Abuse is an action or actions – especially repeated or regular – that intentionally cause you harm or distress.
Abuse can take many forms and can cause physical and mental pain. It's often about someone having power and control over you.
Anyone can be a victim of abuse and it can happen anywhere. The abuser could be a family member, someone in a position of trust or a stranger.
Our member Natasha Clewley says: “Abuse can be coercive, which is confusing and misleading. It can cause people to doubt what is happening, to blame themselves or think they can change the situation by behaving differently.
“Because of the manipulative nature, sometimes people just don't realise what they are experiencing is wrong or not their fault.
“People will say ‘I thought that was normal, I thought that was ok’.”
Abuse is also the improper use of a substance, such as alcohol or illegal drugs.
A counsellor can help you address how abuse in its various forms has made you feel. Counselling can help you work through your emotions, so you feel better about yourself.
What is emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse involves a pattern of behaviour over a period that makes you feel bad about yourself. It can also be called mental abuse or psychological abuse.
Emotional abuse could involve actions that deliberately isolate, humiliate or scare a person.
Behaviour that could be classed as emotional abuse includes intimidation and threats, criticism and undermining actions.
Natasha, who is a counsellor, supervisor and founder of WoW Therapy at Milton Keynes says: “Emotional abuse can take such a toll on victims.
“It can be very hard to challenge, or to talk about, because the nature of the abuse wears you down and causes you to question yourself or deny your needs.
“That's why it can have such an impact and why it's important victims know there are counsellors and services out there that can recognise what's going on and offer non-judgemental support.”
What is sexual abuse?
Sexual abuse is sexual activity you don’t want, don’t agree to or don’t understand.
Perpetrators often use force, make threats or take advantage of victims not able to give consent. The abuser could be a partner, family member, someone you know or a stranger.
What is physical abuse?
Physical abuse is when someone deliberately hurts or injures you or another person.
It could involve a wide range of physical violence such as hitting or kicking you, spitting or throwing things at you, biting, scratching or hair pulling, scalding or burning you.
What is domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse in a couple relationship or between family members.
This could include siblings, parent on child or child on parent. It can happen against anyone and anybody can be an abuser.
What is financial abuse?
Financial abuse is a way of limiting or controlling your ability to make, use or maintain your own money and financial resources.
It includes having your money or other property stolen, being defrauded and having your money misused.
The abuser could be the breadwinner and withhold or hide their money. They could be taking big risks with shared money without talking about it or they could be putting debt into your name.
What is alcohol abuse?
Alcohol abuse refers to regular excessive drinking which can have a negative effect on your life, your ability to function and your physical and mental health.
The effects could include failing to fulfil work or family responsibilities as a result of drinking, encounters with the police or emergency services after excessive alcohol use or combining alcohol with potentially hazardous situations, such as driving or operating machinery.
What is substance abuse?
Substance abuse refers to the harmful or hazardous use of substances for mind-altering purposes. Substances can include alcohol and other drugs, both legal and illegal.
Substance abuse can have a negative effect on your life, your ability to function and your physical and mental health.
Alcohol is the most common form of substance misuse, but drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and cannabis also come into this category, as well as the misuse of glue and aerosols.
How can counselling help with abuse?
“Counselling gives someone a space,” said Natasha. “People who come into counselling are not coming to say they were abused, but there might be historical abuse and it can take a long time for it to come out.
“They know they don’t feel ok but sometimes it takes them a while to talk about why.
“For people in abusive situations, it’s important for them to know they can come to a place where they can talk, where they can feel safe and where they are not judged.”
Natasha says that counselling can help people who are abusing substances break the cycle.
“A good counsellor will be able to listen to what they've got to say,” she explains. “We're not there to chastise them into stopping.
“What we want is for people to feel they can talk about this stuff. Once they feel accepted then we can work on healthier choices and helping them stop this cycle they are in.
“They come and they have a place where they can speak freely and explore all the things they've been worried about discussing, the things they think no-one will want to hear.
“They need a place where they can talk and feel safe, and when they have that it’s very powerful.”
More about abuse...
How to find a therapist
How to use the BACP Register and our online therapist directory to find the right counsellor or psychotherapist for you.
What happens in therapy
What you can expect from therapy and your first therapy session.
How to get therapy
Where, when and how you can get access to counselling and psychotherapy.