Types of Abuse
The first step to stopping domestic violence is recognizing that abuse is occurring and that it can take several different forms.
Physical abuse occurs when the abuse victim is at risk for physical injury. This can take the form of throwing things, hitting, kicking, punching, freezing, burning, restraining, biting, cutting, and/or assault with a weapon. Even withholding a partner's medications is considered a form of physical abuse.
Emotional and psychological abuse is the most common type of abuse, and, contrary to public perception, can actually be the most damaging by having long term effects on the victim's self-esteem. Some examples of emotional abuse might be lying, humiliation, criticism, isolation, threatening, screaming, and coercion.
Sexual abuse, which combines characteristics of emotional and physical abuse, can range from unwanted sexual remarks to sexual assault. Examples of sexual abuse include being forced to give or receive oral sex, masturbate, or engage in sexual intercourse. Unwanted touching, sexual harassment, and voyeurism are also forms of sexual abuse.
Financial abuse is a common method used by the abuser to gain or maintain power and control in the relationship. For example, the abuser may forbid the victim to work, hide assets, force the victim to work without pay or destroy the victim's credit.
Common Characteristics of Abuse
Demonstrated by Victims
Abuse victims often come from traditional family backgrounds involving restrictive gender roles and a belief that the dominant male member of the household should have authority and control over the family. However, they can come from any socioeconomic or cultural background. Abuse victims often demonstrate one or more of the following characteristics:
- A history of exposure to violence
- An appearance of nervousness or anxiety
- Passive and/or submissive behavior
- Behaviors associated with low self-esteem, such as expressing feelings of inferiority to others or failing to stand up for themselves
- Signs of codependency
- Excessive accommodation and tolerance toward other people
- Difficulty setting boundaries and saying "no"
- Demonstration of poor self-image
- Suicidal ideation or attempt to commit suicide
- Unrealistic expectations that their abuser will change without help
- Lack of follow through with directions or follow-up appointments
Demonstrated by Abusers
While abusers are more likely to have a low socioeconomic background and/or be unemployed, like their victims they, too, can come from all walks of life. Abusers may demonstrate at least some of the following characteristics:
- A childhood history of abuse or exposure to violence
- A prior history of abusiveness
- Substance abuse
- Aggressive behavior
- Excessive jealousy
- Low self-esteem
- Symptoms of mental illness
- A childlike need to be nurtured
- Behaviors demonstrating resentment and anger toward their partner
- Possessiveness toward their victim
- Demonstration of seductive, charming, and manipulative behaviors
- Blaming others for their problems
- Fascination with weapons
- Cruelty to animals or children
- Quick involvement in committed relationships (Many abusers know their victims for less than six months before they becoming engaged or beginning cohabitation.)
The Cycle of Abuse
The cycle of abuse, a theory that was developed in 1979 by Lenore Walker, explains the patterns of behavior in an abusive relationship. According to Walker (1979), the abuse cycle has four stages: tension building, acting out, reconciliation, and calm. This cycle will repeat itself until the victim leaves the relationship and becomes a survivor.
1. Tension Building
In the first stage of the cycle, stress and daily pressures build up in daily life. During this time the abuser may feel ignored or threatened. This stage may last for as little as a few hours or for as long as a few months. The victim is usually able to sense the tension and, in response, attempts to be submissive and nurturing.
2. Acting Out
In the second stage of the cycle, acting out, the abuser commits an act of abuse (verbal, sexual/physical, emotional/psychological, or financial) in an attempt to dominate the victim.
During the reconciliation stage, often called the "honeymoon phase," the abuser feels guilt and/or fear that the victim will tell someone. Meanwhile, the victim is experiencing pain and humiliation and blames their self for the abuse. Usually at this time, the abuser will apologize and show affection.
During this phase, the abuser may agree to counseling and beg for forgiveness. Over time the abuser's apologies and demonstrations of kindness and affection become less sincere. Eventually, interpersonal difficulties arise and the abuse cycle returns to the tension phase.
According to Walker's theory, the reconciliation and calm stages slowly diminish in duration over time, while the abuse increases in intensity and frequency.