There are 6 primary forms of abuse. This blog post will briefly explore each one and shed light on how it is used by an abuser to maintain power in a relationship.
Abuse is intended to create a control and power imbalance in your relationship. Abuse creates an environment of mistrust, tension, violence, and chaos. We hear all the time about physical abuse. I stayed in my marriage for years because he never hit me. I didn’t realize that abuse almost always begins verbally and emotionally.
Abuse is used to break the victim down. It is purposely used to hurt you, keep power over you, and make it impossible for you to leave. Abusers don’t abuse all the time. They can go hours, days, weeks, months, and my case even a year before they choose to abuse again. During the ‘non-abusive’ times, they are often charming, kind, and engaged or, at least, they seem to be. This phase is sometimes called the ‘honeymoon’ phase however, the abuse hasn’t stopped. The abuser is simply using manipulative kindness to maintain control and is also using forms of abuse that are not physical.
Emotional abuse is where abuse begins in a relationship. Emotional abuse is how the abuser establishes his right to be in control. He decides what is expected in the relationship and how you should behave and what you should think. Emotional abuse draws the parameters of the relationship; what will be tolerated and what will not. The abuser sets the tone of the relationship and maintains power and control in all areas of their lives.
This sets him up to get his needs met by you. He uses threats, guilt, shame, humiliation, teasing, and other forms of non-physical violence to control you. Once he has power and control over you in the relationship, he is positioned to manipulate and abuse without being held to account.
All forms of abuse include, to one degree or another, emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is often considered worse, more painful, and long-lasting than physical abuse. Emotional abuse impacts the victims long term mental and physical health as they try to recover a sense of self, self-esteem, and autonomy once they are away from the abuser. An emotional abuser will stop at nothing to control his victim.
Verbal Abuse is added in pretty quickly to an abusive relationship. Verbal violence often goes hand in hand with emotional violence. Abusers use words to break you down, change your mind, make you give up, and believe the lies that are told to you and about you. It is wielded like a sharp sword directly at your deepest hurts. It causes open wounds to your soul that is long-lasting and difficult to heal from.
Verbal abuse is insidious. It creeps in first with comments that are explainable, words that seem innocent, and even loving but are manipulatively calculated to control you. It is similar to being boiled like the proverbial frog who doesn’t realize its danger until its too late.
The abuser will call you names, discount your ideas, deflect, blame, undermine you, threaten you, and demand that you look after their needs above your own. They control the conversation, minimize your concerns, and even outright deny how they are hurting you.
Verbal abuse is designed to make you doubt everything you know about yourself. The abuser loves you and cares for you so their words are confusing while you grasp for ways to rationalize their behavior. The verbal abuser is a bully and having to constantly defend or explain your beliefs, actions, words, thoughts, and opinions is exhausting. Verbal abuse is as harmful and painful as physical battering, he just uses his words instead of his fists.
Financial abuse is a very effective method of control. Financial abuse is an integral part of any abusive relationship and is experienced in 95% of all abusive relationships. Financial or economic abuse happens when one partner controls access to money, checks, or credit cards. Finances are already a huge stressor for most relationships, but in an abusive relationship, it is a vital form of control.
Financial abuse makes it easier to control another person’s actions. The abused partner may have to ask for and defend every single penny they spend. Requiring financial accountability, however, is only directed at one partner and does not apply to the abusive partner who often spends whatever and whenever they want to.
Financial control enables the abuser to do whatever he wants without being easily caught or held accountable. A financial abuser will take your money, put you on a strict allowance, prevent you from working or going to school. They may run up debt in your name, require to sign financial agreements, leave you off of important paperwork, or even refuse to work themselves so you have to be the sole provider.
They will force you to make financial decisions and then blame you for making those choices. They will accuse you of stealing. They won’t let you get a job and if you do, then you have to pay for all your household expenses. Financial abuse in abusive relationships is the leading cause of female and child homelessness. Financial abuse keeps the victim tied to the abuser as they can see no way of getting out or supporting themselves once they leave.
Spiritual abuse is an attack on a victim’s spiritual life, beliefs, sense of morality, and values. An abuser will use scripture and holy writings to back up what they are demanding from their partner. He will manipulate not only the holy writings of her religion but also her religious community.
He sets high moral or spiritual expectations and then abuses her when she cannot meet those expectations. He’ll tell her she must suffer for Christ, submit to her husband in all things, remain quiet and meek. She’ll be told to forgive and forget, pray for her partner and try harder to be a better wife to save her marriage.
He will go to great lengths to befriend the pastor and elders, bishops, rabbi’s and leaders of their religious community. He can then control the public opinion of his partner by manipulating what her community thinks about her thus beginning the smear campaign. The smear campaign sets the community up to turn against her if she tries to ask for help. Spiritual abuse slowly undermines her relationships and reputation within the community therefore essentially cutting her off from any spiritual support she may have had.
Spiritual abusers and enablers believe that every marriage should and can be saved. They believe that abuse is not a valid reason to seek a divorce but may require a time of separation for safety reasons only. The victim feels shame, and guilt because they cannot fix their marriage or relationship and this may lead to them staying in a dangerous situation longer than they should.
Sexual abuse is very difficult to talk about even though Sexual abuse happens often within dating and marriage relationships. Sexual abuse takes place whenever one partner pressures or coerces the other partner to participate in any unwanted sexual activity. A marriage license does not take away an individual’s right to bodily autonomy, or their right to consent.
Marital assault and rape is a reality that many people within religious settings try to deny. However, if a partner is forced to participate in any sexual act without their consent, regardless of marital status, it is assault or rape. Even though marriage should be a safe relationship, it often is not when one person is abusing the other. An abuser sees it as a relationship of ownership. He owns you, your body, and your soul (he thinks). He will cross all boundaries to get his needs met while he disregards yours.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, there are three types of marital rape:
- Battering rape – battering rape occurs when physical and sexual violence occurs together. Victims may experience physical and sexual violence at the same time or one may occur after another. The rape may occur after physical violence as an attempt to “make up.”
- Force-only rape – this type of rape happens when physical violence is not present. As with all rape, this type of spousal rape is spurred by a desire to exert power and control over another person. This desire manifests in acting as if sex is an entitlement to one party from another.
- Obsessive/Sadistic rape – obsessive or sadistic rape is rape that involves torture or perverse sexual acts. This type of marital rape tends to be very violent and result in physical injuries.
Other forms of sexual abuse and assault can include the following:
- Unwanted touching
- Demanding sex
- Forcing sex
- Name-calling with sexual epithets
- Demanding sex after a violent incident
- Forcing you to engage in prostitution or pornography
- Forcing you to have sex with others besides your partner
- Insisting on anything sexual that frightens or hurts you
- Refusing to use safe sex practices
- Preventing you from using birth control
- Controlling your decisions about pregnancy and/or abortion
- Withholding sex as a form of control
- Videotaping or photographing sexual acts and posting it without your permission
- Alleging that you have a history of prostitution on legal papers
- Telling you that “as a matter of law” in the United States that you must continue to have sex with him whenever he wants until you are divorced.
We don’t like to talk about marital sexual abuse, but we need to understand so we can help ensure the safety of victims.
Physical abuse is sometimes but not always obvious, and unfortunately, the one kind of abuse that is the most recognized in our society because it is the one that leaves physical, noticeable bruises, wounds, and scars. Few abusers start a relationship by hitting their partner. Most people run away from a relationship with that person if that were the case. Abusers must get a victim to accept the other forms of abuse, creating trauma bonds, and reliance on the abuser before they can safely begin to physically abuse their victim.
Physical abuse often begins, not with hitting and punching, but with physical intimidation. Flipping a table in anger, blocking you from leaving the room, throwing something at you, or punching the wall next to your head are all forms of physical intimidation. Quickly enough, physical intimidation can lead to physical assault. A push, a slap, a punch, or a beating is accompanied by verbal and emotional abuse as well as guilt, shame, and blame.
Studies show that once an abuser verbally threatens to kill his partner, places his hands around her neck, or intimidates her with a weapon, her risk of being murdered increases dangerously. If a victim has experienced any of these forms of physical violence she must reach out for help. A conversation with the national domestic violence hotline is a first step to making a plan that will keep you safe. In the USA (800.799.SAFE (7233) or http://www.thehotline.org)
Even though an individual may exhibit an abusive behavior once, it does not make them an abuser. Abuse is an ongoing pattern of intimidation, coercive control, and manipulation that helps one partner maintain the primary control and power in a relationship. It is a continuum of behaviors that often escalates over time, getting worse and more dangerous until the abuser changes his belief system, the victim leaves or is murdered.
This blog is a brief overview of the 6 primary forms of domestic abuse. It is important to understand that there are many ways that an abuser carries out each of these forms of abuse. The abuser’s goal is to maintain power and control over his victim and he feels entitled to reach that goal in whatever way he chooses. Abuse is never the victim’s fault and speaking up to break your isolation is the first step to finding safety, security, and peace.