Abuse as a concept is described as the cruel and violent treatment of another person. However, understanding domestic violence and abuse and all of its complexities is far more difficult to define. The term abuse can refer to a large number of behaviors and actions but one characteristic remains the same: the intent of an action is to harm another individual. This harm can be emotional, psychological, or physical in nature, but the impact is severe and affects the victim’s ability to function normally.
The ways in which abuse is categorized can vary depending on the professional with whom you are speaking. The most basic list of categories includes: emotional, psychological, verbal, and physical abuse. None of these is exclusive in its definition as oftentimes the symptoms of one are very similar to the others. For example, someone experiencing physical abuse by way of slapping or hitting is likely also experiencing belittlement with words, restriction of communication with others, and made to feel insignificant or worthless. Subtypes such as neglect and sexual abuse typically find their home in the physical abuse category as both inflict some sort of bodily harm on the victim.
Many who have experienced domestic violence and abuse in any form for long periods of time or from a number of people in their lives have difficulty distinguishing unhealthy relationship patterns and the dangers of prolonged abuse. Since abuse can present in a variety of ways, there is no exact combination of signs to look for in potentially abusive relationships. However, there are several significant red flags that, when present, indicate a closer look may need to be taken to determine whether or not the relationship’s patterns are healthy. If your or someone you know is experiencing the following behaviors or actions, pay close attention as intervention may be necessary.
Are you or is someone you love…
If the answer to several of these questions is yes, it is likely you or your loved one is being abused. Domestic violence or abuse is not consensual. It is a pattern of behaviors used to maintain power and control over someone else. You are not alone! There is help available.
If you know someone who has experiences like these, the most important thing to do is to listen and let the person talk. Assure the person that whatever they share will be kept confidential; you likely already have a level of trust with that individual. Inform them of their options but do not make the decisions for the person – he/she likely experiences that regularly. Be aware of specific places the individual can go for help – know what is available in your community! Shelters, crisis lines, legal advocates, outreach programs, and community agencies are all excellent and easily reachable resources. And last, but most important, be supportive of the victim. They are not at fault for the choices and actions of their abuser.
There has long been a stigma or taboo surrounding the idea of abuse and both its long and short term effects. Many individuals are blamed for the actions of their abusers and often led to believe they are responsible for the maltreatment to which they are exposed. It is the responsibility of communities to increase awareness of abuse and to destigmatize it in a way that allows the victims to feel supported.