. This category of abuse relates to more than showing up uninvited at a party or sending a degrading social media communication. These activities are intended by an abuser to create immediate havoc, a psychological impact, and to get an instant reaction. At times harassing activities are of a criminal nature, but even non-criminal harassment (or any other form of abuse) can create a life-long negative impact on the victim. The 4 sub-categories of harassment are making terrorist threats, assault, hostage taking, and attempted murder. 

VIII. Psychological Abuse:

While Verbal and Emotional Abuse applies to the immediate impact regarding how someone feels, Psychological Abuse is the general category of the effects of abuse and changes in a victim's thought processes over the long-term. In other words, being inconvenienced, distressed, or impacted by the behavior of a person over a period of time, to the extent that the victim starts to make conscious or unconscious decisions to avoid contact or begin to have concern for their safety, even without any direct confrontations with the abuser, is a psychological issue.

While not necessarily as blatant or having the short-term effects as Emotional or Verbal Abuse, Psychological Abuse is nevertheless an unwanted behavior that can be considered a criminal act. A few of the effects psychological abuse can have on its victims include post-traumatic stress disorder, Stockholm syndrome, self-blame, and suicide.

In the broadest of terms, an abuser blames the victim for how they feel, gains satisfaction from tormenting their partner, and makes false allegations about being mistreated.  Victims on the other hand, often take responsibility for how the abuser feels, accepts being tormented to try to make the abuser happy, and attempts to cover-up and explain away abuser misconduct.

These are the 8 general classifications for domestic abuse. Frequently, victims become desensitized and conditioned to various forms of manipulation, aggression, and misconduct, and therefore are not consciously aware that abuse is occurring or simply accept abuse as “normal” or not changeable. Before a person can take action to prevent or disconnect from this behavior, having a clearer explanation of these terms and a more accurate understanding of the activities comprising abuse are helpful, especially when seeking outside aid. These typical forms of domestic abuse not only cause suffering at the time of the incident, but have long lasting emotional effects on the victims. Since these forms of abuse can range from subtle to blatant, understanding them is a first step in acknowledging that abuse is happening. Once acknowledged and identified, abuse is easier to address and remedy. Abuse is a disease, passed from one generation to the next. One of the biggest problems in fighting abuse in our culture and among our friends and family is to recognize that many common actions we see are part of a larger picture, part of a pattern of abuse that begins to emerge if we know what to look for and how to look for it. 

When in the midst of an abusive situation, it may be difficult to think clearly and come up with a solution to remedy the abuse, while trying to implement it may feel almost impossible. However, given the right tools and the will power to create change, it most certainly is possible, even more so– it is probable. Many may feel overwhelmed and may not know where to start, but it is important to start somewhere.

Please continue to check in with us each week for a new post about abusive behavior and how it can affect your life and the lives of those around you. There is always that first action to helping someone you care about. Let this be it!

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