Abuse & Gaslighting

A relationship where an individual or group becomes dominate over another, using manipulative techniques including isolation strategies, mental harm, and / or violence or the threat of violence.
Types of abuse +Getting support +

Related terms

Domestic Violence, Abuse, Child Abuse, Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Neglect, Bullying, Harm

Types of abuse, what is it, and how does it happen?

Abuse is the collective term for mental, physical and cultural techniques used to dominate an individual. It is most commonly identified in personal relationships such as between partners, or of a child, but it can happen in any circumstance when an individual can be dominated by another individual or group, including child abuse by a family friend or sexual abuse by a person in a position of authority. There are many methods used to deliver this domination or abuse, and they are often used in tandem to exert total, or near total control over an individual including:

Emotional abuse

The focus of emotional abuse is to undermine an individual’s feelings of self-worth, with the ultimate aim of isolating the victim, thereby creating partial or total reliance on their attacker.

The perpetrator employs mental strategies that make the victim feel stupid or worthless, before reinforcing the value of their own relationship. It is a consistent, deliberate and systematic process to belittle the individual and create a dependency in the relationship. Commonly, it is considered a part of intimate relationship between partners or spouses, but is also perpetrated in familial relationships between parents and children, or by people in positions of authority to those in their care.

Emotional abuse is often applied alongside another form of abuse such as physical or sexual abuse, to intimidate the victim into maintaining silence and protecting their attacker.

Psychological abuse

Commonly interchanged with the definition of emotional abuse, psychological abuse occurs when someone uses threats and intimidation to gain dominance. The attacker relies on fear to control their victim, using phrases which scare an individual into silence, or undermine their self-worth.

Whereas emotional abuse is more typically applied in a one-to-one situation, psychological abuse can routinely be identified within the frameworks of toxic groups such as cults, radicalised groups and extremist religious sects for example.

“Gaslighting” is a common form of psychological abuse where the victim is tricked into believing that they have mental difficulties.

Spiritual or religious abuse

Spiritual or religious abuse occurs when someone uses an individual’s spiritual beliefs to manipulate, dominate or control them. In religious cults, this means the manipulation of doctrine to cause fear and dependency, where the leadership’s least whim is treated as if it were a divine decree.

Physical Abuse

Also referred to as domestic violence when perpetrated in a familial setting, physical abuse is most commonly an escalation of existing coercive controls i.e. other techniques are used first, before ultimately resorting to violence. It can involve an individual or group striking, physically restraining, and / or deliberately hurting an individual to specifically achieve dominance over them. Commonly, the attacker will swiftly follow physical abuse with emotional abuse or wheedling, to wear down the victim and maintain their reliance on their attacker.

Victims usually become too intimidated to speak out, and the violence may also intensify over time, resulting in more severe injuries and potentially even death. The victim is also commonly blamed for the physical abuse by their attacker, eroding their self-belief.

Verbal abuse

Verbal abuse occurs when someone uses written or spoken language to threaten, intimidate or otherwise undermine another person. Verbal abuse is regularly employed as part of emotional abuse and psychological abuse, with choice phrases used to specifically exploit and deepen the victim’s insecurities. It is a technique that is also employed by bullies.


Bullying is the foundation of all coercive control. It encompasses all forms of physical, psychological, emotional and verbal abuse, and may be carried out by an individual or by a group. It relies on the victim being too intimidated to seek help.

Traditionally, bullying was a physical problem, happening face-to-face between the victim and their attacker(s). The rise of digital technology including social media and online platforms however, has created an effective medium for bullying to happen remotely, with the victim and their attacker potentially never even meeting.

While the problem is now recognized in schools, much more needs to be done to eliminate bullying from business and home environments and online.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse occurs when a person is forced to take part in any sexual activity against their will, or is sexually harassed. It ranges from verbal sexual harassment including inappropriate comments, catcalls and lewd suggestions, through to sexual acts required in exchange for favours, or repeated rapes.

Sexual abuse can vary in intensity, from one-off incidents through to a repeated, systemic pattern of abuse. The term can also encompass sexually-related physical acts including genital mutilation and enforced abortion, although these can both result from cultural expectations and be isolated from other forms of long-term abuse.


Neglect occurs when someone fails in their responsibility to provide care or assistance to another. Predatory people or some individuals in authority, strip away the assets of a victim, and then abandon them. They have no concern for either young or old.

A culture of neglect has been found in some care homes for the elderly, in children’s homes, prisons and mental hospitals.

Financial abuse

Financial abuse occurs when someone controls an individual’s financial resources without the person’s consent, or misuses those resources. Predatory individuals and destructive groups use coercive control to take control of their victims’ financial resources.

Financial abuse may exploit an intimate or familial relationship, or can take advantage of positions of authority, such as exploiting a mentally or physically vulnerable individual or wrongfully utilising Powers of Attorney for example.

Cultural abuse

Cultural abuse happens when an individual’s culture or religion imposes harmful practices, such as the painful and debilitating foot-binding suffered for centuries by the women of China. Even today, many people go without proper medical treatment due to the anti-scientific views of their cultural or religious groups.

Getting support

Although many forms of abuse are used by an attacker concurrently, there is usually one form of coercive control which is the most dominant, be that verbal, physical, emotional, financial or any of the other forms. The type of support therefore is dependent on the dominant form of abuse, the nature of the relationship, the persons involved, and the stage of recovery that an individual is already at. For example, someone who remains in an abusive relationship, and for whom you have immediate safety concerns will be best supported by local law enforcement and immediate emergency care including shelter and emotional support. Someone who has recently left an abusive relationship for example will be best supported with ongoing emotional support which can be obtained from a therapist. Many charities and supporting organisations exist to deliver this support directly, and we have listed a few below for our readers to make initial contact:

US Support

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UK Support

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