What is Abuse?

Many terms are used to describe abuse. It may also be referred to as: domestic violence, battery, intimate partner violence, or family, spousal, relationship or dating violence.

Abuse is a pattern of behaviors used by one person over another to gain or maintain power and control over another person in a familial or intimate relationship.

Anyone of any race, gender, age, sexual orientation, social status or religion can be a victim of domestic violence.

Questions about abuse

How do I know if it is abuse or just a bad relationship?

This is a great question and in some ways, it doesn’t matter if it’s abuse or not—if someone is being hurt, manipulated, or controlled, they deserve better.

People who are abusive to their partners believe that:

  • They have a right to control their partner,
  • Their bad behavior is justified, and
  • Their partner is to blame for the problems in the relationship.

They also may manipulate others by:

  • Confusing people by saying that they are the victim. This makes it harder for their partner to get support and be believed.
  • Using systems to limit their partner’s options. For example, calling the police to get their partner arrested or getting Child Protective Services (CPS) involved to question and undermine their partner’s parenting. This entangles survivors in those systems and makes it hard to access that help in the future.
  • Using access to their children, such as via custody threats or not following an established visitation schedule as a way to assert power.
What are types of abuse?

Abuse occurs in many forms, including:


  • Hitting
  • Punching
  • Kicking
  • Shoving
  • Choking/strangling
  • Biting


  • Forcing or pressuring someone to engage in sexual acts without their consent
  • Withholding sex as a way to punish a partner
  • Acts of reproductive coercion


  • Humiliating or embarrassing someone around other people
  • Telling the person they will never be good at anything or can never do anything right
  • Name-calling, insults, and lowering the person’s self-esteem


  • Threatening
  • Minimizing, denying, or blaming the abusive experiences on the victim (also known as gaslighting)
  • Making the person feel like they are going “crazy”
  • Isolation from friend and family


  • Not allowing someone to have a job or access to their personal income
  • Maxing out credit cards and leaving the person in debt
  • Depositing all incomes into one account only the abusive person can access


  • Misusing technology (cellphones, computers, social media, GPS, smart devices, etc.) as a way to maintain power and control over a person


  • Ridicules or insults the other person’s religious or spiritual beliefs
  • Prevents the other partner from practicing their religious or spiritual beliefs
  • Uses their partner’s religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate or shame them


  • Unwanted or unnecessary contact via texts, calls, social media
  • Appearing at various locations the victim might frequent such as their home, school, or workplace
  • Monitoring a person’s whereabouts or behaviors either directly, through a third party, or over social media as a way to induce fear

As a reminder, the fundamental harm of abuse is a loss of autonomy. Autonomy means independence and freedom from external control. Everyone should be free to make their own choices in relationships. Learning the differences between unhealthy and healthy behaviors in relationships are essential for understanding whether or not you are in a healthy relationship.

Please visit the Family & Friends guide for more information to support someone who may be experiencing abuse. We also offer a hotline if you or anyone you know has experienced abuse, 24/7 confidential support is available on the LINKLine at 1-800-897-LINK (5465). You can also reach out to a domestic violence service provider near you for ongoing support.

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