Recognizing and understanding abuse can be a tricky path to navigate. Abuse is any behavior or action that is considered to be cruel, violent, or performed with the intent of harming the victim. Many who experience abuse do so in intimate or romantic relationships and are so close to the relationships they may be unaware of the pattern of behaviors that exists. Approximately one-half of all couples will experience at least one violent incident in the in life of the relationship; in one-fourth of these couples, violence is or will be a common occurrence. Domestic violence and abuse is not exclusive to one race, gender, or age group; anyone and everyone can be a victim of abuse.
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.
Effects of abuse
In addition to knowing the signs and the types, it is important to know both the short-term and long-term effects of abuse. Short-term effects can include physical injuries such as bruises, cuts, scrapes, contusions, and broken bones. Other effects can include impaired ability to function (due to injury or emotional impact of the abuse), inability to regulate emotions, isolation from others, and disconnection from the community (friends, family, co-workers, etc.). At times, these effects are temporary and resolve quickly. However, in some cases, particularly if the individual is experiencing consistent and repeated abusive behavior from a spouse or partner, these short-term effects begin to take root and become more long-term. Long-term effects, while similar in definition, are more significant in the ways they impact the individual. Trauma from an abusive relationship can lead to distrust of others, physical health problems, psychological problems such as anxiety or depression, abnormal eating and sleeping habits, and inability to communicate and establish healthy relationships.
What you should do when your loved ones are getting abused
As a friend, a sibling, a parent – what do you do if you see red flags that could indicate your loved one is being abused? Do not be afraid to say something. The person may deny they are the victim of abuse, but asking the right questions and stating observations may make unhealthy relationship habits more obvious. Should you believe the person is being physically or sexually abused, most communities have resources available for men and women who feel unsafe or at risk of further abuse or violence. Domestic violence shelters, community support groups, legal advocates, and outreach programs are a few examples of these resources. However, as previously mentioned, many of these individuals have experienced abuse for so long, it has become a normalized part of life. The danger and risk continued abuse carries may be obvious to you, but it does not make having that conversation with someone you love easier. Look for red flags, stay in contact with the person, and reiterate that you are there to help if it is ever needed. Be aware of the resources available in your community and never be afraid to call emergency services or law enforcement if you truly believe someone to be at immediate risk.
What you should do when you are in an abusive relationship
If you are experiencing characteristics of unhealthy relationships, do not be afraid to ask for help. Be sure to have a trusted friend or family member on whom you can rely. It is not weak or embarrassing to ask for help when you need it. And trust your instincts! If you feel uneasy about going home or fearful of your spouse or partner, take steps to ensure your safety. This could include having a friend with you upon returning home so you are not alone, or, in severe circumstances, going to the home of a loved one or to a domestic violence shelter rather than going home. Above all else, know you are not alone! If you are experiencing the characteristics of abuse, there are those who can help and support you. While reaching out can seem like an impossible and perhaps dangerous task, know there is help ready and waiting for you.