What is Abuse?

In layman terms, abuse is simply an act of exploitation. Such exploitation is observed quite often in different spheres of life. It is common to hear that someone used their power to get things done their way even if it was unfair, that is a form of abuse of power. It is also common to hear that someone misused prescription drugs for recreational purposes, which is also categorized as drug abuse. In this section however, the focus is on the kind of abuse that occurs in relationships.

When there is an element of abuse in relationships, one is the dominant perpetrator while the other is the victim. The perpetrator is the one who hails the hurt while the victim suffers the damage. The damage even when physical, verbal or sexual in nature tends to cause harm at an emotional level. Abuse is a form of an emotional wound that stays with the individual and impacts their personality. There are many different types of abuse but here are the most common types:

Emotional Abuse

It comprises of a set of behaviors aimed at ridiculing a victim.Even though the specific behaviors that fall under emotional abuse are hard to pin down, as they tend to change form in different relationships, there are certain characteristics that generally constitute emotional abuse. Listed ahead are some types of behaviors evident in emotional abuse:

1. Biting and bitter remarks

There are times when people say things with the intent of hurting. Answer the following and see if you have ever been at the receiving end of emotional abuse. Has your spouse ever called you names? Has your friend ever made a rude comment that was uncalled for? Did a teacher ever shoot down your response calling it stupid or dumb? These are just a handful of questions and shockingly enough, there is no way to build an exhaustive list to indicate what falls under emotional abuse. Although these questions are basic but when you sit and try to answer them, thinking about the time when the incident took place; it gives rise to discomfort, low self-esteem and low mood.

2. Terrorizing

Think of a time period when there was a disagreement and your spouse raised their voice. What was their intent? Was it to end the argument or put their point across? Whatever the intent might be, the aim was to intimidate you to give up your point. Similarly, has your parent ever screamed at you or threatened to humiliate you in front of your friends if you don’t listen to them? Emotional abuse is involved in all these instances where domination is achieved by belittling the victim.

3. Control

When your parents, spouse or friends want updates about your life, it is generally out of care, love and the desire to keep up with you. However, there are times when such behavior becomes intrusive in nature and the need to dominate makes it suffocating and toxic.Think about the time when your spouse shortlisted the people who you can be friends with and other who you should not be friends with.How did it feel? Or the time when your spouse or parents prevented you from attaining and sustaining a job? It was controlling and intrusive behavior that makes one feel as if their freedom and independence has been hijacked. The need to dominate is also noticed in other relationships where the dominant one tries to take over every aspect of the victim’s life.

4. Emotional blackmail

This is the most common type of behavior in emotional abuse. Has your spouse ever threatened to kill themselves? Have your parents ever threatened to leave the house and abandon you? Has anyone ever tried to be dominant by playing with your emotions? Emotional blackmail is a manipulation technique adopted on purpose to dominate the situation or an individual.
The aforementioned are just a handful of aspects involved in emotional abuse. However, it is important to separately discuss emotional abuse in a parent-child relationship.Emotional abuse can be held synonymous to neglect by parents. When parents adopt a style of parenting that is either too careless or too rigid, it can lead to emotional abuse. To make this point clear, image a child whose parents are careless about their roles. Has the child eaten? Are they doing well at school? -They do not tend to care. The lack of connection with parents, a lack of praise from them and the sense that ‘I don’t have anything to look forward to when I go home’- is a form of emotional neglect. On the other hand, imagine a child whose parents control every aspect of their life: from eating habits to friendships to career path. This type of rigid control is also a form of emotional neglect because the child does not get a chance to express themselves or be themselves in any way. Both the above are categorized as types of emotional abuses in a parent-child relationship.
Emotional abuse is an emotional ill-treatment that attacks the self-esteem, self-worth, confidence and the other aspects of a person’s life. It makes an individual feel anxious, frightened and low. The right thing to do is recognize if you are emotionally abusing someone or if you are at the receiving end of emotional abuse. Connect with us if you feel emotionally drained in a relationship and need help.

Physical Abuse

Beating, hitting or slapping are just to name a handful of physical abuses. The reason for engaging in the aforementioned behaviors is a combination of different situational and psychological factors; all of which are aimed at a harmless victim. It is a traumatic experience and might lead to symptoms that indicate a lack of resilience. Physical abuse is observed in different relationships but has some characteristics common to all abusers.

1. Loss of control

There are times when we all feel that intense anger and frustration where we want to hit someone. It is an urge to physically harm the person who is a source of anger, but these urges are fleeting in nature and we quickly compose ourselves. However, there are some individuals who are unable to control their anger and that lack of handle on the self leads to physical abuse. Think about the time your spouse hit you during a heated argument. It happened because they lost self-control and felt that the only other way to be dominant was the use of physical hurt. This brings us to our next characteristic.

2. Lack of knowledge

Handling conflicts, misunderstandings or ill feelings is not every ones cup of tea, some run away from them and others approach it heads on and handle it maturely. When things are mishandled, it can involve physical abuse also. The root cause for physical abuse is the inability to handle emotions and oneself, which then stems from a lack of knowledge. The lack of knowledge about how to communicate feelings, how to express anger and ill feelings in a healthy harmless manner and how damaging physical abuse is for a family, all influence how quickly a person chooses to raise their hand and hurt another person. Taking some examples of a parent who beat their three year old because they spill water on a sofa or a spouse who beat their partner because they forgot to undertake the assigned task, an understanding of how anger can be managed without ruining a relationship can be highlighted. These instances do not limit the intensity of the effect of many such events that leave a mark on an individual's life, be it a child or an adult.

3. A Winner

In almost all the cases of physical abuse, the abuser is always the winner. Often, people know how to manage anger and they are also generally in control of themselves, but a physical hurt always wins. This is one of the biggest reasons why physical abuse persists. It places the abuser in a superior position and the victim in an inferior one. Bullies for instance, they engage in physical abuse because that is the only means of validating their power and maintaining their superiority. A parent also uses the threat of a slap or a beating to win an argument or make a situation favorable. A spouse leaves bruises or wounds on their partner, reflecting their own superiority. Thus, many people resort to physical abuse.
Victims are often unaware of the reason for being beaten, slapped or hit and abusers are often equally unaware of the reasons that caused them to react in a physically aggressive manner. In many instances, the victim often carries the guilt of instigating the whole incident. They feel they are the reason for creating a whole mess out of the situation. As an abuser, one adds a layer of insecurity to the relationship and to the victim’s personality.
Not only is the above applicable to abuse towards other humans, when physical abuse is hailed at another person’s property, it has the same devastating impact on an individual. This form of physical abuse does not cause bodily hurt, but a financial dent to the victim alongside feelings of apprehension, insecurity and anxiety.Physical abuse can be said to be one of the types of abuses and it also overlaps with emotional abuse. Domestic violence is one of the most common forms of physical abuse. Physical abuse can take place at schools, on the road, or at any other.

Verbal Abuse

Saying abusive or bad words, name calling, crude remarks, threats, constant criticism or mockery are only a handful of examples of verbal abuse. Verbal abuse stems from built up anger, frustration or just from an insecure personality. Verbal abuse might not involve any physical harm to another individual but it causes a devastating impact on the victim’s personality. There are certain characteristics common to verbal abuse:

1. Disrespect

This is one of the most common characteristics of verbal abuse, where the main aim is to belittle someone or make them feel disrespected. Verbally abusing your spouse hurts them, but that was the intent, wasn’t it? It was to hurt them and injure them. Similarly, when parents use abusive words with children, they tend to feel humiliated and become quiet. Even if a stranger verbally abuses you on the road, you are likely to feel disrespected.

2. Ridicule

Even though disrespect and ridicule might seem synonymous, they tend to be a little different. Ridicule is to make fun of someone in order to make them feel embarrassed. Some of the most common examples of ridiculing include body shaming, bully about height or the complexion.

3. Control

As with other forms of abuses, the need for control is also observed in verbally abusive behaviors.
We all tend to engage in verbal abuse towards others. Remember the last time you said a bad word to someone? Why did that happen? Were you angry at something someone else said or did or was it because that individual annoyed you? Regardless of the reason, the source was anger. However, how often do you hear people using abusive words because they enjoy doing so? Friends and siblings as well as parents often times hail abuses because it appears fun and casual. With time, we have taken the seriousness out of verbally abusive behavior and made it more of a joke. We’ve made verbal abuse acceptable in some spheres of life and between some relationships.
In areas where verbal abuse is still unacceptable, it is considered disrespectful and hurtful. Words such as ‘lame’ or ‘stupid’ will be hurtful to a student’s self-esteem if said by a teacher in a classroom. A parent saying ‘shut-up’ or ‘get lost’ will be upsetting to a child regardless of the situation. A spouse using foul words for their partner during an argument will impact the relationship as well as the person. Besides all the aforementioned, one of the most common forms of ridiculing and verbal abuse is observed online, known as cyber bullying. It is a growing concern and drives many victims to suicide. Regardless of the form or type of verbal abuse, it tends to stay the longest where even years later, people tend to remember what was said to them.

Sexual Abuse

Unlike emotional, physical or verbal abuse, sexual abuse is the least discussed form of abuse however it is as common as the rest. Why do we not openly discuss it? Although we as a nation have become better at addressing cases related to sexual abuse, we still tend to associate it with shame and guilt. Victims do not want others to know their abuse stories because it is embarrassing, it leads to labelling and ostracizing. Sadly, we do engage in blaming the victim for their mishappenings. Why does our sympathy and concern not go towards the victim? This topic is still considered a taboo in our society and victims show hesitation in order avoid blame.
People often confuse sexual abuse and harassment. Sexual harassment involves unwanted advances that are sexual in nature such as unwanted touching, unnecessary proximity to another person, comments or teasing that involve sexual elements or inappropriate texts, but this is not an exhaustive list. Sexual abuse involves non-consensual sexual acts such as rape or inappropriate touching. Sexual harassment is often considered the first step towards sexual abuse and the victims silence at this first step often leads to sexual abuse, for which the society is the culprit.
Sexual abuse can involve children and adults alike. Children are forced to engage in sexual acts after which they are made to feel guilty so that they do not disclose the incident. Adults are also engaged forcefully, but in the dynamics of this abuse the perpetrator is dominant in terms of status or power. Relatives and strangers alike are reported to be perpetrators in cases of sexual abuse which is often not a onetime story.
There are some types of sexual abuses that are more common than others. Marital rape, is an example of abuse in a relationship where the dominant partner takes advantage of the submissive partner. It is common but goes unreported because people do not even acknowledge that they undergo marital rape. Another common type of sexual abuse is incest where parents, siblings, cousins or other close relatives take advantage of weak or submissive individuals in the family. In incest, emotional abuse and guilt keeps the victim trapped in the cycle of abuse. Lastly, another common type of sexual abuse that is largely ignored is towards animals. Sexual abuse towards animals involves forceful sexual acts with animals which is mostly common in lower socioeconomic classes.
Why is sexual abuse common? Sexual abuse is a means of gratification and satisfaction that stems from two factors. The first factor is the positive feeling that it leaves the perpetrator with and the second factor is the sense of power and control. As can be seen, sexual abuse is entirely different in theory from emotional, physical and verbal abuse. As can be noticed that in all forms of abuse, the most difficult one to tackle is sexual abuse.
Abuse, in any form, does not appear to be a one time story. It is repetitive and often becomes a toxic engagement between a perpetrator and a victim.

Traits of Victims

Undoubtedly, it is important to know the traits of an abuser, but, it is equally imperative to know and be able to identify the traits of a victim as well. Research suggests that both men and women of younger age are more vulnerable to emotional abuse. Here are their main traits:

  • Have low self-esteem
  • Tend to be anxious and insecure
  • Have a submissive personality
  • Are emotionally and financially dependent on others
  • Are excessively tolerant and accommodating
  • Do not maintain healthy boundaries
  • Have a self-blaming attitude
  • Do not stand up for their rights
  • Are non-assertive and have a hard time saying ‘no’

Ways to Handle Abuse

Regardless of the type of abuse under discussion, the first step is for the victim to understand that it is not their fault. It is important for you to distance yourself and not take the responsibility for the incidents. Look at the event as it should be observed rather than how the perpetrator would like it to be observed. Who started this? Was it you? Since it was the perpetrator who started it, so why take the blame for everything that went wrong?
The second important step to managing abuse is communication. Finding someone with whom the incident can be shared without feeling ashamed or humiliated always leads to two things 1) makes you feel lighter and 2) opens a door for a different perspective to a suffocating situation. Talking to another person and confiding in someone actually leads to discovering that many people suffer from abuse in one form or another but do not share it. To an alarming rate, abuse is common and widespread.
Another technique of handling abuse is creating awareness. Particularly for children, it is important to educate them about their bodies and about appropriate behavior. What is acceptable and what is not, children tend to be very perceptive. An early awareness towards abuse can help one tackle abuse effectively. However, for parents it is important to know that keeping your child emotionally close and healthy is one of the best means of protecting them from any sort of abuse. Similarly, in marital relationships, the couple needs to be aware of their own rights and the rights of their partner. It is also healthy to know what differentiates acceptable from unacceptable behavior.
If you are an abuser and find yourself being physically and verbally abusive towards others, what causes that behavior? What makes you want to harm your spouse or hurt them? Do you find yourself displacing your anger on your children? Being abusive in a relationship is not a trait, it is a form of burden that you carry, which is unloaded onto the wrong individual. It can be changed with the right support. Connect with us.
If you are a victim, step up and speak up. It is time you realize that you can manage this. You can tackle this. Do you want to know how to be assertive? Do you wish to know how to beat that anxiety and stand up for yourself? Do you wish to understand how to deal with an abusive parent without being disrespectful towards them? We are here to answer all of your questions.


Niaz, U. (2004). Women’s mental health in Pakistan. World Psychiatry, 3(1), 60–62. Retrieved from PMC1414670
Walker, Lenore E. (1979) The Battered Woman. New York: Harper and Row.