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What Does Domestic Violence Look Like?

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Types of Domestic Abuse:

  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Sexual
  • Digital
  • Financial
  • Psychological

If you've read my article about how the media portrays domestic violence, you'll know that I don't support how it is mostly depicted as physical or sexual violence. In fact, there are many types of abuse and each of them is damaging and hurtful for the victim. Domestic violence is anything used to control another partner in a relationship. It is the violation of the right we all have to healthy, supportive and safe relationships. In this article, I will explain the different types of domestic violence and what they might look like.



This one is probably the most obvious, as it is the abuse that we most commonly see on tv, movies and in the news. This aggressive behavior can range from bruising to murder. Examples of physical abuse include:

  • damaging valuable/personal property or throwing objects at the victim.
  • hitting, slapping, punching, or kicking.
  • scratching, hair pulling, pushing or grabbing.
  • burning.
  • strangulation (It only takes 15 to 20 seconds to lose consciousness and 2 to 4 minutes to die).
  • refusing medical attention or hiding medications that belong to the victim.
  • pressuring or forcing a partner to use substances such as drugs or alcohol.
  • use of weapons, including improvised objects.

An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. Women aren't the only ones being physically abused, men can also be victims of physical violence. The great difference here is that women are far more often seriously hurt or killed than men. Either way, it is unacceptable to physically hurt anyone.

Domestic Violence Awareness ad in Singapore shows how verbal abuse can be just as hurtful as physical abuse.

Domestic Violence Awareness ad in Singapore shows how verbal abuse can be just as hurtful as physical abuse.


Emotional abuse refers to abuse that affects how we feel. It's not just about how the victim feels at the moment of abuse but also how they feel about themselves and the world around them. This often gets linked to verbal & psychological abuse. So what is the difference? Well, verbal could definitely be considered emotional abuse, as the abuser uses hurtful words to affect how the victim feels about themselves. Mental/psychological abuse affects how our brain develops. (I'll go more in-depth with this later on in this article). Therefore, emotional abuse can include the following tactics:

  • name calling, insults, put downs.
  • blaming the victim for everything.
  • shaming or humiliation.
  • socially isolating the victim from family and friends.
  • ignoring, or withholding attention.
  • intimidation, which can be accomplished through verbal threats or displaying weapons.
  • stalking or harassment.

This list isn't extensive. There are many other ways that someone could be emotionally abused.

  • On average, almost 500 women are raped or sexually assaulted every day, in the U.S.
  • Approximately, two-thirds of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows.
  • Girls ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
  • Victims of sexual abuse are 26 times more likely to abuse drugs.


Any action that impacts a person's ability to control their sexual activity or the circumstances in which sexual activity occurs. Unfortunately, physical attacks by the abuser is often accompanied by, or culminates in, sexual violence wherein the victim is forced to have sexual intercourse with the abuser or take part in unwanted sexual activity.

Examples include:

  • forcing a partner to perform sexual acts against their will, including having sex with other people, imitate pornography.
  • pursuing sexual activity when the victim is not fully conscious, is not asked, or is afraid to say no.
  • hurting their partner physically during sex or assaulting genitals.
  • coercing a partner to have sex without protection against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
  • pressuring their partner to send nude photos or taking nude photos without their consent.
  • this can be taken to the other extreme by withholding physical affection.


In this high-tech world where we are constantly connected through technology, it has produced a new tool that abusers can use to exert power & control over their victims. Abusers can use technology to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate a partner. This includes:

  • hacking into a victim's email or personal accounts.
  • using gps to know where a victim is at all times.
  • reading all of their text messages or conversations on facebook.
  • spreading lies or humiliating the victim through social media.
  • recording or filming the victim's conversations with other people without their consent or knowledge.

Technology has become a quick and easy way for stalkers to monitor and harass their
victims. More than one in four stalking victims reports that some form of cyberstalking was used against them, such as email (83 percent of all cyberstalking victims) or instant messaging (35 percent). Electronic monitoring of some kind is used to stalk one in 13 victims.

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Financial abuse is not just limiting spending or having control of the family budget. This is about destroying the victim's confidence and ability to earn a living for themselves, making the victim 100% reliant on the abuser for all of their basic needs. This can be accomplished through a variety of ways, including:

  • damaging a partner's credit score.
  • hiding financial decisions.
  • controlling financial assets and effectively putting the victim on an allowance.
  • threatening or actually kicking the victim out of the house.
  • interfering with the victim getting an education, this can include harassing them while they're trying to study or by refusing to pay for the costs of tuition.
  • causing a partner to lose their job through direct & indirect means, such as causing injury that prevents them from being in public or withholding transportation.

Mental & Emotional Abuse in Disney Musical Number


I saved this one for last because I think it is the most insidious and common form of abuse. 95% of men who physically abuse their partners also psychologically abuse them. Psychological abuse interferes with the cognitive development of victims. (i.e., how we learn, remember, solve problems, make associations between things, etc.) There have been so many times, in my own experience, where I have heard victims being called "brain-washed". And it is true, abusers have tactics they use that literally cause the victim to have distorted views about themselves and reality in general. Psychological or mental abuse affects how victims make decisions, because their minds don't follow a path of logic based on evidence they've gathered from their environment. Instead, it follows a distorted path of "logic" that the abuser has ingrained into them, that causes them to ignore reality and to react in abnormal ways. In my opinion, psychological abuse is probably the driving factor for why so many women stay in abusive relationships.

A popular method of mental abuse is called gaslighting. Gaslighting is where false information is given to the victim with the intent of making them doubt their own memory, perception and sanity. According to author and psychoanalyst Robin Stern, Ph.D., the signs of being a victim of gaslighting mental abuse include:

  1. You are constantly second-guessing yourself.
  2. You ask yourself, "Am I too sensitive?" a dozen times a day.
  3. You often feel confused and even crazy at work.
  4. You're always apologizing to your mother, father, boyfriend,, boss.
  5. You can't understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren't happier.
  6. You frequently make excuses for your partner's behavior to friends and family.
  7. You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don't have to explain or make excuses.
  8. You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
  9. You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
  10. You have trouble making simple decisions.
  11. You have the sense that you used to be a very different person - more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
  12. You feel hopeless and joyless.
  13. You feel as though you can't do anything right.
  14. You wonder if you are a "good enough" girlfriend/ wife/employee/ friend/daughter.

End the Silence

If you or someone you know is experiencing any type of domestic violence, get help! Don't stay silent, because it will only get worse. You can get help by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or by visiting their website at Abuse, regardless what type or the severity, is absolutely unacceptable. Even if you don't personally know anyone who is a victim of domestic violence, you can still get involved in raising awareness. Please share this article with your friends and family. Help us educate society and bring an end to domestic violence.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Robertson 107 on April 05, 2020:

I am just getting out of an abusive relationship..more psychological than anything else. I had never even heard of the term "gaslighting". Good to know there is a term, and that it isn't as uncommon as I thought. Great information!

Signe Jorgensen on December 27, 2016:

Abuse come in many forms. Don't allow yourself to become or remain another victim. Getting through it myself. I know.

Lisa (author) from Colorado on July 26, 2016:

Savvy dating, I appreciate that you find my article useful. I am glad you left that boyfriend as soon as he hit you, physical violence usually escalates, so you made a very wise choice! Understanding victims of domestic violence and why they choose to stay is a very complicated topic. I intend to write an article on just that. As soon as it is published, I hope you'll check it out.

Lisa (author) from Colorado on July 26, 2016:

Joyette, thanks for the positive feedback! Unfortunately, yes, digital abuse is on the rise. There are so many new applications that help abusers become more controlling.

savvydating on November 19, 2015:

It's good to hear from someone who understands this subject well. I plan to read the paragraph on gas lighting once more, as that particular method of abuse must be rather difficult to detect.

You've written a very useful hub here. I despise abusers. When I was 19, a boyfriend hit me once. I was out the door the same day. I just won't put up with that crap.

It would be interesting to learn the psychology behind women who do put up with abuse. There must be a strong underlying reason, although I don't know what that reason is. I will look at more of your hubs to glean more insight on this matter. Great material!

Joyette Helen Fabien from Dominica on April 10, 2015:

Great hub! You have been very thorough. The digital way is becoming quite prevalent in these times

Lisa (author) from Colorado on November 20, 2014:

Wow Marilyn, thank you so much for sharing your story. Thank goodness for that man who was willing to step in and save you. I've seen too often that people are afraid to help. I am glad that my article helped you to better understand the abuse you suffered. I appreciate the positive feedback. I am so sorry that you are still healing from this. I know what tremendous amount of courage it must've taken you to remove yourself & your children from that situation. Thank you again for your comment!

Marilyn Hampton on November 20, 2014:

I am a 62 year old woman who went through domestic abuse in my first marriage from the late '60's to the mid '70's. What finally made me realize that I needed to get out for me and my two small children was his beating me and banging my face into a concrete floor as he told me He would fix me where no man would ever want to look at me. I was saved from his murdering me by a man who walked into the room where we were. This man ended up with a broken arm and nose to save me from being killed.

I have never heard the term "gaslighting" until now. What an appropriate term. Domestic Violence is damaging not only to the body but emotionally and spiritually. I still to this day cannot handle someone scaring or touching me from behind I become like a warrior and attack them. I guess you could say I have PTSD. I also have lapses of memory and cannot put events in sequence for that time period.

It is hard to think that someone can have that kind of control over you.

Lisa (author) from Colorado on November 16, 2014:

Thank you funmi Johnson for the positive feedback!

funmi johnson on November 16, 2014:

Thanks for a wonderful article. The points about 'gaslighting' and how domestic abuse affects the brain were very instructive.

Lisa (author) from Colorado on October 24, 2014:

Ashley Ryan, I am so glad to hear that you have been able to escape that situation and have found a new & healthy relationship. Thank you so much for the positive feedback on my article. I hope that I am making a difference and comments like yours make me want to continue. Thanks again!

Lisa (author) from Colorado on October 24, 2014:

Ellereed, I am so glad you've made the decision to leave that relationship. I know it isn't always easy and you still have some healing to do, but I am positive that you have made a great choice for yourself. I am so grateful that my article helped you!

Ladonne Reed from Pittsburgh, PA on October 23, 2014:

I am just getting out of an abusive relationship..more psychological than anything else. I had never even heard of the term "gaslighting". Good to know there is a term, and that it isn't as uncommon as I thought. Great information!

Ash Ryan from Red Dirt Country on October 15, 2014:

This is amazing.

I never realized I was in a physically/financially/emotionally/digitally abusive relationship for a VERY long time. He would often grab me by my wrists and use my hands to hit himself in the face. He'd call me all sorts of names and tell me it was MY fault. I was the one who made him act that way. I blamed myself for the longest time, too. I still struggle with a lot. It's been years, but I still flinch at sudden movement. I still find myself apologizing profusely if I step on someone's shoe. I still ask permission to go to the store to buy milk. It's terrible!!

I'm now in a super wonderful relationship with my BEST friend. He tries to make light of my old habits to help me break them. It is slowly working and sometimes puts strain on me. Being "trained" to do things for so long is almost impossible to force yourself to do otherwise... even years later.

If it wasn't for hubs like these, I never would've gotten out of where I was. You don't know how many people you may affect by this. Thank you so much!!

Lisa (author) from Colorado on October 13, 2014:

I appreciate your information about the biological effect of gaslighting. I didn't even know that. Thank you for your positive feedback on my article.

Dr Billy Kidd from Sydney, Australia on October 13, 2014:

Thanks for the great post on abuse!

Gaslighting is the most common unacknowledged problem a woman has with a controlling man. Like you mention, she can't even explain the problem. There's a biological reason why.

The research shows that being under chronic stress shrinks the hippocampus in the brain (same as having PTSD). The hippocampus translates short term memory (about 3 minutes) into long-term memory. When it shrinks, you can't keep track of the events in your life or what you're really trying to say. Men have used gaslighting for centuries to control women. Just keep them under constant stress.

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