Types of Abuse


We tend to think of abuse as physical violence or as in the picture, one partner balling up their fist and hitting the other partner. In reality, however, abuse is an ongoing pattern of behavior designed to control, manipulate and subjugate another person, regardless of their marital status, race, age, gender, ethnicity or culture.  And yes, women can abuse men, even though that’s not the stereotype.   Thus, for the remainder of this article, there will be no gender-specific pronouns used: instead the person doing the abuse will be called “the abuser” and the person receiving the abuse will be called “the recipient.”

Generally, when one type of abuse exists, there are other forms as well.  Some types of abuse are subtle and it takes a trained eye to even notice them–whereas other types of abuse are overt and obvious for all to see.

Abuse usually seems absent at the beginning of the relationship, and the majority of recipients feel that they have found their perfect partner or soul mate.  It may take months or even years, but gradually the abusive behavior increases and the abuser is likely to use various different types of abuse.

There are many different types of abuse, but let’s go over the most prevalent varieties?



Physical abuse or assault is the most obvious form of domestic Violence, the most visible, and arguably also the most lethal.

Most people envision physical abuse as one person balling up their fist and hitting the other; and thus many recipients think that if their spouse has never “hit” them, there has never been physical abuse.  However, physical abuse often start small–maybe a shove during an argument, or forcefully grabbing your wrist– but once the physical abuse started, it continued, frequently getting more severe over time.

Physical abuse can include the following:

  • slapping
  • kicking (for example, kicking your dog)
  • grabbing
  • shoving
  • choking
  • pinching
  • pulling hair
  • punching (for example, the wall beside you)
  • throwing things
  • burning (for example, holding a cigarette near enough to scare you)
  • beating
  • strangling
  • use of weapons (gun, knives, or any object)
  • physical restraint – pinning against wall, floor, bed, etc.
  • reckless driving



Sexual abuse can be defined as any sexual encounter without consent and includes any unwanted touching, forced sexual activity (be it oral, anal or vaginal), forcing the victim to perform sexual acts, painful or degrading acts during intercourse, or exploitation through photography.

Sexual Abuse can involve any of the following:

  • excessive jealousy
  • calling you sexually derogatory names
  • forcing unwanted sexual act
  • forcing you to strip, or forcefully stripping you
  • sadistic sexual acts
  • withholding sex and/or affection
  • making sex conditional on your behavior
  • forcing sexual practices you are not happy about (such as sex toys)
  • minimizing or denying your feelings about sex or sexual preferences
  • forcing “make up sex”
  • using coercion/threats to force sex
  • taking unwanted sexual photos
  • sharing sexual photos without your knowledge/consent
  • forcing sex when you are ill or tired



There are many categories of emotional/mental abuse. They encompass a variety of behaviors that will be easily recognizable by those experiencing them, and often remain completely unnoticed by others. Maybe the easiest way to spot emotional abuse is less by the behavior, and more by the effect. Emotional/mental abuse has much the same intention as physical abuse and threats: to control and dominate. If you feel as though you, your feelings, your needs, your opinions are being devalued, are given no importance or credence, then chances are you are experiencing emotional abuse.

Emotional/mental abuse gradually erodes the individual over months or even years. If and when you do realize that you are being mistreated and try to stand your ground, chances are that the abuse will escalate. Many people have found to their detriment that once the emotional abuse is no longer effective, physical violence follows.

Emotional abuse can include:

  • Threats of violence or abandonment
  • Intentionally frightening you
  • Making an individual fear that they will not receive the food or care they need
  • Lying
  • Making derogatory or slanderous statements about an individual to others
  • Socially isolating an individual–failing to let them have contact with family or friends
  • Withholding important information
  • Demeaning an individual because of the language they speak
  • Intentionally misinterpreting traditional practices
  • Repeatedly raising the issue of death
  • Telling an individual that they are too much trouble
  • Ignoring or excessively criticizing
  • Being over-familiar and disrespectful
  • Unreasonably ordering an individual around; treating an individual like a servant or child



Some forms of verbal abuse, such as name calling or sneering, are obvious, but many more forms are covert, such as withholding or discounting, and therefore much less easily recognizable.

Some of the following questions may help you to work out whether you are being verbally abused in less obvious ways, or whether you are being verbally abusive towards your partner:

  1. Does your partner speak to you differently in private and in public?
  2. Do you often leave a discussion with your partner feeling completely confused?
  3. Does your partner deny being angry or upset when he/she very obviously is?
  4. Does your partner act as though you were attacking them when you try to explain your feelings?
  5. Does your partner discount your opinions or experiences?
  6. You feel as though no matter how hard you try, you just don’t seem to be able to communicate your thoughts and feelings to your partner as he/she always seems to misunderstand you, and/or it always seems to cause an argument no matter how you try to approach the subject?
  7. Do you feel nervous or avoid discussing issues which disturb you with your partner because you ‘know’ that trying to discuss them will just leave you feeling even more upset?
  8. Do you feel as though your self-esteem and your self-confidence have decreased?
  9. Do you find yourself spending a lot of time working out either how not to upset your partner or wondering what you did or said which did upset your partner?

The above are just some indicators that verbal abuse may be an issue in your relationship. Some facts which generally apply to verbal abuse:

  • Verbal abuse tends to be secretive (it happens in private behind closed doors).
  • Verbal abuse tends to increase over time, as both abuser and victim adapt to it.
  • Verbal abuse discounts your perception of reality and denies itself.
  • Verbal abuse is usually part of a pattern which is difficult to recognize and leaves us with a feeling of confusion and upset without really understanding why.
  • Verbal abuse uses words (or silence) to gain and maintain control.

Categories of Verbal Abuse:

Withholding –it may be experienced as a prolonged silence, or an unwillingness to interact; the cold shoulder; withholding sex as a “punishment.”

Countering –opposing any thought, opinion or feeling.  Our reality is being undermined, our perceptions and opinions are opposed.

Discounting –giving our feelings, emotions, thoughts and opinions lesser value, and in so doing, devaluing or discounting us. “You’re making a mountain out of a molehill,” “You’re imagining things,” “You’re too sensitive, ” “You can’t take a joke,” “You’re too serious, ” etc.

Disguised as a joke –a disparaging comment said with a laugh or a smile, but which actually feels more like an attack on our competencies, abilities or values, or it may be a sexist joke which we find offensive.

Blocking and Diverting –preventing a discussion by simply refusing to discuss an issue (blocking) or , while controlling a discussion by simply changing the topic (diverting).  Blocking and diverting change the discussion from the original topic to one of the abusers choice, often by criticizing us in some way so that we end up trying to defend or explain ourselves.

Blaming and accusing –statements or retorts which are designed to shift the blame and the emphasis from abuser onto recipient.

Judging and criticizing –ways in which our partner shows his/her lack of acceptance of us as an individual. Phrases such as “you always think you are right” are an example of judging. Comments disguised as being ‘constructive criticism’ are often actually judgmental, critical and abusive (for example, statements starting with “The problem with you is …”).

Trivializing –telling your partner in some way that what they do is not significant, not valuable or not worth doing.

Threats –an overt form of verbal abuse. Threats are designed to frighten us and verbally beat us into submission. Usually the abuser will choose threats based on his/her knowledge of what we value most or what we fear.

Name calling –another overt, obvious form of verbal abuse, designed to hurt or degrade us.

Forgetting –denial and manipulation. Verbal abusers will conveniently ‘forget’ incidents or promises which are of importance to us – especially previous incidents of verbal abuse.

Ordering –another overt form of verbal abuse. If our partner orders us about, he/she is not treating us as an equal individual but as a servant or someone who is exists to fulfill the abusers wishes and needs.

Denial –When our partner denies outright that a conversation or disagreement has taken place, we may begin to doubt our own perceptions, and reality feels like it is “turned on its head. “

Abusive Anger –that inexplicable explosion of rage which we try to pacify, and that brooding uneasiness we can sense in the presence of our partner.



Financial abuse can take many forms, from denying you all access to funds, to making you solely responsible for all finances while handling money irresponsibly him or herself.

Money becomes a tool by which the abuser can further control the victim, ensuring either your financial dependence, or shifting the responsibility of keeping a roof over the family’s head onto you while simultaneously denying your ability to do so or obstructing you.

Financial abuse can include the following:

  • preventing you from getting or keeping a job
  • denying you sufficient funds to pay the bills
  • having to account for every penny spent
  • denying access to checkbook/bank accounts/finances
  • putting all bills in your name
  • demanding your paychecks
  • spending money allocated to bills/groceries
  • forcing you to beg or commit crimes for money
  • not permitting you to spend available funds on yourself or children


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