Mental Health Effects of Different Types of Abuse

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Abuse is an all too common occurrence in relationships worldwide. Abuse is not only limited to romantic relationships. It can also be present in familial relationships, friendships, and interactions with acquaintances and strangers.

In the United States, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience extreme physical violence from their partner. This leaves a worryingly high number of people with scratches, burns, scars, etc., inflicted by their partners.

But while the signs of physical abuse are typically visible, an effect of malicious mistreatment by a partner is often emotional and largely out of sight.

Many victims of domestic abuse have to grapple with the emotional and mental health effects of psychological aggression, neglect, financial abuse, and other forms of intimate partner violence.

In this guide, we'll be examining the different ways abuse takes a toll on mental well-being. Plus, we'll be highlighting ways to seek help when living in an abusive situation.

Physical Abuse

This is perhaps the most overt form of abuse. Physical abuse employs the use of force to humiliate, control, or coerce a victim to act in a particular way. It is intentionally causing bodily injury to a partner to establish dominance over them.

Forms of Physical Abuse

Here are some common forms of physical abuse:

  • Choking
  • Slapping
  • Biting
  • Throwing objects

Effects of Physical Abuse

When a person constantly receives or is at the risk of receiving blows to the body, slaps to the face, or another form of cruel physical contact, there is a high chance that their body will host various injuries in many states of healing.

For women especially, physical violence and the threat of it come with a different set of challenges. Receiving constant violence and the stress of expecting harm has been linked to chronic health challenges like back pain and headaches.

Women who were victimized by their partners also report higher rates of depression and anxiety due to this treatment.

People that have been battered by their partners may also experience stress, PTSD, eating disorders, among other symptoms. Physical violence may disrupt sleep patterns and has been linked with insomnia. In addition, there is a high risk of engaging in substance abuse following repeated physical violence from a partner.

Abuse victims may also find that they are restless during daily activities or unable to achieve much due to fatigue.

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Emotional Abuse

Because emotional abuse can take many forms, it’s often hard to give a fitting description of this form of maltreatment. For a general idea, emotional abuse may occur where a person’s emotions are manipulated by a pattern of abusive and bullying words or behavior. It is controlling and acts as a way of punishing a person through humiliating tactics and threats.

This form of abuse does not require physical contact to cause damage, it does, however, diminish a person’s self-esteem and self-worth.

Someone that employs emotional abuse may chip away at their victim’s sense of reality, and personal value by disregarding requests or needs. They may start unnecessary arguments, or make overly critical comments on their partner’s appearance. They tend to go in and out of unpredictable moods, or may make unreasonable demands of their partners.

In some cases, they may employ extreme criticism when these demands are not met to their standards.

Emotional abuse may take different forms that can cause a victim to feel wounded, worthless, and anxious.

Forms of Emotional Abuse

  • Silent treatment
  • Withholding affection
  • Routinely making threats
  • Cruel name-calling
  • Gaslighting
  • Intimidation
  • Threatening to harm a partner
  • Isolating the victim from friends and family

Effects of Emotional Abuse

Being surrounded by a partner with turbulent mood changes can be mentally taxing. When a partner can cleverly construct their words to debase and demoralize, or otherwise warp their victim's reality, it can have far-reaching effects.

Victims of emotional abuse are likely to experience depression and anxiety. It isn’t uncommon for an abused partner to develop phobias, or alcohol and substance use disorders. An emotionally abused person may also self-harm or engage in reckless sexual practices following emotional harm. 

Very worryingly, a person that has experienced emotional abuse may begin to harbor suicidal thoughts and can even attempt to end their life as a result of the pain.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Sexual Abuse

Some of the most brutal forms of domestic violence come in the many variations of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse occurs where a person is forced to perform sexual acts against their wishes.

It may also occur where they are degraded during intimate situations, or where bodily autonomy is threatened by a partner.

While rape is the most recognizable form of sexual abuse, this form of violence may appear in other ways.

Forms of Sexual Abuse

  • Insisting a partner dress in a preferred way
  • Demanding sex when a partner is ill or tired
  • Unwelcome sexual photography
  • Sharing nude photos without consent
  • Forcing a partner to watch pornographic content

Effects of Sexual Abuse

When a person’s sexual autonomy is forcibly overtaken by a partner or another person, this can produce understandably adverse reactions in the body and mind.

Being forced to perform sexual acts or partake in dehumanizing forms of intercourse can cause feelings of guilt to present themselves,even though the victim is in no way responsible for what has occurred.

A victim of sexual abuse may also find it difficult to hold on to relationships and can begin to struggle with depression and anxiety. While navigating the anger and disbelief of their partner’s actions, victims may experience PTSD, sexual dysfunction, and poor sleep patterns.

In severe cases, this extreme breach of trust and humanity can cause a victim of sexual assault to make attempts at ending their life.

If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can contact the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to receive confidential support from a trained staff member at a local RAINN affiliate.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Financial Abuse

An easily overlooked, yet dangerous form of abuse occurs where a partner has limited or no access to funds in a relationship. In such a situation, one partner has the majority control over the money in the relationship, and how it is dispersed for needs. 

This mistreatment may also crop up where one partner is prevented from opportunities that might grant financial independence. 

Financial abuse forces a person to become heavily reliant on their partner for funds to buy everyday items like clothing, groceries. This ultimately affects the victim's ability to survive.

Forms of Financial Abuse

  • Controlling how funds are spent at home
  • Denying a partner access to shared accounts
  • Being financially reckless with joint funds
  • Preventing a partner from taking up employment opportunities
  • Placing a partner on an allowance from the income they earned

Effects of Financial Abuse

It can be mentally and emotionally devastating when one person can decide to withhold money for the food their partner eats, how much they can spend on new clothes, or even decree a haircut as an unnecessary monthly expense.

Intimate partners—usually women, on the receiving end of financial abuse may be found in a constant state of anxiety and distress over their economic state. The reality is that they lack the resources to leave their partners and feel trapped. This feeling can lead to depression.

Financial abuse can also significantly affect the household by impacting the ability to carry out parental roles adequately.

A Word From Verywell

Abuse in any form can be incredibly damaging to someone's emotional and physical health. If you are a victim of abuse, please remember that it is not your fault and that there are resources that are available to help you.

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9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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