How do I define abuse? I don’t think abuse can be defined in terms of actions. Abuse is an emotional dynamic that manifests in a variety of actions—the same physical actions that might be far less harmful outside an abusive relationship. I don’t think my mother was abusive because she hit me. I think she was abusive because she taught me I was bad inside. I think she was abusive because she did not want me to have an existence outside her. I think she was abusive because she systematically attacked my sense that I was a person and deserved to be treated like a person; the fact that she slapped me a couple times in the process is, honestly, barely relevant.