Understanding The Different Types Of Abuse - SACAP
Applied Psychology

Understanding the Different Types of Abuse

Nov 30, 2021 | By Saranne Durham
Understanding the Different Types of Abuse - SACAP

Domestic abuse, also known as intimate partner abuse, manifests in many ways. Not all types of abuse in relationships are obvious. Some of the most destructive and insidious abuse creeps in slowly. It often goes unnoticed for a long time. Or is easily dismissed or excused by the perpetrator, the person being abused and those around them. Then like the proverbial frog in a pot of water, it’s at a boiling crisis point before anyone notices. And when it is noticed, for most it seemingly came out of “nowhere”.

Understanding some of the dynamics of abuse, within intimate relationships, can help us identify when it’s taking place. Better understanding will also enable you to assist someone in a helpful way, without causing further harm or trauma.

Who gets Abused?

Perpetrators of abuse and their victims come from all walks of life. They can be men or women. Old or young. Highly educated or illiterate. Domestic violence usually happens within the context of intimate, interdependent and longer-term types of relationships. Thus, most often within a family context. There is no formula to figure out who is or is not likely to abuse or become victims of abuse. In some cases, there may have been “red flags”, but in others it couldn’t have been foreseen.

What is Abuse?

Abuse is behaving in a manner that causes harm, physically, mentally and/or emotionally, to someone else. It is traumatic and often has both immediate and longer-term consequences for the victim. Most people are aware of physical abuse, as it tends towards being more obvious than non-physical forms of abuse. For many people, it is also usually easier to understand as inherently harmful and unacceptable. Regardless of the type, the common roots of all forms of abuse are control and power. Furthermore, abusers can be intentionally plan or subconsciously carry out abuse.

There are various types of abuse within intimate relationships. The grouping together or the classification of abusive behaviours sometimes differs. These are 10 examples and how they play out within a relationship.

10 Different Types of Abuse

1. Verbal

Results in causing emotional harm. It can also cause someone to question who they are as well as their worth and capability. It can take place through insults or calling names, undue blame, unjustifiable criticism, humiliation, shaming, belittling, cursing or degrading language.

2. Emotional

Impacts how someone feels about themselves and the world around them, and as a result, wears down self-worth and confidence. As well as mental and emotional strength. This could be achieved through degradation, causing unjustified fear, isolation, yelling, belittling, cohesion and gaslighting.

3. Psychological

Affects what a victim thinks, by distorting reality thereby affecting cognitive capacity and/or resulting in mental trauma. This can be accomplished through deprivation, abandonment, threats, deceit, over-dependence, indifference, ignoring and gaslighting. As well as use of manipulative social and verbal tactics to control a victim’s thinking.

4. Reactive

An inability by the perpetrator to deal with bad moods, stress and minor or major frustrations which results in tantrums. These could result in verbal, emotional and physical abuse, gaslighting, destruction of property, abandonment and ignoring.

5. Controlling

Not allowing autonomy by dictating the do’s and don’ts of everyday life. Such as restricting or regulating interactions with others and attendance of social events. As well as stipulating dress codes, what foods are permitted and what is expected, appropriate or allowed behaviour. In doing so, the lines of agency become blurred and the victims start to internalise or believe that these are decisions of their own.

6. Physical

  • Bodily Harm: Bruising, scratching, biting, cutting, breaking bones, burning, choking, hair-pulling
  • Sexual: forcing someone to participate in any non-consensual sexual activity
  • Bullying: Overpowering, intimidation, inciting others to pick on someone

7. Neglect

Ignoring or restricting medical access, withholding emotional or physical care and support. As well as preventing access to basic necessities like food, water and heating.

8. Financial

Restricting financial independence. Preventing the other from accessing benefits, money or assets. Not allowing someone access to financial information or deliberately impacting their credit score. Hurting them so that they cannot go to work or not allowing them to have a job.

9. Digital

Excessive texting, restricting, monitoring or unsolicited tracking or cloning of phones, computers or tablets. Using a social media platform to troll, harass, run down, intimidate, humiliate, coerce or stalk someone. This is also known as cyber-bullying. Demanding passwords and reviewing communication such as emails, texts and phone calls.

10. Stalking

Watching, following, harassing someone such that they feel threatened or fearful. Monitoring activities or continuous “checking in”, including excessive messaging or calling.

Why does Domestic Abuse Happen?

Abuse happens when there is an unhealthy imbalance in the power dynamic within a relationship. In simple terms, power dynamics involves the perceived value of each partner and the relational behaviour that results from this valuation. For example, if a person perceives their partner to be of value, they will treat them with respect and honour.

Domestic abuse can be both intentional and planned, or unintentional and subconsciously directed. Intimate partner violence can also be perceived as a “normal” part of a relationship or normalised as personal traits. Social issues such as toxic masculinity, gender inequality and generational trauma contribute to the prevalence of domestic abuse. Therefore, someone may not even be aware that they are a perpetrator or a victim of abuse.

8 Common Attitudes held by Abusers:

  1. A low tolerance to being hurt or disrespected and a high tolerance of aggression.
  2. Lack or diminished understanding of empathy; despite claiming that they have a good understanding of others feelings.
  3. The belief that their lives should be prioritised above everything and everybody else.
  4. Feeling entitled to behave any way they choose to.
  5. Blaming others or situations, instead of taking responsibility for their behaviour and actions.
  6. Behaviour seen as “normal” due to growing up in an abusive household or one with toxic family dynamics.
  7. Perpetuation of negative gender stereotypes and roles.
  8. Believing that they can get away with their behaviour or are protected by their social reputation/ status.

None of these attitudes make abusive behaviour acceptable or excusable. Abuse is a choice. Individuals can choose to abuse or not abuse others.

How does it Evolve?

In many cases there aren’t indications that a relationship will become abusive. But there are some generalisations that can be made of relationships which evolve into an abusive one. As well as how it unfolds. One of the generalisations is that the relationship tends to be more intense than usual, also known as love bombing. From the outside it often seems like a whirlwind romance, as the couple rush through relationship milestones. For example: meeting each other, exclusive dating, saying “I love you”, moving in together or marriage. Within this context the abuse goes unnoticed and thereafter escalates as it moves through quite distinctive stages.

Stages of Abuse

  • 1st Stage: Seduce, charm, flattery, without a hint of violence, anger or control. Thereby creating a loving and trusting environment.
  • 2nd Stage: Isolation, for example: Moving away from familiar surroundings, friends and family or dictating interactions with others.
  • 3rd Stage: Introduction of abusive behaviour and assessment of reaction.
  • 4th Stage: Start of and continuation of abuse. Which can become more frequent as time goes by.

In relationships where the abuse is physical, the final and fifth stage could be death. In over 70% of cases this only happens once the victim ends the relationship. This makes leaving an abuser very dangerous and most victims are acutely aware of this. Leslie Morgan Steiner, a domestic abuse survivor, openly shares her story of abuse in a TED talk called: Crazy Love.

Why do the Abused stay silent?

Signs of intimate partner violence are usually difficult to detect from the outside. And can be even harder for those on the receiving end to recognise. Many victims aren’t aware of the signs of abuse or even that they are being abused.

Many victims are in denial of the violent nature of the relationship, reminding themselves of the good times experienced in the 1st stage of love bombing. 

Furthermore, the slow erosion of mental capacity and emotional strength as well as physical health takes its toll on the abused. Thereby convincing themselves that they are the problem, which further masks the situation for what it really is, or prevents them from being able to leave.

Many victims stay because they fear the escalation of physical violence will spill over to their loved ones who try to assist or support them. Paradoxically, many victims leave for the very same reason, being able to see that the problem is bigger than them, and the solution cannot be theirs alone to shoulder.

Common Reasons Victims Stay

  • Shame of being an abuse victim in addition to the stigma.
  • Thinking that no one will believe them.
  • Believing that the person will change.
  • The perpetrator exhibits mostly good behaviour and during this time is the “perfect” partner.
  • They believe they are to blame for the perpetrator’s behaviour.
  • Don’t have a way to protect or support themselves [and children] if they leave.

Where to Get Information and Help

There are a number of organisations that both supply information and extend various services to help victims of abuse. These are some of them:


Organisations that can Help

  • South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG)
  • Life Line
  • Child Line
  • Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children (SBCWC )
  • The Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture (Trauma)
  • TEARS Foundation

How to Help

If you would like to help people recover from abuse then consider a degree in Applied Psychology from SACAP.

Bachelor of Psychology is a professional degree approved by the HPCSA for the education and training of registered counsellors. Graduates of this programme are eligible to sit the National Examination of the Professional Board for Psychology in the Registered Counsellor category. This allows them to register with the HPCSA as Registered Counsellors. As a four-year NQF8 degree programme, the BPsych has a ‘built-in’ Honours equivalent. Successful graduates are eligible to register for a Master’s programme with a view to becoming a psychologist.

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