Are you sure you don’t already know? When it comes to verbal or physical abuse it really should be self-apparent, but there are those amongst us who can hide it, even from themselves. And sadly, there are those who, having survived an abusive environment throughout their own childhood, do not know any other sort. So lets cover those bases first, before we get into the more difficult area of emotional abuse.
Verbal abuse is defined as “to assail with contemptuous, coarse, or insulting words; revile.” When swear words are used between friends in a recognized camaraderie, it is usually not abuse because the intent is not abusive. But it may be abusive when the relationship is not equal. Many relationships have a hierarchical component, often not consciously recognized by those in the dominant position(s). The “friendly joking” that you have always thought of as just part of the way things are may actually be felt as abuse by those who consider themselves subordinate in the association, something they bear so as to participate in the relationship at all. In groups where this is directed in the main at one individual, that person may even “clown it up” in response. Either because the increased attention heightens their sense of fellowship, of being “in” or by doing so they know the intensity and/or the duration of the insults, sometimes combined with physical abuse, will be reduced.
Deliberately belittling, condescending or derogatory language, directed at someone sometimes casually but often with the intent to hurt, is clear-cut verbal abuse that should be obvious with just the slightest thought to even the most self-absorbed individual.
Physical abuse is the “physical maltreatment” of another and does not need to result in actual harm or physical damage to be so. That “friendly” punch on the shoulder or aggressive “hand-shake” is physical abuse when it is perceived to be by its recipient rather than the person doing it.
Out and out violence, where physical damage clearly occurs, should require no explanation to anyone to define it as physical abuse. The varieties of rape that involve forced sexual intimacy fall into this category, although they are normally separated into their own category of sexual abuse.
Emotional abuse is more difficult to define and for many people to see. It may contain elements of either verbal or physical abuse, but emotional abuse can occur without either. You may not lay a finger on someone nor offer them a harsh word and still emotionally abuse them. By body posture and attitude or simply ignoring someone, you can tell them that their opinion and even their value as a person is of no consequence. Even while talking calmly and politely to someone you can condescend, often unintentionally, so that they feel belittled. Such abuse is often more the perception of the abused rather than the intent of the abuser, but some people are past masters of the subtle art of emotional abuse and successfully disguise it under the eyes of multiple observers.
The subtler forms of sexual abuse come under emotional abuse, where the abuser manipulates the emotions and concerns of the vulnerable victim to achieve their desired goals. This sort of abuser can convince themselves that the relationship is a beautiful, loving one and not really wrong, despite it being reviled by society.
If you really want to know if you are an abuser of any mettle, study the reactions of people when you enter their presence. Is there a cringing or drawing back, even to the slightest degree, if not by all, then by some? Does friendly conversation lessen, become quieter on your arrival?
Then you probably are an abuser; is it time to think about your attitude to others and do something about it?