Defining Types of Abuse

Physical Abuse

This is any kind of physical harm, from hitting, squeezing, pushing, and kicking to seriously injuring or even killing.

Emotional Abuse/Neglect

This occurs when one person uses words, combined with withdrawal or humiliation, to threaten, intimidate, or diminish another. It may overlap with neglect by denial of nurturing—refusing to acknowledge, show appreciation for, or offer appropriate non-sexual physical contact such as holding and hugging.

Minimizing accomplishments and maximizing failures, refusing to let go of past mistakes, and depriving a dependent of adequate supervision, food, clothing, shelter, or medical care may also be neglectful as well as emotionally abusive.

Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual abuse is the misuse of the Scriptures or the twisting of spiritual concepts to achieve control over another or to justify inappropriate behavior. It may also involve legalism (rigid, non-biblical rules)—condemning or criticizing those who disagree with certain dogmas, or minimizing the pain of hurting people by judging their faith rather than supporting them in their trials.

Covert Incest

This type of abuse is easily overlooked, as it often appears to be something it is not. It can easily be mistaken for a mutually beneficial child/parent bond when it is actually serving to meet the emotional needs of the parent at the expense of the child. Why call this kind of involvement incest? Because the parent who covertly engages in this form of incest takes the child into a place of emotional intimacy that is inappropriate except for a lover.

The parent depends on the child to assuage her or his neediness, loneliness, or self-esteem needs. He or she usually has a conflicted or distant relationship with the other parent and may attempt to get the child on his or her side as the favored parent by criticizing the opposite parent to the child. This behavior locks the child into a caregiving role to the mother (or father, as the case may be) and simultaneously alienates him or her from the other parent.

When the child becomes an adult he/or she may have difficulty maintaining a close relationship with their partner, they may practice sexual avoidance or sexual addiction, remain extremely loyal to the incestuous parent to the point of creating relational problems with a marriage partner and be unable to stand up to the offending parent when he or she is critical or demeaning of the adult child’s spouse.

The adult child feels like an extension of his or her parent and has difficulty differentiating between his own feelings and desires and those of his needy parent. His first consideration most of the time as an adult is not for his own welfare or that of his wife and children, but doing what he must to keep from “hurting mother” (or father).

Psychological Abuse (sometimes used interchangeably with emotional abuse)

This is the third most frequently reported form of child abuse (after neglect and physical abuse), accounting for 17 percent of all cases of child abuse. Like other forms of abuse, psychological abuse is greatly underreported, since it can be difficult to detect and to document.

Examples of psychological abuse include bizarre punishments such as locking a child in a closet, using emotionally abusive words, and mentally traumatizing the child with mind games (pretending to lose control of a speeding car to get a reaction from the child/laughing at his or her fears, etc.).

Psychological abuse may also include terrorizing: using threats of harm to the child, family members, or pets to coerce a child, to punish, elicit cooperation, or secure silence.

Sexual Abuse

The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect defines childhood sexual abuse as “contact or interaction between a child and a adult when the child is being used for the sexual stimulation of that adult or another person.” When another minor five years older than the child has such contact with a child, it is considered sexual abuse. Abuse may occur when the other minor is less than five years older is he/she is in a position of power or control over the child.

Types of Sexual Abuse:

  • Verbal – can include lewd remarks, sexual comments about the child’s body or behavior, sexual threats, harassment, or suggestive comments.
  • Visual sexual abuse includes the viewing of pornographic material, exhibitionism, and voyeurism.
  • Physical sexual abuse includes intercourse, digital penetration, masturbation in front of the child or masturbation of the adult by the child, fondling of the breasts and genitals, exposure of the child’s body to others, or sodomy. These may be performed on the child, or the child may be forced to perform any of the above behaviors.
  • When the abuse occurs in the context of a relationship with an adult or older juvenile who has power or authority over the child or who is loved and trusted by the child, the abuse is considered incest.
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Linda Settles-Zeboskey