There are different types of domestic abuse, including emotional, physical, sexual, and economic abuse. Many abusers behave in ways that include more than one type of domestic abuse, and the boundaries between some of these behaviors may overlap.
Emotional or psychological abuse
Emotional or psychological abuse can be verbal or nonverbal. Its aim is to chip away at your feelings of self-worth and independence. If you’re the victim of emotional abuse, you may feel that there is no way out of the relationship, or that without your abusive partner you have nothing. Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse such as yelling, name-calling, blaming, and shaming. Isolation, intimidation, and controlling behavior also fall under emotional abuse. Additionally, abusers who use emotional or psychological abuse often throw in threats of physical violence.
You may think that physical abuse is far worse than emotional abuse, since physical violence can send you to the hospital and leave you with scars. But, the scars of emotional abuse are very real, and they run deep. In fact, emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse-sometimes even more so. Furthermore, emotional abuse usually worsens over time, often escalating to physical battery.
When people talk about domestic violence, they are often referring to the physical abuse of a spouse or intimate partner. Physical abuse is the use of physical force against someone in a way that injures or endangers that person. There’s a broad range of behaviors that come under the heading of physical abuse, including hitting, grabbing, choking, throwing things, and assault with a weapon.
Physical assault or battering is a crime, whether it occurs inside or outside of the family. The police have the power and authority to protect you from physical attack.
Sexual abuse is common in abusive relationships. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, between one-third and one-half of all battered women are raped by their partners at least once during their relationship. Any situation in which you are forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity is sexual abuse. Forced sex, even by a spouse or intimate partner with whom you also have consensual sex, is an act of aggression and violence. Furthermore, women whose partners abuse them physically and sexually are at a higher risk of being seriously injured or killed.
Economic or financial abuse
Remember, an abuser’s goal is to control you, and he will frequently hurt you to do that. In addition to hurting you emotionally and physically, an abusive partner may also hurt you in the pocketbook. Economic of financial abuse includes:
- Controlling the finances.
- Withholding money or credit cards.
- Giving you an allowance.
- Making you account for every penny you spend.
- Stealing from you or taking your money.
- Exploiting your assets for personal gain.
- Withholding basic necessities (food, clothes, medications, shelter).
- Preventing you from working or choosing your own career.
- Sabotaging your job (making you miss work, calling constantly)
Related links for domestic abuse and violence
Domestic violence hotlines and help
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) – A crisis intervention and referral phone line for domestic violence. (Texas Council on Family Violence)
State Coalition List – Directory of state offices that can help you find local support, shelter, and free or low-cost legal services. Includes all U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence)
Abusive relationships and domestic violence
Domestic Violence Awareness Handbook – Guide to domestic violence covers common myths, what to say to a victim, and what communities can do about the problem. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
Domestic Violence: The Cycle of Violence – Learn about the cycle of violence common to abusive relationships. (Mid-Valley Women’s Crisis Service)
Warning signs and symptoms of domestic violence and abuse
The Problem – Offers a checklist of behaviors and feelings that will help you assess whether you are in an abusive relationship. (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence)
Domestic Violence Warning Signs – Describes common warning signs that a woman is being emotionally abused or beaten. (Safe Place, Michigan State University)
Intimate Partner Abuse Against Men – Learn about domestic violence against men, including homosexual partner abuse, sexual abuse of boys and male teenagers, and abuse by wives or partners. (National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, Canada)
For gay men and women
Abuse in Same-Sex Relationships – Describes myths about same-sex abuse; unique problems of the victims of same-sex abuse; and what society and professionals can do to help. (Education Wife Assault)
For immigrant women
Dating Violence – Guide to teen dating violence, including early warning signs that your boyfriend or girlfriend may become abusive. (The Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence)
Teens: Love Doesn’t Have To Hurt (PDF) – A teen-friendly guide to what abuse looks like in dating relationships and how to do something about it. (American Psychological Association)
Delving deeper into domestic violence and abuse
Violence Against Women – Domestic violence resource provided by the federal. Includes a list of state resources and a fact sheet on identifying abuse. (The National Women’s Health Information Center)
Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse – Electronic clearinghouse of information about domestic violence and abuse, including a searchable online library of articles.
Pat Davies, Melinda Smith, M.A., Tina de Benedictis, Ph.D., Jaelline Jaffe, Ph.D., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., contributed to this article.