Being coerced and controlled, mistreated, neglected, hurt physically, sexually or emotionally, are all forms of abuse. It can be overt and visible, although often subtle and hidden. An experienced and empathic therapist can help people begin to understand what traps people in the cycle and how to break free.
Abuse by a partner or spouse, whether physical or not, is commonly known as domestic abuse. It is often done in private, and might be motivated by one partner’s desire to control the other.
When a child is abused or witnesses abuse at home, they are unable to escape or stop the abuse. People who have been abused often feel angry, isolated, depressed or suffer anxiety, even years afterwards.
When a person is hurt by a friend, family or partner, at work or at home, it undermines trust in their relationship and makes them feel unsafe. The person might also face threats, or be made to watch their abuser break objects, threaten or hurt their loved ones, or injure pets.
When a person is sexually intimate with someone without their consent, their relationship is abusive. When an adult is sexually intimate with a child, it is always deemed as abusive, because the child does not have capacity to consent.
Subtle and continuous abuse, such as intimidation or emotional abuse, has now been recognised by UK law as a type of domestic violence.
When a person abuses someone without violence, they might instead choose to undermine a person by saying or doing hurtful things. They might even make a person doubt their own perceptions or memories, a tactic nicknamed ‘gaslighting’.
Taking, using or spending someone else’s money without their permission is a form of abuse. Financial abuse can be common in cases of elder abuse, when an adult relies on someone else to do their shopping or manage their money.
Sometimes, teenage and adult children who live with or near their parents can hurt or exploit them. Stigma around this type of abuse can stop parents seeking help.
All abuse is wrong, but not all unpleasant behaviour is abuse. The definition of abuse is when a person hurts someone, knowing that their behaviour is hurtful, harmful or exploitative. Abuse also tends to follow a cycle: tension, abuse, and forgiveness. This is why it can be so hard to stop or escape an abusive relationship. But if a relationship feels so bad that one or both partners is beginning to question it, talking to a therapist allows them to discuss how the relationship makes them feel and may help them see it in a clearer light.
If someone is wondering whether they have been abused, assaulted or raped, talking to a therapist may help them unlock and better manage difficult memories.
Abuse might last days, weeks, months or years. People who experience abuse might seek help right away, or cope with the experience on their own. Some people find that they remember or process memories of abuse a long time after it takes place. People with experience of sexual abuse might report strong feelings or memories arising when their children reach the age at which they themselves were abused. It is never too late to work through experiences of abuse with a therapist.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimates that at least one in five adults has experienced child abuse.
CSEW also estimates that 1.6 million women have experienced domestic abuse in the last year.
Abuse can increase a person’s risk of developing mental health problems.
Even if a person has not experienced mental health problems after abuse, they might still be struggling to relate to the experience or cope with feelings about the abuse or the perpetrator. Talking to an experienced specialist therapist can help.
A specialist helpline providing support for adults who experienced childhood abuse.
A charity that provides services to help women and families leave abusive homes.
Refuge is a national charity that provides advice and services for women and children experiencing domestic violence.
A UK charity that provides services for women and girls who have experienced sexual violence, recently or in the past.