Physical Abuse

Physical Abuse


Abuse is a tragic reality for many people and can take several forms.  Physical abuse occurs when unwanted and deliberate contact is made with another person's body  usually with the intent to cause physical harm, suffering or pain.  Some websites, such as Wikipedia define it as requiring an "intent" to cause bodily harm.  However this is not correct.  The intent of the abuser is not relevant as to whether or not abuse occurs. If another person's body is violated with physical contact that causes pain or injury, and the act was deliberate (i.e. not an accident), then physical abuse can be said to be present. Often times it carries with it other types of abuse such as sexual or emotional abuse.  Many people suffer from physical abuse at home, at school or elsewhere. The psychological effects can be extremely damaging and may be long term if issues are not resolved with the help of a professional therapist.   We should not feel alone; the support needed to recover is out there.


Physical abuse strikes in several forms:   bullying at school, the physical abuse of children by parents, drug related violence, family conflict, explosive relationships and marriages, and sexual abuse. Physical abuse is never OK and, even when the abuse has stopped, many will suffer ongoing mental health problems as a result.

How Physical Abuse Can Harm Us

Of course, physical abuse harms our bodies. In some cases the physical effects of abuse are very serious and can take a long time to recover from. However, the focus of this article is the psychological effects that physical abuse can have, particularly if the abuse takes place over an extended length of time. Victims of abuse often experience low self-esteem and a lack of confidence. This is because they have been treated in a manner that suggests they are not worthy of respect and care. Sufferers of physical abuse might also experience trust related issues; this is more likely if the perpetrator of physical abuse is someone they know well or a loved one. Anxiety also affects victims of abuse; this is often directly related to situations similar to those in which they were abused. For example, if a young woman is walking alone at night and she suffers an act of physical abuse such as rape, she is vulnerable to anxiety problems linked to walking alone at night. Anxiety issues can become inhibiting and debilitating. Physical abuse can also lead to feelings of depression, self-loathing, and suicidal thoughts. Some victims of long term physical abuse have reported considering ways of killing themselves before the perpetrator can return and hurt them further. Other sufferers of physical abuse may simply feel numb and disconnected from reality, unable to explain or share what has happened to them. Or many, particularly victims of sexual abuse, experience feelings of guilt or shame, as deserving of what happened to them (although, of course, this is untrue). The psychological impact of physical abuse can be far reaching. It is different for each individual, as we all process our experiences in different ways. However, no matter what has happened to us, and what problems might have developed as a result, it is vital to seek help and support.

How Physical Abuse Affects the Family

The majority of physical abuse involves people known to us, and sadly this often means family members. A relatively common example of physical abuse within a family is domestic violence between a husband and wife. This can result is the abused spouse, often the female, living in constant fear. They might feel like nothing they do is good enough, and confused as to what triggers violence. This results in the breakdown of a marriage, and a situation from which the woman desperately needs to escape. Trust issues and anxiety are likely to develop as well as possible depression and lack of self-esteem. If children are involved, the situation can be even more volatile. Even if children do not directly experience physical abuse it will still have a significant effect on their psychological well-being. If they see physical abuse in the home it can warp their ideas about what is right and wrong. Or it can cause them to be fearful of and for other family members. If children do directly experience abuse, whether it is violence, or includes sexual violence, their mental health is severely compromised. Violence within families can lead to social services getting involved and separating children from their parents, which is vital, to remove them from immediate physical danger, but does little for their long term psychological health. To help them overcome such issues it is necessary that children talk to a counsellor or therapist.

How Therapy Can Help

As we have discussed, physical abuse is often extremely damaging. If you have suffered physical abuse and are still experiencing anxiety, stress, or any other psychological problem, it is very important to pursue support. Therapists and counsellors are trained to help us understand and work through our mental issues. There is no need to feel ashamed or anxious about speaking to someone. Many people are in a similar situation, so do not feel alone. If you think you need help, it is your right to claim that help. You may only need a few sessions to share your experiences and gain useful support and advice, or it may take a long time to begin to overcome your problems. Either is fine, as long you are taking steps to try and recover from the physical abuse that took place in your life. A full recovery includes psychological recovery. Therapy and counselling can help us to fulfil this goal.

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