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What Is The Difference Between Physical, Emotional, And Sexual Abuse?

What Is The Difference Between Physical, Emotional, And Sexual Abuse?

The word “abuse” is an umbrella term that encompasses different ways one person may intentionally harm another. There are a variety of differences between physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse. Gaining a basic understanding of each type of abuse, respectively, can help to illuminate their differences. It is important to note that any form of abuse can be seriously damaging to its victims.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is defined as any “intentional act causing injury or trauma to another person…by way of bodily contact.” Common examples of physically abusive behaviors could include: 

  • Hair pulling
  • Scratching
  • Kicking
  • Biting 
  • Pushing 
  • Hitting
  • Using a weapon
  • Pulling or grabbing clothes 

Physical abuse does not necessarily leave a physical mark on the victim. However, by nature of the fact that physical abuse can be inherently violent, the effects of physical abuse are generally far more visible than those of emotional abuse. Hence, physical abuse often surfaces sooner than emotional abuse.

Emotional Abuse

Teen emotional abuse is comprised of non-physical, abusive behaviors that are deliberately used to cause mental or emotional pain. According to Verywell Mind “Emotional abuse is a way to control another person by using emotions to criticize, embarrass, shame, blame, or otherwise manipulate another person.” Examples of emotionally abusive behaviors can include, but are not limited to the following examples, provided by Healthline:

  • Intimidation
  • Stalking
  • Threatening
  • Attempting to control access to one’s family or friends 
  • Trying to control clothing choices 
  • Yelling
  • Coercion 
  • Ridiculing
  • Harassment   

Because there are no physical wounds like those that can occur with physical abuse and sexual abuse, it is nearly impossible to identify a victim of emotional abuse. Until the mental health of a victim of emotional abuse deteriorates to the point of recognition by others, it remains hidden to the outside world.

Sexual Abuse

The America Psychological Association defines sexual abuse as “unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent.” Sexually abusive behaviors could include the following examples, provided by Science Direct:

  • Forcing someone to have sex 
  • Forcing someone to perform sexual acts
  • Refusing to use condoms
  • Engaging in sexual acts with someone who is unconscious
  • Rape
  • Unwanted kissing 
  • Unwanted touching
  • Unwanted rough or violent sex

Although sexual abuse often does have a physical component, it is not considered physical abuse, as it is sexual in nature. Sexual abuse occurs when a young person is pressured into participating in sexual acts or behaviors that he or she does not want to take part in. 

For Information and Support

Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, in the long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.


We are available to answer any questions you may have regarding mental health treatment and our residential program, anytime. Contact us today using the form to the right.

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