Understanding The Different Types of Abuse – 

In Intimate Relationships

Abuse in intimate relationships often remains hidden, not just from the external world, but sometimes from the victims themselves.  Abuse is often hiding in plain sight, leaving the victim suffering because she/he doesn’t recognize the behavior as abusive. There are many reasons a victim may not recognize the behavior as abusive. One common reason is the abuse is so covert, she/he doesn’t know it is happening; and a second common reason is the victim is conditioned to the abuse because of childhood trauma / abuse.

Abuse within intimate relationships is a grave and complex issue that takes on various forms, can span a range of actions, words, and attitudes, each distinct, but all aiming to exert control over a partner.  To make it even harder to recognize, abuse doesn’t happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, abuse is intermittent, and generally starts out slowly, building over time, making it very hard to detect, especially at the beginning of a relationship. As the victim is exposed to the abuse over time, she/he slowly becomes conditioned to the abuse, putting up with more and more, much like the old adage of a frog put in a cold pot slowly being boiled to death doesn’t recognize the pot is getting hotter.  It is common for the victim to not see some forms of abuse as abusive due to the slow ramping up of abuse over the relationship.

While many of us see images of bruises, broken bones and black eyes (physical assault) when we think of abuse, there are many other forms of abuse, both overt and covert, that have a deep impact on a person’s well-being. In this article, I delve into the different types of abuse, shedding light on the common signs and the subtle signs to look out for.  By understanding the various types of abuse and forms abuse can take, it will help victims identify problematic behavior so they can seek help, and work towards healthier relationships.

1. Physical Abuse: 

Physical abuse or assault is perhaps the most overt form of abuse and what most think of when abuse is mentioned. It is the intentional use of physical force to harm someone and involves any act that results in bodily harm or physical harm and damage.  Physical abuse is always used for the purpose of controlling, intimidating, manipulating and even punishing their victim.

  • Common Signs: This can range from hitting, slapping, punching, pushing, shoving, biting the victim, to more severe forms like choking, strangling or restraining. Throwing objects at or near the victim, punching holes in walls or doors, breaking or hitting objects, using weapons or other objects to threaten or harm is also physical abuse.
  • Subtle Signs: Withholding medical care, depriving sleep, abandoning the victim in unfamiliar places, even driving recklessly.

2. Emotional Abuse:

According to the National Domestic Violence Center: Emotional abuse involves non-physical behaviors that aim to control, isolate, or scare you.  “What these actions have in common is that they can erode your sense of value as a human being, and it can happen silently, slowly, and even without your awareness,” Mindy Mechanic, PhD, a clinical psychologist and professor at California State University, Fullerton.

It doesn’t have to be loud or violent to “count” as emotional abuse. This form of abuse targets a person’s emotions, making them feel devalued or worthless.  Emotional abuse is more elusive than physical violence, but its scars can run just as deep and are just as damaging. 

  • Common Signs: Frequent criticism or humiliation, even in front of others, belittling, criticizing, blaming, bullying, badgering, rejecting, ignoring, excluding or isolating the victim, withholding affection, silent treatment, lies, cheating, extreme jealousy, disrespecting the victim’s boundaries, 
  • Subtle Signs: Using “jokes” to insult, employing a condescending tone, or frequently putting down the victim, forgetting things already discussed, denial, guilting, shaming, control what you do, say or wear.

3. Verbal Abuse:

Verbal abuse is used to frighten, dominate, ridicule, manipulate, and/or degrade the victim as a means of controlling and maintaining power over them by using loud or violent tones and words. Verbal abuse is just as damaging as actions while it breaks down the victims self-esteem. Verbal abuse specifically pertains to harmful words used to degrade, control and negatively impact the victim. 

  • Common Signs: Regular instances of yelling, screaming, raging, swearing, name-calling, insults, shaming, accusations and continuous belittlement along with emotional abuse.
  • Subtle Signs: Refusing to communicate or “stonewalling”, backhanded compliments, trivializing the victim’s feelings or concerns.

4. Psychological Abuse:

Psychological abuse seeks to distort and manipulate the victim’s mind and make them feel crazy through covert or insidious control. Of all the typed of abuse, this form of abuse can be the hardest to detect. Psychological abuse is insidious, and often there are no overt signs of violence as there is in the other forms of abuse.

  • Common Signs: Gaslighting (making someone doubt their memories, perceptions or sanity), circular conversations, projections, intimidating behaviors like standing in a doorway, following you, breaking things or harming pets, creating a sense of impending doom, threatening harm, whether to the victim, themselves, or others, using children to manipulate or control the victim, such as threatening to take them away.
  • Subtle Signs: Using the silent treatment or withholding love or affection as a form of punishment, isolating and/or cutting off from family, friends, or external support, passive-aggressive behavior.

5. Sexual Abuse:

Sexual abuse in intimate relationships means any unwanted sexual activity without the clear and voluntary consent of the partner and refers to a series of behaviors used to manipulate or influence an intimate partner. Typically, these behaviors are designed by the perpetrator to gain control over another person sexually. This may involve acts of physical abuse, but it may only involve mental and emotional manipulation such as pressuring or coercing the victim to perform a sexual act that they do not want to perform.

  • Common Signs: Rape, molestation, forced sexual behaviors after victim has said “no”, even if they had sex in the past with that partner, holding you down or restraining you during sexual acts, unwanted kissing or touching, unwanted rough or violent sexual activity, engaging in sexual activities while you are intoxicated or unconscious, coercing (guilting, shaming, obligating) into having sex, pressuring into having sex after a fight.
  • Subtle Signs: Making unwanted sexual comments, refusing to use condoms, restricting someone’s access to birth control, criticizing one’s sexuality, recording sex without victim’s permission, sharing recording without victim’s permission, using recording to force sexual contact.

6. Financial Abuse:

Financial abuse involves controlling a victim’s economic resources including their ability to acquire, use, and maintain financial resource along with limiting their financial independence. While less commonly understood than other forms of abuse, financial abuse is one of the most powerful methods of keeping a victim trapped in an abusive relationship. 

  • Common Signs: Not having access to joint accounts, not having any access to money, not permitting the partner to work, forcefully taking victim’s earnings, not allowing victim to have a checking/savings account, debit and/or credit card in their name, not involving the victim in crucial financial decisions.
  • Subtle Signs: hiding money, hiding assets, limiting access to money for groceries, clothes, medical needs, employment sabotage (no car, or won’t make car accessible, won’t help with kids, demeans job, causes drama so victim is late), being uninformed about password and login changes to bank accounts and other financial resources.

7. Spiritual or Religious Abuse:

Any attempt to misuse religion, faith, or beliefs to exert power for the purpose of manipulating and controlling the victm.

  • Common Signs: Using religious scriptures (verses) to justify abusive behavior or to control victim, prevent victim from practicing her/his religion in the way victim would like, use victim’s beliefs to manipulate or bully her/him, demand that your children be raised with/without a certain religion, using scripture to demand sexual acts or favors, sharing private matters publicly for the purpose of shaming or coercing you into submission.
  • Subtle Signs: Shaming, making fun of, or ridiculing your religious beliefs or practices, feeling ashamed about having different beliefs from your partner, being forced to attend religious gatherings, being punished for not adhering to strict gender roles in the relationship.

8. Isolation Abuse:

Limiting a victim’s interactions with the outside world in order to weaken their victim, prevent them from hearing others’ perspectives, and to bring them into line with his own beliefs and requirements.

  • Common Signs: Severing ties with friends, family, and other external support systems: criticize their partner’s family and friends, seek to make their partner feel guilty every time they’re away from home, discourage their partner to not to meet people or leave the house,
  • Subtle Signs: Creating situations that prevent the victim from meeting others such as: “Are you really going out with your friends?” “With the kind of day I’ve had, you’re leaving me on my own?” “Why do you have to go see your parents? Don’t be so dependent on them, you have your own life now.” “I don’t like you going out to dinner with your workmates, stay home and we’ll have a special dinner together”.

9. Stalking Abuse:

A pattern of obsessive attention directed towards the victim. Stalking occurs when someone watches, follows, or harasses you repeatedly, making you feel afraid or unsafe.

  • Common Signs: Frequent unwanted encounters such as uninvited appearances at the victim’s home, work, grocery, where victim exercises, unwanted phone calls, sending unwanted texts, messages, letters, emails, or voicemails, leaving unwanted items, gifts, or flowers, damaging victim’s home, car, or other property.
  • Subtle Signs: Using tracking devices, social media or friends to monitor the victim.

10. Cultural Abuse:

Using cultural identity as a means to dominate, manipulate, coerce and control victim.

  • Common Signs: Mocking one’s cultural background or identity, not allowing victim to speak in their primary language, or to speak to their children in that language, not allowed to have contact with other people who share victim’s beliefs, preventing participation in cultural traditions or events.
  • Subtle Signs: Misusing the traditions, practices and expectations of the cultural community to justify abusing  the victim.

10. Digital or Cyber Abuse:

The digital age brings with it a new form of abuse. Essentially, digital abuse is any form of stalking, harassment, intimidation, bullying, or exertion of control that happens in cyberspace for the purpose of controlling and manipulating the victim.

  • Common Signs: Cyberbullying, “doxing”, and stalking through social media platforms, tells victim who they can or can’t be friends with on Facebook and other sites, looking through victim’s phone or computer without permission; using location tagging or spyware to monitor and track victim, posing as victim online, remotely controlling victim’s smart home devices to intimidate victim, making victim feel unsafe for not responding to messages immediately.
  • Subtle Signs: Insistently checking the partner’s devices or monitoring their online interactions, stealing or being forced to give passwords and logins to social media sites.

In conclusion, you may experience one, some or all types of abuse in your relationship. The type of abuses are often comingled and are hard to separate. An abuser will use any type of abuse they can to gain control of their victim. It is less important to name the type of abuse you are experiencing than to recognize you are being abused.

It’s essential to recognize and understand the myriad ways abuse can manifest in an intimate relationship so you can take action to protect yourself. Regardless of the form it takes, abuse invariably leads to lasting damage emotionally, physically and in your soul. If you or someone you know may be experiencing abuse, seek help from trusted professionals or organizations specializing in aiding victims. Remember, recognizing the problem is the first step towards resolution.  If you’re experiencing physical abuse, leave immediately.

Is Your Relationship Truly Healthy?

After understanding the varied and often subtle forms of abuse, it’s crucial to introspect about your own relationship. If you find yourself wondering about certain behaviors in your partner, it’s time to get clarity.

My “Am I Crazy Or Is He A Jerk? Quiz has been designed to help you discern and understand the dynamics of your relationship better.

 👉 Take the FREE “Am I Crazy Or Is He A Jerk?! Quiz Now and

discover if your relationship leans towards unhealthy patterns.


Remember, it’s always better to be informed and proactive rather than regretful. Your well-being and peace of mind are paramount.