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Hidden from public view in many instances, abuse can often go undetected and unreported for months and even years. Unfortunately, abuse is something that is often misunderstood. It is common for individuals being abused to have a hard time describing their abuse. They are often hesitant or embarrassed to discuss what is happening to them in their relationships and in their own homes.

What complicates matters even more is that there are many types of abuse, some of which are misunderstood. Some of the more common forms of abuse include:

  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Psychological abuse
  • Spiritual abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Child abuse
  • Elder abuse

Because abuse is so hard to talk about, victims will often attempt to conceal their pain or deal with their challenges on their own. They may be reluctant to talk about what is happening for fear of how others will respond. In many instances abusers will threaten to hurt the victims or loved ones if they tell anyone.

Did You Know

Nearly one third of American women (31%) report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives.

Source: Commonwealth Fund survey, 1998

While abuse can come in many forms, the fundamental psychological weapons used by all abusers are similar. Common strategies used by abusers include:

  • Manipulation and control — Taking away personal freedoms. Limiting contact with friends and family, intimidation, fear-producing tactics.
  • Minimizing abusive behaviors — Attempting to make the circumstances seem acceptable. "It wasn't that bad." "I slipped." "I wasn't trying to hurt you."
  • Fear — Employing a weapon of control to get the desired reaction. "We will lose everything if you tell others!"
  • Blame — Transferring the responsibility to the victim. "It is your fault." "I wouldn't have done this if you hadn't acted they way you did."

Because abuse is so destructive, victims often have related physical, emotional, and mental manifestations. Some of the common mental health issues associated with abuse are depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse.

The ways that victims of abuse respond to their circumstances varies. Some individuals endure the abuse, too ashamed and scared to fight back. Some realize the devastation being wrought and do fight back. Still others seek help from family, counselors, and legal authorities to get out of their abusive relationships. Both the abused and the abuser can be helped.

Treatment Strategies

Treatment for victims of domestic violence and abuse has to be done with a "safety first" approach. Anyone helping victims of abuse should seriously evaluate the possibility of increased violence. For example, some individuals are at high risk if they talk about the abuse. Such individuals will need to begin treatment by establishing a safety plan in the event that the abusive behavior escalates.

Once a safety plan is in place and a clear understanding of the extent of the abuse has been ascertained, the next step is education. Many victims of abuse need a better understanding of the problem itself. It is often helpful for individuals to learn about the types of abuse and how abusers use these tactics.

It is critical for individuals helping those who have been abused to listen and help the victim feel understood. Many people who have been abused fear that they will not be believed and may initially test the waters to see if what they are saying is being accepted and taken seriously.

There are many treatment strategies that focus on helping heal the trauma associated with abuse. Most of these treatments work by empowering the victim. This often infuriates an abuser because he/she feels less in control. Other areas of treatment focus on the lingering effects of abuse by employing strategies to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. In many instances, issues surrounding self-esteem have to be addressed in the healing process so the victims can regain their sense of self-worth.

There is help for someone locked in a cycle of abusing as well. Breaking the cycle of abuse, whether you are abusing or being abused, begins with recognizing that you are stuck in the cycle, becoming educated, and committing to change.

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