When we think of abuse we normally think physical or sexual abuse. Most people are familiar with, or have at least heard of domestic abuse and sexual abuse, but these are not the only types of abuse that exist.
Most abuse will start with verbal, mental and emotional abuse and escalate its way up to becoming violent so there are many ways in which people can be abused in a relationship and it is important to be able to identify when this is happening. While violent and sexual abuse seems the most brutal, mental, emotional and even economic abuse can be just as damaging to self-esteem and confidence as violent and sexual abuse is and it is also often overlooked making it a prolonged and repeated trauma.
So what types of abuse are there?
- Physical abuse, the one we are most familiar with, encompasses physically intimidating behaviour that ranges from simply towering over the person and demonstrating aggression to being physically aggressive and violent with the person. It includes hitting, punching, kicking, biting, pinching, slapping, pushing and throttling, amongst others. It may even include throwing objects at the person and causing injury. Physical abuse is often the easiest form of abuse to identify but those on the receiving end may find it difficult to acknowledge that their loved one is an abuser and may still make excuses for them and forgive them each time.
- Sexual abuse, another familiar term, refers to unwanted sexual advances such as touching or other. When the person is unable to consent, unwilling or simply not old enough to consent and sexual advances take place – this amounts to sexual abuse. It may also include vulgar comments that are demeaning and embarrassing. Sexual abuse within a relationship includes forcing the victim to have sex in ways in which they may be uncomfortable, forcing the victim to have sex with other partners and generally enforcing sexual practices that are unwanted.
- Verbal abuse amounts to speaking to someone in a way that is utterly disrespectful and demeaning. Verbal abuse includes swearing and name calling and often leaves the person on the receiving end feeling humiliated and defeated.
- Mental Abuse leaves the person on the receiving end feeling as if they are ‘crazy’ or that there is something wrong with them. Mental abuse includes playing mind games, turning things around to blame you, lying, manipulating and threatening you. Self-doubt and poor self-esteem is the most common symptom of being mentally abused.
- Emotional abuse is often very subtle but leaves the victim feeling belittled, humiliated and not good enough. The abuse will take the form of intimidation or embarrassing the victim in public, disrespecting their feelings, becoming jealous and possessive and disallowing them any autonomy or independence and even shaming the victim. Emotional abuse is extremely damaging to self-esteem and confidence.
- The last type of abuse, less familiar, is economic abuse where the abuser withholds money, disallows the victim to get a job, or forces them to resign or get fired. Shames the victim for how they use their money, forces them into a joint account and keeps a “watchful eye’ on everything the victim does. Often money is used as a bargaining tool setting up conditions to be met in order to receive an allowance of sorts. This form of abuse is also very subtle but has a very controlling and possessive element to it.
No matter what form the abuse takes, when you are feeling intimidated, forced into situations that make you feel uncomfortable and feeling controlled, you can almost be sure that there is a form of abuse taking place. If you are in need of some support, consider seeing a psychologist at the Centre for Human Potential.
Delaney is a senior registered psychologist working with people of all backgrounds and with a special interest in LGBTI+ people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and Indigenous people.