Four Types of Abuse

Abuse in many forms and contexts is illegal. In this article, we’ll define the term “abuse” and discuss four of its types: emotional abuse, verbal abuse, financial abuse, and physical abuse. 

Key Takeaways

  • Abuse is an action that intentionally causes harm or injury to another person
  • Emotional abuse is intentionally causing anguish, distress, or intimidation through non-physical acts and includes actions such as harassment, bullying, coercion, and more
  • Verbal abuse is a form of emotional abuse in which the abuser uses words and speech, including name-calling, condescension, manipulation, threats, and more
  • Financial abuse is the use of tactics to limit a victim’s access to resources in order to intentionally manipulate, threaten, and intimidate them, including actions like controlling how shared resources are spent, forbidding the victim from working, and more
  • Physical abuse is violent behavior that results in bodily injury to another person including actions like kicking, hitting, choking, burning, and more

What Is Abuse?

Abuse is an action that intentionally causes harm or injury to another person. It is also possible to abuse a non-human thing such as a process or a substance. 

There are several different types of abuse including physical abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, financial abuse, child abuse, nursing home abuse, and more. 

What Is Emotional Abuse? 

Emotional abuse is the intentional infliction of anguish, distress, or intimidation through non-physical acts. This category of abuse has much overlap with psychological and mental abuse. Emotional abuse can occur in a variety of interpersonal relationships including parent-child, romantic, and professional ones. 

Acts that comprise emotional abuse include:

  • Coercion
  • Harassment
  • Isolation 
  • Bullying 
  • Gaslighting 

Long-term consequences of emotional abuse include:

  • Confusion
  • Fear
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low confidence
  • Nightmares
  • Aches
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Social withdrawal

What Is Verbal Abuse?

Verbal abuse is a specific type of emotional abuse in which the abuser uses words and speech as their main vehicle of abuse. Verbal abuse can occur in any type of relationship and can progress toward other kinds of emotional and even physical abuse. 

Common types of verbal abuse include:

  • Discounting, or denying a person’s rights to their own thoughts, emotions, or experiences, usually involving repetitively dismissing someone’s feelings
  • Gaslighting, or denying events such that the victim begins to think that they are losing their memory or their mind
  • Judging
  • Blaming
  • Name-calling 
  • Condescension
  • Manipulation
  • Threats
  • False accusations
  • Trivializing
  • Undermining
  • Denial

What Is Financial Abuse?

Financial abuse includes the use of tactics to conceal information, limit a victim’s access to resources, and reduce access to shared finances in order to intentionally manipulate, threaten, and intimidate a victim such that they are trapped in the relationship. It's a common tactic used by abusers, occurring in 98% of abusive relationships and known to be the number one reason why victims stay in or return to abusive relationships. 

Acts that comprise financial abuse include:

  • Running up large amounts of debt on joint accounts
  • Withholding money or giving “an allowance”
  • Forbidding the victim from working
  • Hiding assets
  • Forcing the victim to write bad checks or file fraudulent tax returns
  • Not including the victim in investment or banking decisions
  • Sabotaging work or employment opportunities
  • Causing the victim to lose their job 
  • Forcing the victim to turn over public benefits
  • Threatening to turn the victim in for “cheating or misusing benefits”
  • Refusing to work or contribute to the family income
  • Filing false insurance claims
  • Not allowing the victim access to bank accounts
  • Stealing the victim’s identity, property, or inheritance
  • Withholding funds for the victim to obtain basic needs such as food and medicine
  • Forbidding the victim from attending job training or advancement opportunities
  • Refusing to pay or evading child support
  • Manipulating the divorce process by drawing it out by hiding or not disclosing assets.
  • Refusing to pay bills and ruining the victims’ credit score
  • Controlling how all of the money is spent
  • Forcing the victim to work in a family business without pay

Financial abuse has numerous short and long-term effects, making it difficult for victims to provide for themselves and preventing them from being able to leave the abusive relationship. Even if they do escape the abuse, victims will often have a difficult time gaining independence, safety, and security in its aftermath. 

What Is Physical Abuse?

Physical abuse is violent behavior that results in bodily injury to another person. It is most often observed in relationships of trust including marriages and families. 

Acts that comprise physical abuse include:

  • Slapping
  • Hitting
  • Kicking
  • Biting
  • Choking
  • Smothering
  • Shoving
  • Dragging
  • Throwing
  • Punching
  • Shaking
  • Burning
  • Cutting
  • Corporal punishment 

In addition to physical injury, effects of physical abuse include:

  • Helplessness
  • Isolation
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Substance abuse problems
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