When the word abuse is used, people’s minds often go straight to physical abuse and with good reason. Physical abuse is horrible. Physical abuse is 100% preventable and 100% wrong. It is a mistake to stop there, however. For sure, physical abuse can result in permanent physical and psychological damage or even death, but there are other types of abuse where the damage doesn’t really show on the outside but lasts much long longer than bruises or even broken bones.
Sticks and stones may break bones, but name calling, degrading comments, control, and manipulation do hurt. When emotional, verbal, sexual, economic, and psychological abuse happens, it collectively builds up damage to the victim. This inner damage can have psychological, emotional and even physical ramifications.
It is unfortunate, however, that many of these other forms of abuse are not recognized as such, especially within conservative church circles. I was once informed by someone that they had a friend who was offended that I would label such behavior as abuse. Apparently this friend had had to call the police on her husband for physical abuse. Here is my response to that. I am happy that this friend had the courage to call the police when the physical abuse happened. Many of us don’t or didn’t have the courage to do that. She was way ahead of the curve. It takes bravery to do that.
Please do not get caught in the trap of thinking that there is only one type of abuse. Living day in and day out with name-calling, criticizing, fault finding, controlling behavior, being devalued, amongst a myriad of other manifestations of abuse is not normal and should not be accepted as normal. Just because you have become used to it, does not mean it is ok. You have just learned to normalize the abnormal.
Another thing to consider is that each type of abuse doesn’t typically occur in isolation. Frequently, physical abuse is accompanied by some form of non-physical abuse and vice versa, or by several types of non-physical abuse together. Also, many women are ashamed of their abuse. They may not tell the whole story, if they even do at all. One should consider it likely that she is being abused in more than one way.
Need some help identifying abusive behavior? Think something is wrong in your relationship, but can’t quite put your finger on it? Do you feel constantly devalued and degraded? Or do you not have the freedom to be yourself and have your own thoughts, feelings, and opinions? There are plenty of places to help you evaluate if what you are experiencing is normal or not. I have referenced a few good sites and articles below.