Difference Between Punishment and Abuse

Punishment vs Abuse

Although abuse and punishment may sound similar, there is a clear difference between them. Abuse is a form of ill-treatment of another individual. This can take many forms such as physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, etc. Abuse takes place everywhere, on the streets, at workplaces and even within households. Also, different populations can become victims of abuse such as wives, children, etc. Punishment, however, is different to abuse. It is usually conducted with the objective of disciplining someone. Through this article, we will examine the differences between abuse and punishment.

What is Abuse?

The word abuse can be loosely defined as ill-treatment or misuse. In our society, we hear many cases where children and women have becomes victims of abuse that it has become commonplace. However, abuse is something that needs to be taken very seriously as it has repercussions not only for the victims but also to the society at large.

When speaking of abuse it can take many forms. They are,

  • Physical abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Social abuse

Abuse is a resultant of power imbalance and also the misuse of power where the abuser can control the actions of the abused. Let us comprehend this through an example of abuse within the family context. Domestic violence is a social problem in today’s world, even though, most people tend to view it as something normal and as a right. This can be physical, verbal, emotional, etc. If the abuser hits, slaps, or physically harms the victim, it is physical abuse. If it involves humiliation and mind games, this is emotional abuse. Verbal abuse is when the victim is threatened and yelled about. Sexual abuse is when the victim is forced sexually. Financial abuse is when the victim is denied access to be employed, or if the victim is not given any money. Finally, social abuse is when the victim is ostracized from friends and family.

Difference Between  Punishment and Abuse

What is Punishment?

Punishment is when a penalty has been imposed on someone for an offense. Punishment is used when a certain behavior needs to be reduced. For example, parents punish their children for misbehavior. When punishing a child, the objective of the parent is to discipline the child. Punishments can also take various forms such as physical punishment, verbal punishment, etc.

Psychologists believe that punishment can be very effective when the child is given the punishment as soon as the behavior takes place. Also, it has to be regular so that the child knows that if he engages in a particular misbehavior he will be punished. However, punishing can also have negative consequences. Some children become aggressive and display anti-social behavior when punished often.

  Punishment vs Abuse

What is the difference between Punishment and Abuse?

Definitions of Punishment and Abuse:

Abuse: Abuse can be defined as ill-treatment or misuse.

Punishment: Punishment is when a penalty has been imposed on someone for an offense.

Characteristics of Punishment and Abuse:


Abuse: Abuse results in extreme damage to the abused such as broken bones, internal damage, etc.

Punishment: Punishment does not result in such consequences as in abuse.


Abuse: Abuse is aimed at hurting someone.

Punishment: Punishment is given to discipline the child and educate the child on what is correct and what is not.


Abuse: Abuse does not pay attention to any specific features.

Punishment: Punishment is given based on the age of the individual.


Abuse: Abuse is done deliberately with the intention of harming.

Punishment: Punishment has no intention of harming.


Abuse: In abuse, the actions can be impulsive and full of aggression and resentment.

Punishment: In punishment, the actions are not impulsive and aggressive but, when punished often, the punished can become aggressive and display anti-social behavior.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Dance floor scolding by Peter Sheik (CC BY 2.0)
  2. Punishment by CircaSassy (CC BY 2.0)