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What Is The Difference Between Violence and Abuse?

* I generally write using the pronouns he/him when referring to narcissists, but females are just as likely to be narcissists or exhibit narcissistic traits. So please don't think just because article uses the word him or he that it could not be a woman in that same role.

Abuse can take several forms – violence is one of them. Although abuse and violence can share similar conduct, they’re often not the same thing. Keep reading to learn the what is the difference between violence and abuse and how you can distinguish the two.

What Is The Difference Between Violence and Abuse?

What is Abuse? 

Abuse is almost any behavior inflicted by a perpetrator that causes us distress or harm. There are six different types of abuse. These are: 

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is any intentional act that causes injury or trauma via bodily contact. Physical abuse not only affects victims in the moment, but its impact can last a lifetime. Physical abuse isn’t always a punch to the face.

It can also include kicking, shaking, suffocating, hair pulling, pinching, biting, scratching, or burning. These could all be described as direct physical abuse, but physical abuse can be indirect, too.

For example, spitting or throwing objects at someone is considered physical abuse, but these would be considered indirect because body-to-body contact didn’t occur. 

Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse isn’t as easy to spot as physical abuse. You may not even know you’re being verbally abused in some cases.

This type of abuse often escalates with time, and if it’s continuously repeated, it can take a serious toll on your mental health

Verbal abuse doesn’t always involve screaming or yelling. Verbal abuse is the act of using any expression of behaviors or words that are used to control, manipulate, intimate, or maintain power over another person.

Emotional abuse can come from parents and coworkers to caregivers and parents. 

Examples of verbal abuse could be name-calling, belittling or humiliation, or threatening you. 

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is one of the most serious forms of abuse. Sexual abuse or molestation is defined as any abusive sexual behavior inflicted by one person to another.

Sexual abuse is always non-consensual, and it’s often inflicted with force or by manipulation. Like other types of abuse, molestation is always about control and power.

Examples of sexual abuse can include rape, attempted rape, non-consensual oral sex, sodomy, incest, or sexual harassment. 

Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse is the use of manipulation and malicious tactics to control, degrade, or isolate another person. Psychological abuse is never physical, but this doesn’t make its impact any less severe. 

Psychological abuse can take many forms. Some common examples include: 

  • Stalking or harassment 
  • Mocking
  • Screaming
  • Name calling and criticism
  • Controlling access to family and friends
  • Using jealousy to justify controlling behavior 
  • Making rules about where you can go or who you can see 
  • Making someone do something humiliating 
  • Character assassination 
  • Being dismissive 
  • Saying something cruel and brushing it off as a ‘joke’
  • Belittling accomplishments
  • Insulting your appearance 

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse is a type of coercive control characterized by a pattern of behavior that could include restricting a victim’s access to money, getting them into debt, or using money to isolate them. 

Financial abuse is often inflicted by a partner or close family member, and in most cases, the perpetrator will control all of the household finances and refuse to include the victim in their decisions.

The perpetrator may accumulate large amounts of debt in the victim’s name, refuse to give them money or take control of the victim’s money, and more. 

Unfortunately, financial abuse can be difficult to spot. Anyone can be a victim of financial abuse, but in most cases, vulnerable people and the elderly are the most common victims.  

Cultural Abuse 

This type of abuse doesn’t get as much attention as others, and it can be hard to spot. Cultural abuse is destructive at its core.

This type of abuse may belittle your beliefs or traditions, prevent you from participating in cultural traditions, misusing your own spiritual practices against you, using phrases such as ‘you’re not native enough,’ and tell you that you can’t participate in certain cultural activities because of your gender. 

Cultural abuse can inflict lasting wounds and isolate you from your friends, family, and the wider community. It can erode your identity and leave you feeling lost and removed from society. 

What is Violence? 

Violence is a type of abuse, and it’s one of the most serious. 

Violence is defined as any behavior that’s intended to damage, hurt, or kill someone or something. Violence is almost always an act of physical force, but it can also be psychological.

Violence can be split into three categories: 

Self-Directed Violence

This is any act that a person does intentionally to harm themselves, such as intentional injury or suicide. 

Interpersonal Violence

Interpersonal violence is also known as ‘intimate partner’ violence. This is usually domestic violence and may involve physical or psychological abuse. 

Collective Violence 

Collective violence is usually inflicted by one group to another. Collective violence can be used to achieve a social, political, or economic objective. 

In its most extreme forms, violence could be defined as assault, rape, or murder. 

Abuse and Violence: The Differences 

Although abuse and violence may seem like the same thing, they are often differentiated at a legal level.

For example, domestic abuse could point to intentional injury or impairment of the victim, but violence may describe actions that don’t cause physical injuries. Although the conduct is similar, in a court of law, they may differ significantly. 

The term ‘abuse’ is usually slightly broader than violence. Domestic abuse, for example, is often not limited to partners and spouses. It can also refer to abuse between adults and children and even non-related parties. 

While we often use the terms ‘abuse’ and ‘violence’ to refer to intentionally harmful acts between humans, these terms are also used to describe non-living aspects. For example, abuse of power or office and substance abuse. 

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Final Thoughts

Abuse and violence share many similarities, but in a court of law, they can be completely different. Abuse and violence are never justifiable.

If you’ve been a victim of abuse or violence, seek help immediately – as long as it’s safe for you to do so.

Emergency Numbers

Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) is the nation’s largest organization fighting sexual violence: (800) 656-HOPE / (800) 810-7440 (TTY)

988 Mental Health Emergency Hotline: Calling 988 will connect you to a crisis counselor regardless of where you are in the United States.

911 Emergency

The National Runaway Safeline: 800-RUNAWAY (800-786-2929)

Self Abuse Finally Ends (S.A.F.E)

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Trauma & Child Abuse Resource Center

Domestic Violence Shelters & Resources

Futures Without Violence

National Center for Victims of Crime

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

National Network to End Domestic Violence

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

Prevent Child Abuse America

Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC)

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI, or text “HELPLINE” to 62640. Both services are available between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET, Monday–Friday

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255); www.suicidepreventionlifeline.orgOr, just dial 988

Suicide Prevention, Awareness, and Support: www.suicide.org

Crisis Text Line: Text REASON to 741741 (free, confidential and 24/7). In English and Spanish

Self-Harm Hotline: 1-800-DONT CUT (1-800-366-8288)

Family Violence Helpline: 1-800-996-6228

American Association of Poison Control Centers: 1-800-222-1222

National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependency: 1-800-622-2255

LGBTQ Hotline: 1-888-843-4564

National Maternal Mental Health Hotline: 1-833-TLC-MAMA (1-833-852-6262)

The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678678. Standard text messaging rates apply. Available 24/7/365. (Provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning—LGBTQ—young people under 25.)

The SAGE LGBT Elder Hotline connects LGBT older people and caretakers with friendly responders. 1-877-360-LGBT (5428)

The Trans Lifeline is staffed by transgender people for transgender people:
1-877-565-8860 (United States)
1-877-330-6366 (Canada)

Veterans Crisis Line: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net

International Suicide Prevention Directory: findahelpline.com

The StrongHearts Native Helpline is a confidential and anonymous culturally appropriate domestic violence and dating violence helpline for Native Americans, available every day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CT. Call 1-844-762-8483.

‘Find a Therapist’ Online Directories


UK & Republic of Ireland

  • Emergency: 112 or 999
  • Hotline: +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90 (UK – local rate)
  • Hotline: +44 (0) 8457 90 91 92 (UK minicom)
  • Hotline: 1850 60 90 90 (ROI – local rate)
  • Hotline: 1850 60 90 91 (ROI minicom)
  • YourLifeCounts.org: https://yourlifecounts.org/find-help/

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