Abuse (Physical, Sexual & Emotional)

ABUSE (PHYSICAL, SEXUAL AND EMOTIONAL)

Any action that purposefully causes harm, upset or injury or violates an individual’s human or civil rights is defined as abuse. In others words, when someone intentionally harms another in any way, s/he is committing abuse. Abuse can take different forms and impact severely on someone’s mental health and wellbeing with long lasting effects. Everyone is vulnerable to abuse regardless of sex, gender, age, ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status or cultural identity.

Types of abuse

Physical abuse

Any non-accidental act or behaviour that results in physical harm, injury, pain or impairment is characterised as ‘physical abuse’. Examples of physically abusive behaviours include but not limited to:

  • Shaking (particularly babies/children)
  • Physical restraint that can cause harm or injury
  • Pushing
  • Kicking, slapping, punching, pinching, cutting, chocking
  • Beating, whipping
  • Being stabbed or shot
  • Involuntary confinement
  • Burning
  • Withholding of food, force-feeding or medical attention
  • Being denied sleep
  • Medication misuse (e.g., over-sedation)
  • Poisoning

Neglect is also a type of physical abuse in which the abusive person is often a caregiver for someone vulnerable who cannot care for him/herself, and this caregiver fails to provide the expected care due to unwillingness, indifference or carelessness.  Examples of neglect include, insufficient supervision, nourishment and medical care.

Signs of physical abuse

Signs of physical abuse can vary and they can range from bruises and bite-marks to frequent broken bones, chronic injuries and scarring. There are also emotional/behavioural signs of physical abuse such as:

  • Sudden withdrawal
  • Sleeping problems
  • Self-harming
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Eating problems
  • Increased anxiety or panic
  • Bedwetting or soiling (in children)                                                                                                                   

Sexual abuse

Any type of sexual activity that is forced or unwanted is sexual abuse. It refers to any sexual contact against one’s will and without consent. It can happen to anyone, at any stage of his/her life, regardless of sex, gender, age, social status, race and ethnicity. It can severely affect one’s mental health and emotional/physical well-being.

Types of sexual abuse

There are different types of sexual abuse. Some sexual abuse survivors might not recognize that they have experienced sexual abuse unless they become educated about the different forms of this act. Any type of sexual act or contact that was not consensual is considered as sexual abuse, such as:

  • Indecent phone calls
  • Sexting
  • Exhibitionism
  • Voyeurism
  • Sexual harassment
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Inappropriate touching or fondling
  • Attempted rape
  • Rape – both by a person known or unknown to you
  • Date rape
  • Incest
  • Child sexual abuse
  • Female genital mutilation

There is no right or wrong way to feel about sexual abuse. If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, you might be experiencing some or all of the following emotions:

Numbness – Feeling numb can be a response to the shock and trauma of the sexual abuse experience. Feeling strangely calm or not being able to process what has taken place can be a sign of numbness.

Guilt – Assigning blame to yourself (e.g., it was my fault), even though it was not.

Anger – Feeling angry towards the perpetrator or even yourself is not uncommon

Shame – Feeling ashamed and embarrassed about what happened, even though it was not within your control and your fault.

Depression – Feeling low, hopeless as if life has no meaning or there is nothing to look forward to.

Anxiety – Avoiding normal, day-to-day activities due to increased anxiety levels, such as going out alone.

Sexual drive – Attitude towards sex might be affected or changed as a result of what happened (e.g., increased sexual drive or complete lack of it).

Emotional/psychological abuse

Emotional abuse, also known as psychological abuse, is any kind of treatment that diminishes one’s self-worth, dignity, and sense of identity through the means of, for example, verbal aggression, intimidation, infantalisation and humiliation. It refers to any behaviour that legitimizes someone to control or exercise power over another individual.

Emotional abuse can affect anyone, at any stage in his/her life and can occur in any kind of relationship (e.g., friendship, colleagues, partners, family and couples).

Emotional abuse, as opposed to other types of abuse, is not visible hence it might be difficult to identify. However, it can be highly damaging to one’s mental health and emotional well-being with long lasting effects such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, withdrawal, suicidality and personality changes.

Types of emotional abuse include but are not limited to:

  • Threats of violence or abandonment
  • Yelling or swearing
  • Name calling or insults; mocking
  • Threats and intimidation
  • Ignoring or excluding
  • Socially isolating an individual
  • Humiliating
  • Denial of the abuse and blaming of the victim
  • Criticism
  • Gaslighting
  • Undermining
  • Guilt tripping
  • Withholding affection, sex, or money
  • Belittling
  • Lying
  • Controlling behaviour
  • Infantalising (treating someone like a child)

Effects of abuse

All forms of abuse could have long-term effects. If the abuse happened during childhood, mental health difficulties such as anxiety, depression, OCD, suicidal thoughts and eating disorders could develop along with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and low self-esteem. In addition, substance misuse as a coping mechanism to the trauma caused by the abuse could also develop along with personality challenges and dissociation issues, depending on the severity and the form of the abuse.

Finally, as individuals who have been abused could develop difficulties around trusting others, be incapable of maintaining close relationships and experience conflicting emotions towards the abuser since the abusers are or have usually been close to them (e.g., parents, caregivers, siblings, extended family members or partners).