Questions & AnswersAbuse Issues

QUESTION: What are the different kinds of abuse?

ANSWER: The broad categories of abuse are sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse and neglect. All four forms of abuse can and do happen to children, teens, adults and elders.

Sexual abuse includes any kind of sexual act or innuendo that is unwanted by the recipient and makes them uncomfortable. Childhood sexual abuse, rape (including date and spousal rape), and sexual harassment fall into this category.

Emotional abuse includes any kind of behavior that has the attempts to devalue, tear down and/or control another human being. Examples of emotional abuse are ridicule, intimidation, sarcasm, threats, explosive anger, withholding of affection and/or material items, neglect, possessiveness, isolating the person from others, etc. One of the difficult things about emotional abuse is that it's often difficult to recognize. The abuser generally staunchly denies that his or her behavior is abusive, and the person being abused often buys the abuser's line.

Physical abuse includes any form of physical harm or violence that one person inflicts on another. This includes pushing, shoving and any other kind of physical contact that's unwelcome and potentially threating.

Neglect most often involves dependent persons such as children or elders and refers to caretakers who meet the dependent person's physical and/or emotional needs sporadically or not at all.

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QUESTION: My boyfriend is always criticizing me and putting me down. I always just thought he was right but I'm beginning to wonder. Can this kind of thing be abuse?

ANSWER: Absolutely. Putting someone down is a kind of emotional abuse. The abuser will often find ways to rationalize his or her behavior, but deliberately trying to make someone feel bad is not OK. We all get angry and upset with one another. We all have bad days at the office. But those are not excuses for deliberately hurting another human being — even verbally.
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QUESTION: Isn't arguing and having an occasional disagreement or fight a normal part of a relationship?

ANSWER: Not only is it normal, it's healthy. The people we're closest to have the ability to find all of our soft spots. Quite often, our soft spots are places in us that need to heal. If couples can strive to have their fights and disagreements in an overall atmostphere of good will, fights can actually be constructive instead of destructive — both to each individual and also to the relationship. There's a difference between disagreeing and even fighting and emotional abuse. And, of course, there's never an excuse in a relationship for physical abuse.
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QUESTION: I don't have memories of being abused and yet I have all the symptoms. Is it possible that I was abused when I was a child?

ANSWER: Yes. When something happens to us that is beyond what we can emotionally handle, our mind attempts to protect us by blocking the event from our awareness. This type of blocking, called dissociation, can effect our memory of the event itself and also the memory of the emotional and/or physical sensations we had at the time of the trauma. In other words, we can feel frightened or depressed and not remember why. Alternatively, we can remember the details of a trauma but have no feelings about it. Or, we can have "body memories" of the event, but not remember the event itself.
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QUESTION: My partner and I can get absolutely livid with each another and yet in our calmer moments, neither of us wants to be abusive. How do you deal with intense rage in a way that's not harmful or abusive?

ANSWER: Rage in and of itself is not a bad thing and in fact, in certain situations, very positive things can come from it. The danger with rage is not with the feeling itself, it's with how we behave when we're feeling it. It's almost impossible to have a constructive fight or argument when one or the other partners is that angry. We're way too likely to say or do something hurtful or abusive. The best thing to do is to call a time out and give yourselves a chance to cool off. Come back together and try the discussion again when you're both calmer and more rational.
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QUESTION: There was no violence in our home when I was growing u but lots of neglect. What effect does that have on a child?

ANSWER: Neglect can have extremely adverse effects on a child's physical, intellectual, social and psychological development. Neglected infants fail to develop secure attachments since the caregiving they receive is sporadic and/or hostile. As a result, the child's energy remains focused on the caregiver and getting basic needs met, instead of allowing them to be free to explore their world, develop social and intellectual skills, etc.
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QUESTION: Is hypnosis effective in the treatment of childhood abuse?

ANSWER: Hypnosis can be helpful in several ways. Most people think of hypnosis only in terms of uncovering memories. However, it can also be used to create an inner "safe place" that can help a person through difficult times, to help mitigate phobias and other anxieties, to help promote inner communication among unconscious parts and to help a person get grounded and connect with their center. When used in this manner, hypnosis can be a valuable tool at various points throughout therapy.
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QUESTION: I've had people tell me that I have to remember everything from my childhood and "relive" the abuse before I can be free of it. Is that true?

ANSWER: Each person has their own internal template of how much they need to remember and in what way. In situations where the childhood abuse was chronic and ongoing, people often find that they need to remember the pivotal events in some detail and spend less time on other events. In terms of actually reliving the trauma (or abreacting it, to use the technical term), it used to be thought this was a necessary step. However, more current beliefs are that if the reliving is done too quickly or without adequate preparation, it's not helpful and in fact, can be retraumatizing. Also, some individuals seem to be able to heal without large scale abreacting whereas others need some forms of abreaction as long as its done in manageable doses. As with most things in therapy, the main thing is to find what works for you and stick with it. Your own insides can provide the best map to what you need.