What is Abusive Behaviour?

Abuse or domestic violence occurs when one person uses

  • Violent or intimidating behaviour to control or dominate the other person, resulting in physical, sexual and or psychological damage.
  • Forced social isolation or economic deprivation.
  • Behaviour that leaves the victim living in fear.

Abuse is more than just an argument or disagreement. It includes:

  •  Fear
  •  Control
  •  Domination
  •  Victimization
  •  Harm


Physical abuse or violence - killing or harming another person's body

  •  Punching, hitting, slapping, shoving, throwing objects, pulling hair, biting, twisting limbs, choking, kicking, strangulation, the infliction of fractures or burns, the use of chemicals etc.
  • Use of weapons like guns or knives regularly leads to murder.
  • Depriving a person of basic needs - food, money, contact with others, denial of nutrition, denial of sleep, denial of medical care, forced restraint or forced isolation.
  • The practice of selective sex abortions, killing of female newborn babies - 60 million females babies are missing (UN), bride burning, honour killings, female genital mutilation - this happens to 90 million African women & girls (Heise 1994), sex slavery - 4 million slaves, mostly women & girls. (UNICEF)

Emotional abuse - hurting or disabling a person's psyche

  •  Words and behaviours that destroy another person's belief in themselves, humiliates them and reduces their self-esteem, destroying their identity. Designed to make victim feel helpless.
  • Insults about appearances, ability to cope or to be able to succeed on own. Negative put downs, stalking, and harassment.
  • Brainwashing over time. Victim may begin to believe, accept and repeat the emotional abuse to their self. Victim may feel guilty or worthless because abuser projects guilt onto them. d. Threats - aimed at terrorizing - to kill pets, to kill you, to kill the children, to destroy the household property, or will commit suicide.
  • Manipulation, twisting the truth, saying the victim is evil, it's their fault etc.

Social Abuse - damaging a person's social standing

  • Delivering verbal abuse in front of other people - put downs, jokes, criticisms about appearance, sexuality, and intelligence.
  • Controlling behaviour, controlling access to others, interrogations, false accusations.
  • Isolating a person by denigrating their friends and family, leading them to cut themselves off, fearing that it will enrage their abuser.

Sexual Abuse - This is any sexual act to which an adult does not freely give consent or any sexual act with a child e.g. rape, sexual abuse, paedophilia, female genital mutilation.

Spiritual Abuse or Persecution

  • Using God or religious teachings as a weapon or prevents the victim from practising their religious beliefs.
  • When an individual uses the Bible, the church, or their spiritual influence or authority to intimidate, manipulate, exploit, shame, coerce, constrain or control another individual in the name of God, thus demanding their obedience and adoration.  

Abusive behaviours can affect anyone. Women and children are most often affected, but women can abuse too. Family violence cuts across all ages and sections of socio-economic, and cultural groups.

The Signs and Symptoms of Abuse

Symptoms may include: 

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • post traumatic stress disorder
  • sleeping
  • eating and sexual disorders
  • distrust of people in general or authority figures
  • loss of self esteem
  • feelings of helplessness and worthlessness
  • isolation
  • addictions
  • abusiveness - sometimes leading to murder