Abuse

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What is Abuse?

People from all different nationalities, races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, ages, and financial backgrounds can be victims of abuse. Abuse can occur in any type of relationship (romantic, friend,  professional, or family). There is a significant amount of misinformation about abuse. To better understand different types of abuse, a brief list of terms with definitions is provided below:

Abuse is any behavior that is designed to control or put down another human being through the use of fear, humiliation, and/or verbal or physical assaults.

Emotional abuse is any kind of abuse that is emotional rather than physical in nature. It can include verbal abuse and constant criticism as well as subtle tactics, such as intimidation, manipulation or constant disapproval.

Sexual abuse is any unwanted sexual activity in which force, threats, or intimidation is used to take advantage of those who are unable to provide consent.

Neglect is a form of abuse where a caretaker fails to provide needed and appropriate care.

Physical abuse is any intentional act of causing physical pain or injury to another person (e.g. hitting, pushing, kicking).

Gaslighting is the act of engaging in critical behavior as a means of gaining power over someone. This often results with the target of the abuse questioning their reality.

Financial abuse is the use of money or goods (e.g. food, rent, bills) to manipulate, entrap or intimidate another person.

Stalking is a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a person to feel fearful or unsafe.

Patterns of  Abuse

Abuse can take many forms and can look different for each person. General patterns of abusive behavior include blaming, denying, and minimizing.

Blaming

Blaming is an aggressive form of abuse. It can include name-calling, accusing, threatening, and ordering. By attempting to judge or invalidate the recipient, the person who blames undermines the equality and autonomy that are important to healthy relationships. Abuse can also take an indirect form, being disguised as “helping.” Criticizing, offering solutions, analyzing, and questioning another person may be a sincere attempt to help; however, these behaviors may also be an attempt to control or demean rather than help.

Denial

Denial occurs when someone refuses or fails to acknowledge reality by distorting and undermining the recipient’s perceptions of their world. For example, if the recipient confronts their abuser about an incident of name calling, their abuser may insist, “I never said that,” or “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Withholding (also known as the silent treatment) is another form of denying and includes refusing to listen, refusing to communicate, and emotionally withdrawing as punishment.

Minimization

Minimizing is a less extreme form of denial. When minimizing, the person who abuses may not deny that a particular event occurred but question the recipient’s emotional experience or reaction to an event. Statements such as “You’re too sensitive,” or “You’re exaggerating,” or “You’re blowing this out of proportion.” all suggest that the recipient’s emotions and perceptions are faulty and not to be trusted.

The Cycle of  Abuse in Relationships

Recipients of abuse often struggle with feelings of powerlessness, hurt, fear, and anger. No experience of abuse looks the same; however, there are many reports of people experiencing abuse in a cycle. The following cycle could occur in one day or over the course of several weeks or months. The following is a depiction of the cycle of abuse.

Phase One—Tension Building: The first phase of abuse is characterized by strain in the relationship over a variety of different concerns. The person who is abused often feels the need to appease the person who abuses during this phase

Phase Two—Incident of Abuse: This stage is characterized by an incident of abuse. This could occur in one or more forms of the abuse depicted at the beginning of this brochure.

Phase Three—Honeymoon Period: During this stage, the person who abuses will often apologize, provide gifts or show remorse to the person who is abused.

Phase Four—Calm Period: After the Honeymoon Period, no abuse takes place, the relationship returns to a stage of ‘normalcy,’ where both parties experience a relative calm in the relationship. After the cycle of abuse reaches phase four, it often begins again at phase one. As with most cycles, it is very difficult to end the cycle of abuse. Therefore, gaining professional support through mental health counseling can be beneficial.

Effects of  Abuse

  • Despite the common misconception that physical abuse is more harmful than other types of abuse, all forms of abuse can be damaging; no one form of abuse is more harmful than another. Below are some effects of abuse that can be seen over time.
  • The invalidation of reality, feelings, and experiences can cause decreased self-esteem and create continuous conflict. Abuse can eventually lead the recipient of abuse to question and mistrust their own perceptions and emotional experiences.
  • Abuse has been linked to depression and lower self-esteem. Many who have experienced psychological abuse will continue to experience emotional distress over the lifespan.
  • Research has shown that men and women differ in the coping mechanisms used to respond to abuse. Men may be more likely to respond with externalized behaviors such as substance abuse, while women are far more likely to experience continued fear and health effects. However, both have an increased likelihood of experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is important to note, children who are gender non-conforming are more likely to have experienced abuse as children. The rates of PTSD in gender non-conforming children are much higher than their gender conforming peers.
  • Vicarious victimization may occur in children if they are exposed to violence against a parent or another caregiver. These effects can have effects on psychological and physical well-being of the child in short and long-term.

Next Steps:

Survivors of abuse should be empowered to make their own decisions about steps and reporting their abuse to authorities. There are many resources available to survivors. It is important that survivors of abuse choose what resources that feel will best assist them in their journey toward recovery.

  • Seek medical attention. Seeking medical attention from a trusted primary care provider or from a hospital can be beneficial for physical health.
  • Seek support from a mental health provider. Engaging in therapy services can be beneficial for survivors of abuse. Therapy can help the survivor sort through difficult emotions and set future goals.
  • Get connected to local resources. Many communities have resources such as a rape crisis center, victim advocacy center or domestic violence shelter. These centers can assist survivors in getting connected to professionals trained in working with abuse.
  • Report the instance of abuse. Reporting abuse to a university Title IX office or police department can be beneficial for some survivors to experience closure. These two entities will investigate the abuse and aide in any potential repercussions towards the person who abused.
  • Research online resources. Engaging in research about abuse, the cycle of abuse and typical symptoms that can occur after abuse can be beneficial for survivors to better understand their experiences.
  • Reach out to your support system. Talking to trusted friends, family, partners, or colleagues can be beneficial. Survivors may find it beneficial to talk to their support system about their trauma or engage in conversations about common interests or recent events in their life. No matter the topic of conversation, it can be beneficial to engage in conversations with a trusted individual.

Want to Know More?

Doherty, D., Berglund, D. (2008). Psychological abuse: A discussion paper. Ottawa, Canada: Public Health Agency of Canada.

Fairweather, L. (2012). Stop signs: Recognizing, avoiding, and escaping abusive relationships. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.

Herman, J. (2015). Trauma and recovery, Perseus Book Group: New York.

Roberts, A. L., Rosario, M., Corliss, H. L., Koenen, K. C., & Austin, S. B. (2012). Childhood gender nonconformity: A risk indicator for childhood
abuse and posttraumatic stress in youth. Pediatrics, 129(3), 410-417.

Psychology Today: psychologytoday.com/us
This website includes interesting articles written by renowned psychologists, academics, psychiatrists and writers regarding psychology and mental health. This site can assist you in finding a mental health provider in your area.

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network: rainn.org, 1-800-656-HOPE
The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network is a national organization that provides education, prevention and support to survivors of abuse and interpersonal violence as well as support local sexual assault services across the U.S. RAINN’s website is full of information and articles as a means of educating the public on these issues.

Department of Justice: justice.gov
The United States Department of Justice is dedicated to the enforcing the laws of the United States. In addition, the D.O.J. conducts national studies to better understand the rates and impacts of violence. Their website contains articles to better understand the impact of these crimes.

Get help ASAP

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

 

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