When are Angry Words and Actions Considered Abusive?
Abuse refers to deliberate acts of physical, emotional, or sexual violence that are enacted with the intent to injure, manipulate, exploit, or demean another person. The term encompasses much more than outright physical aggression, and includes the arsenal of control tactics that abusers use to dominate their victims. These maneuvers may involve intimidation, withholding praise or affection, or manipulating the abused to feel dependent upon the abuser and/or wracked with guilt and self-blame.
What are the Categories of Abuse?
Categories of abuse are typically defined according to the type of maltreatment that is committed (e.g. Physical or Sexual Abuse) or the nature of the relationship that exists between the abused and the abuser (e.g. Child Abuse or Intimate Partner Violence). Common classifications of abuse that emphasize the manner of mistreatment include:
- Physical Abuse: Intentional misuse of force with the explicit goal of causing bodily injury or to intimidate (via hitting, punching, burning, scalding, cutting, biting, pinching, holding at gun- or knifepoint, drugging, poisoning, strangling, improper use of restraint, more+)
- Psychological/Emotional Abuse: The use of language (screaming, cursing, criticizing, insulting, threatening, or name-calling) or revoking love (rejection, ignoring or withholding affection, or isolating) to deprive you of your dignity or to make you feel worthless and invalidated
- Sexual Abuse: Any form of sexual contact, advances, or exposure that occurs without your consent (touching, fondling, sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, incest, voyeurism, exhibitionism (frotteurism), or technology use (social media/texting) to disseminate sexual information about you without your permission or for the purposes of blackmailing you to perform sexual acts)
- Exploitation: Profiting from the misappropriation of another individual’s money, property, or labor (particularly in relationships between caregivers and their service recipients)
- Neglect: Purposefully failing to provide for the needs (medical, food, hygiene, shelter, etc.) of a dependent (such as a child, an elder, or a person with a developmental disability), who is in your care
Other classification systems that define abuse underscore the context of the relationship in which the abuse occurred, and may include:
- Child Abuse: the physical, sexual, or emotional abuse of a minor by a parent, relative, or stranger
- Elder Abuse, or Abuse by a Caretaker: the abuse of an elderly person or an individual with a disability by a member of their paid or unpaid support system
- Domestic Violence / Intimate Partner Violence: violence or psychological intimidation that occurs within the context of a marriage (Spousal Abuse) or a relationship
- Hate Crimes: when a victim is singled-out for abuse by an abuser because of their status as a member of a particular religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.
What are the Signs & Symptoms of Abuse?
One of the terrible legacies of being abused is that emotional damage of having been mistreated tends to linger—long after the abuse has ended and the visible wounds have healed. Physical and psychological indicators of abuse may include:
- Physical injuries, including bruises, cuts, scrapes, broken bones, open wounds, burns, and more+
- Panic Attacks
- Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, including hypervigilance, flashbacks, anxiety, or mood disturbances (such as depression or unpredictable outbursts of anger)
- Chronic feelings of guilt, anger, shame, self-blame, worthlessness, hopelessness, or emptiness
- Feeling as though you’re “walking on eggshells”—even in safe situations
- Engaging in compensatory, self-destructive, or risky behaviors (including substance abuse, sexual promiscuity, self-injury, or disordered eating habits) as a coping mechanism to soothe negative emotions
- Social withdrawal
- Dissociative symptoms: experiencing an out-of-body, disconnected, or numbing sensation that occurs during or immediately following the abuse
- Experiencing trust issues or a fear of abandonment in romantic or social relationships
- Difficulties with achieving emotional or sexual intimacy
- Suicidal Ideation
How Can Counseling & Therapy for Abuse Recovery Help Me?
Although the psychological effects of abuse can be long-lasting—healing from trauma is both possible and attainable!
After ensuring your safety, your therapist will assist you to:
- Identify situations that qualify as abuse and break free from cycles of seeking out abusive relationships and friendships
- Manage complex emotions, including feelings of depression, futility, worthlessness, guilt, disgust, or rage; or intrusive flashbacks—memories in which you relive the traumatic event in vivid detail
- Develop constructive strategies to cope with negative emotions and receive treatment for destructive habits (substance abuse, sexual addiction, eating disorders, and more+)
- Regain the ability to trust and form meaningful emotional and sexual connections in your romantic relationships
- Equip you with innovative techniques for self-soothing, including mindfulness, meditation, equine therapy, expressive arts as therapy, or psychotherapeutic yoga
- Participate in group therapy services to connect you with other abuse survivors