Recognizing and Understanding Abuse

Shereeza Ibrahim. B.A.Psych, M.S.W, R.S.W.
Clinical Counsellor and Author

It can be hard to recognize abuse because it starts out very subtly.  Sometimes we may not even recognize when we are the ones being abusive.  However, as Muslims, it is worth paying attention to because the Prophet (peace be upon him) related that Allah said, “O My servants, I have forbidden injustice for Myself and I have forbidden it among you, so do not oppress one another (Sahih Muslim 2577)“.  Emotional, mental and verbal abuse is a form of oppression, whether it happens between husband and wife, siblings, parents and children, co-workers or neighbours.  We are aware that insulting someone, swearing and physical and sexual violence is abusive, but what are the forms of abuse that are not always so easy to point out?

There are forms of abuse that we experience or subject others to that we don’t always talk about.  One form of emotional and mental abuse is called manipulation.  This can come in the form of withholding information or threatening consequences in the hopes of someone making a choice they wouldn’t otherwise make.  Manipulation is also making a person feel ashamed if they don’t behave in the way the person in power personally prefers.  When an individual is degraded and made to feel as if they are inadequate and incompetent, that is also a form of abuse.  These are all indirect ways, when repeated, leaves a person feeling oppressed.  

You might look at someone you know and wonder why he or she is unable to leave his/her abusive relationship.  It can happen to anyone of any age, educational, religious or financial background.  It’s not an easy situation to get out of, especially when one has become financially dependent, or they, their family, children, reputation or future are being threatened.  Abusers also force that person to limit or cut off social ties so they can’t be supported or ‘influenced’.  They control one’s movements and lifestyle, which then makes it difficult for the individual to prepare and implement a plan to finally leave the relationship.  Furthermore, an abusive individual often fluctuates between being aggressive, controlling, sensitive, and affectionate.  They also say things like “you’re the only one who understands me. I need you. I can’t live without you”.  This causes the abused individual to feel trapped, confused and sympathetic to the abuser.

When they fear for their safety, individuals being abused need a safety plan.  A safety plan is somewhat of an escape plan that is prepared ahead of time for when one finally decides to leave.   It typically includes a safe place to go, safe friends, emergency cash, identification and essential items.  You will find more information about this online (open a private browser).  Even though it is a difficult situation to leave, it is possible with the right supports.  (Click here)

As for those who abuse, taking advantage of your power to control others is not strength.  It can come from a place of fear or losing control, or unhealthy relationship dynamics that you may have learned growing up.  If some of the behaviours above sound like you, please seek tips and strategies to improve your communication or relationship style.  Free counselling is being offered through or you can find a counsellor through

Below are resources to consider if you feel you or someone you know is being abused:
For men
For women
For elders experiencing abuse
For teens and children
NOTE: If you know a child is being abused, please call Children’s Aid Society for support: 416-924-4646.
It is a misconception that the first thing Children’s Aid Society will always do is remove children from the home.    Please call and they will assess the situation and respond as needed.

Author Bio: Shereeza is a clinical counsellor and award-winning author. She has been with the Islamic Institute of Toronto community for over 10 years. You can find more of her articles on our website (Resources>Health and Wellness)