While domestic violence can be physical, it can also include non-physical forms of abuse.

Domestic violence includes all forms of abuse that take place within a family or household. It can include situations where someone abuses a significant other, children, parents, siblings, other relatives, and even housemates.

It’s estimated that domestic violence affects 10 million people in the United States each year.

No type of abuse is OK, whether it’s physical or non-physical in nature. Each type of abuse can be emotionally damaging and traumatizing.

However, people who’ve experienced domestic violence may find it helpful to learn about the different types of abuse so that they can understand and recognize it better.

The type of abuse you experience might affect the resources you seek. For example, an organization might focus on helping people who face digital abuse by enlisting the help of tech consultants and lawyers who specialize in IT law.

Additionally, the law might distinguish between different types of violence, depending on where you live.

Non-physical violence isn’t always as obvious as physical violence — but it can be just as damaging. Abusers may try to control you through digital, emotional, verbal, financial, or psychological abuse.

Digital or online abuse

Digital abuse involves using technology to harass, threaten, or intimidate you. This could mean sending incessant texts or emails or controlling your online accounts.

For example, if a significant other insists on having your social media passwords so that they can monitor your behavior, it’s a form of digital abuse.

Digital abuse can also include harassing someone online or spreading defamatory rumors about them.

This technology safety plan guide may help you take steps to keep yourself safe from digital and online abuse.

Emotional and verbal abuse

Emotional and verbal abuse aims to undermine your self-esteem and independence. An abuser may try to make you doubt or dislike yourself so that they can control you more easily.

Verbal abuse can include name-calling, constant criticism, and accusations. It could also include shifting blame from the abuser to the victim: “The only reason I yell is because you make me so mad! What else do you expect?”

Emotional abuse is not always verbal, and it can include deliberate patterns of behavior. For example, an emotional abuser may try to isolate you from your loved ones by forbidding you from seeing them or manipulating you into cutting them off.

Financial or economic abuse

Financial abuse means controlling your ability to acquire, use, or maintain financial resources. They might prevent you from working or have total control over your bank accounts.

Economic abuse can also involve someone taking loans and credit out under your name or deliberately ruining your credit score.

Psychological or mental abuse

Psychological or mental abuse involves tactics to frighten, manipulate, or control you. They might isolate you from friends or family, dictate your daily activities, or use threats.

If someone deliberately makes you fear them — for example, through displaying weapons around the house or by threatening you — it’s a form of mental abuse.

Mental and psychological abuse can include gaslighting, which is where someone deliberately makes you question your perceptions, memory, and sanity in order to control you.

Physical violence can include physical abuse as well as sexual abuse.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse involves any intentional act causing injury or trauma to you by way of bodily contact. It can include hitting, punching, or pinching.

Using other objects to hurt you — for example, throwing things at you — is also physical abuse.

A less-recognized form of physical abuse is when an abuser withholds necessary resources for your health, such as medications, food, or even sleep.

If someone deprives you of something you need for your health — say, if they don’t let you access your asthma pump or wheelchair — it can be considered physical abuse.

Sexual abuse or coercion

Sexual abuse occurs when someone forces you into unwanted sexual activity without your consent. This can include rape, unwanted sexual touching, or sending unsolicited nudes.

Sexual coercion is when someone pressures or manipulates you into sexual acts.

For example, a partner might tell you that they’re entitled to have sex with you whenever they want, even when you don’t consent, because you’re in a relationship, thus pressuring you into sex.

Although domestic violence can be an isolating experience, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. Help is available.

You can take steps to ensure your safety. The approach you take will depend on your unique situation.

Here are some tips:

  • It’s not your job to reason with them or “fix” their behavior: Their behavior is their responsibility, not yours. If they promise to change, it’s not your job to stick around and see if they’ll follow through — you deserve better.
  • You can try to set boundaries with them: This can look like saying, “I won’t tolerate this any longer. If you call me names, I will not engage with you.” While this doesn’t always mean they’ll stop being abusive, it does send a message that it’s not OK.
  • Find support: Talk with trusted loved ones, and consider joining a support group in your area. A therapist, particularly a domestic violence counselor, might be helpful. Take a look at this guide on finding mental health resources.
  • If and when you’re ready, make a plan to leave: Depending on your situation, it may be wise to make a safety plan. This can include slowly removing your belongings from the house, finding a shelter or a friend to stay at, and enlisting legal help.

Recognizing abuse is often the first step in finding support and getting out of the situation. While domestic violence can include physical abuse, non-physical abuse can also be damaging to your mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

Remember that abuse is never your fault, no matter what your abuser says. If you’re experiencing domestic violence, know that you deserve to live a life free from fear and cruelty. Consider seeking help from a domestic violence hotline, shelter, or counselor.

Sian Ferguson is a freelance health and cannabis writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s passionate about empowering readers to take care of their mental and physical health through science-based, empathetically delivered information.