Posted by: Terri Johnston Fraracci | September 5, 2011

Abuse is not always physical: for those abused in any form and those who wish to understand

According to the Riley Center, every nine seconds, a woman in the United States is battered. She is on the receiving end of physical abuse. Although we have come a long way in our thinking, there are still many, often including the woman being beaten, who believe that she deserves it, that the man has a right, that it’s not our business. Worse than that belief, is the common belief that if the abuse is not physical, then it is not as bad, or not abuse at all.

That’s a false belief that keeps women stuck in horrifying, demeaning, equally damaging abusive relationships. She will say to herself and others that this is not abuse, because he never touched me. Her family and friends will not intervene because they see no bruises or broken bones. But if they understand what abuse really is, they will see the broken spirit, because mental and emotional abuse are every bit as devastating as physical abuse.

An abuser (who can be male or female, but in this post I am speaking of men) has an assortment of tools that when used in combination will keep the abused in control. Fear, pain, alienating the abused’s friends and family, isolation, guilt, shame,  blaming the abused for their own behavior, and repeated character assassination wear the abused down, and eventually move them into a position of total dependence on the person who hurts them the most.

Jaycee Dugard speaks in her memoir, of how she would actually look forward to Garrido’s visits, even though he was abusive, because she was so isolated, so much of the time, that at least she had company when he was with her. Sounds insane, but the emotionally abused woman would understand. When you are stripped of all other contact, convinced that you are a terrible person that nobody would want to be with, and alone most of the time, your abuser becomes your rescuer, as well; the result of effective, calculated, insidious abuse.

I am sharing this with you today, in the hope that someone who is living this nightmare, or someone who is witnessing a loved one living this nightmare, will understand that abuse is not always physical, but abuse all the same if someone is causing another harm to keep them in control. I also want you to know that if you are being abused, you can get out.

If what you read above applies to you, please understand that abuse is using “something”, not necessarily physical, to achieve an effect, in this case, control of you. Although you carry no bruises on the outside, the bruises on the inside are just as harmful, and just as wrong. You don’t deserve it, you don’t have to live with it, and you are stronger than you think. Look what you have been able to tolerate so far? You can get out, and you can build a life without abuse.

If what you read above reminds you of someone in your life, open up to the possibility that they may be in trouble. Don’t be fooled by lack of signs of physical abuse. Understand that physical harm is only one form of control. Of course you can’t fix it for the abused, they must do it for themselves, but if you are aware, you can be the support they so desperately need, but can’t ask for.

To those of you who think you might be in a position of abuse: If you are still not sure that this post applies to you, read more about signs of abuse, and ways to get out here. And if you realize that this does apply to you, but don’t think you can do it, I say you can. I know, because I did, and leaving was the first step in an amazing personal transformation from being abused and feeling like a victim, to becoming a survivor in charge of my life, to now thriving, gratefully living and loving my life!

It is my prayer today that if you are being abused you will give yourself the same gift. If you are witnessing abuse, you will give the abused the gift of awareness, understanding, and support.  Be a part of the solution.

*One more thing: Notice how I never call the abused a victim? That’s because it was the day someone lovingly interrupted my tearful litany of what he was doing to me to quietly ask me what my part was. What???? I’m the victim!!! No, I wasn’t. I was a participant. That’s when I realized that as long as I considered myself a victim, I was shifting the responsibility of my behavior on to him, just as he blamed me for his, and so felt powerless to help myself. That was the day I knew I had the power to leave, and it wasn’t long after, that I did.



  1. Terri,
    As someone who was emotionally abused as a child I realize that this is a very difficult type of abuse to recognize. I’m glad you touched on it here. I am also glad that you bring out that we each take a part in our own abuse and have (as adults) options. I chose detachment from my abusers. As you’ve said, it opened the door to a wonderful life. I am in the pilot’s seat now, and I love it. I finally have respect for myself.
    Thanks for another terrific, well thought, blog.


  2. Thank you so much Eileen. And thank you for sharing :).


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