Sometimes understanding something as complex as abuse is difficult. Warning signs can often present in a relationship with no real connection to abusive behavior, and many times abuse is so hidden, it is difficult to identify and treat. In the simplest definition, abuse is the cruel and violent treatment of another person. While the definition seems very clear cut, the term can refer to a large number of behaviors and actions, many of which present at one time or another in most relationships. One characteristic, however, remains the same: the intent of an action is to harm another individual. What this harm can be present in a variety of ways, the impact is usually severe and affects the victim’s normal functioning ability.
Emotional, psychological, verbal, and physical abuse are the primary groups in which abusive behaviors is categorized. The underlying definition or qualifying factors may vary depending on the professional completing the evaluation. This is due in part because the characteristics of each type are often similar or carry over into other categories. For example, a person experiencing physical or sexual abuse from a spouse or partner is likely also experiencing verbal abuse. Some other types of abuse include neglect and sexual abuse; each of these is often considered a subtype of physical abuse based on the similarities they share with the broader category.
Long and short term effects of intimate abuse
The professional and personal knowledge of abuse should not end with warning signs and reds flags. Knowing the short and long term effects of abuse is vital to understanding the appropriate method of approaching treatment. Physical injuries such as bruises, scrapes, cuts, broken bones, and concussions are some of the effects with short-term impairment. Other effects include anything that impairs a person’s ability to function normally (both physical and emotional), a lack of resilience or ability to bounce back after trauma, withdrawing from those around them, and increased resistance to formal treatment. These effects can sometimes be temporary and resolve quickly, but at times these become more long-term in nature impacting the individual on a consistent basis. The risk of these effects is much higher when the individual is experiencing frequent and repeated abuse.
Effects that impact an individual long term are usually similar in characteristic but more severe in their level of impact. The trauma that often results from abusive relationships can lead to a number of long-term consequences such as inability to trust others, physical and mental health concerns, significant changes in eating or sleeping habits, and a lack of healthy communication patterns. Typically, a person’s ability to establish and maintain healthy relationships severely diminishes. Other long term effects can include anxiety attacks, feelings of abandonment, anger, sensitivity to rejection, diminished health (both mentally and physically), an inability to work or function, poor relationships with children or other loved ones, and increased risk of substance abuse.
The effects of abuse are not limited to the initial victim. If children are involved, they can be severely impacted as well, even if they were not the direct recipient of the violence. Children who have been exposed to the abuse of a parent are more likely to:
- Use violence at school or in the community as a reaction to perceived threats
- Attempt suicide
- Use drugs or alcohol
- Commit crimes
- Use violence as a way to cope with low self-esteem, and
- Become abuser in their own relationships.
What can you do to understand and combat the effects of abuse?
When you or someone you love experiences abusive behaviors, it is often difficult to remember that sometimes the most meaningful assistance comes from the one who is willing to listen without judgement; it is the one who supports without bias or opinion. If someone you love has experienced abuse, wait for he/she to be ready to talk about it. When they do, believe what they have to say. Be sure to reiterate confidentiality – it is easy to gain trust and just as easy to lose it if you share what someone has told you in confidence. Make sure you understand and acknowledge what resources may be available in your city; be prepared when someone comes to you for help! Keep in mind, however, that you should always present options and not make the decision for the individual. Do not criticize, judge, or blame the victim as these can come across as aggressive and are often misplaced. More than anything, though, as a bystander it is important to not be fearful of getting involved. Without putting your own safety at risk, use whatever resources you may have available to offer assistance to the victim in need.