Abuse comes in many forms – some aggressive, some subtle. Abuse has the potential to have long-lasting effects on a person’s physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. Seeking support through counselling and psychotherapy can be a positive first step in helping you work through – and overcome – those effects.
We offer a brief description of the most common types of abuse:
Domestic violence can include acts of physical, sexual, emotional or psychological abuse between people in intimate relationships, regardless of gender, sexuality or ethnicity – and often within families. Domestic violence is defined as any type of behaviour that is deemed to be threatening, aggressive or controlling.
Victims of domestic violence can feel trapped and afraid to speak out. They may experience fear, post-traumatic stress, shame, low self-esteem and lack of confidence. Counselling can be a powerful way of facilitating a safe environment for survivors of domestic violence to begin the process of healing, and to gain a healthier perspective and outlook on life.
Emotional abuse is defined as non-physical behaviour that is designed to control, intimidate, overpower, demean, punish or isolate another person through humiliation or fear. Emotionally abusive behaviour ranges from verbal abuse to more subtle tactics like intimidation, manipulation and refusal to be pleased. Emotional abuse can damage your confidence, leaving you feeling worthless. You may find it hard to make or keep other relationships.
Secrecy and shame often maintain the abuse. It is important to seek help and support to prevent it from becoming rooted. Working with a counsellor or psychotherapist can help you know yourself better, and escape from a cycle of powerlessness. Learning to care for your own needs and to feel entitled to be confident and respected is a good start to being able to claim your own self-esteem.
Neglect is a passive form of abuse where a perpetrator is meant to care for a victim who is unable to care for him or herself – and yet fails to provide adequate care. Neglect can include failure to provide sufficient supervision, nourishment, or medical care, or the failure to fulfil other needs that the victim is helpless to provide for him or herself. Consistent neglect can have long-term effects such as low self-esteem, attention disorders, and violent behaviour. At its extreme, it can even cause death.
Physical abuse is where one person does something to another that causes physical pain. It can include slapping, punching, pushing, biting, kicking, or assaulting someone with an object – causing pain and discomfort on purpose. The psychological effects of physical abuse can run deep, and can cause low self-esteem and low self-confidence, as well as anger, depression, and lack of trust.
Victims of physical abuse can benefit from counselling support to help come to terms with what has happened to them, and to gradually recover a stronger sense of self.
Sexual abuse is the forcing of undesired sexual behaviour by one person upon another. When that force is immediate, of short duration, or infrequent, it is called sexual assault. The offender is referred to as a sexual abuser or molester. The term also covers any behaviour by any adult towards a child to stimulate either the adult or child sexually. When the victim is younger than the age of consent, it is referred to as child sexual abuse.
There are many types of sexual abuse, including:
- Non-consensual, forced physical sexual behaviour (rape and sexual assault).
- Unwelcome touching.
- Inappropriate kissing, stroking, exposure of genitalia, voyeurism and exhibitionism.
- Exposing a child to pornography.
- Making sexually suggestive statements towards a child (child molestation) and non-consensual verbal sexual demands towards an adult.
- The use of a position of trust to compel otherwise unwanted sexual activity without physical force.
- Certain forms of sexual harassment.
It can take years to build up courage to speak about sexual abuse, especially if it happened in childhood. But talking about it with a trained professional can be the first step towards processing the trauma and helping to heal the wounds.