Abusive relationships symptoms

Signs of an abusive relationship | Abuse and violence

Content warning

This article discusses abuse.

If you’re currently in distress, please head to 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) for support. 

It’s not always obvious that you’re in an abusive relationship. This article flags some of the key signs to look for. It’s common for someone who is being abused to believe that it’s their own fault and that they somehow ‘deserve’ the abuse. It’s important to know that you’re never to blame for the way an abusive person treats you.

Key signs of an abusive relationship

An abusive relationship isn’t just limited to physical violence. It can include sexual, emotional and physical abuse, and may involve control of your finances. Here are some signs to look for.

Controlling and possessive behavior

  • They check on you all the time to see where you are, what you're doing and who you're with
  • They try to control where you go and who you see, and get angry if you don't do what they say.

Being unreasonably jealous

  • They accuse you of being unfaithful or of flirting
  • They isolate you from family and friends, often by behaving rudely to them.


  • They put you down, either publicly or privately, by attacking your intelligence, looks, mental health or capabilities
  • They constantly compare you unfavourably to others
  • They blame you for all the problems in your relationship, and for their violent outbursts
  • They say things like, 'No one else will want you.'


  • They yell or sulk, and deliberately break things that you value
  • They threaten to use violence against you, your family, friends or a pet.

Physical and sexual violence

  • They push, shove, hit or grab you
  • They force or trick you into having sex or doing things you don't want to do
  • They harm you, your pets or your family members.

Things you might feel in an abusive relationship

'My partner isn’t violent all the time – they love me'

Your violent partner may act lovingly towards you at other times and may truly feel sorry for their horrible behaviour. So it might be hard to stay angry and upset with them. However, there is quite a high chance that their violent behaviour will continue. Abusers can be incredibly charming people, especially if they’re trying to make you or others see them in a good light.

'Things will get better – they didn't mean to hurt me'

After a violent episode, it's common for both you and your abuser to try and downplay what happened with excuses, apologies or promises to change. You may feel embarrassed or scared to acknowledge what actually happened. Things might settle down for a bit, but it’s often only a matter of time before abuse happens again. It's very difficult to completely get rid of physical abuse in relationships, and any abusive behaviour, without professional help.

'It's so confusing – I'm sure it's a one-off'

If you’re experiencing abuse, things can feel really confusing, especially if it's your first relationship or if it is the first time your partner has shown abusive behaviour towards you. You might not be sure what to expect next. Abusers often try to influence your sense of what’s real, to make you feel confused or even that you’re going crazy. This is known as ‘gaslighting’. Statistically, though, if someone behaves violently once, they’re very likely to do it again.

'Maybe it's my fault'

You may begin to think that you’re to blame for your partner’s abusive behaviour. An abuser may excuse their behaviour by saying something like, 'It wouldn't have happened if you hadn’t…'. The truth is that no matter what you do, another person’s abusive behaviour is never your fault.

'I'm scared of what will happen if I leave them'

It’s not unusual to feel afraid of leaving the person who’s abusing you. You might feel unsafe, or scared of what the person might do to you or themselves. You might also feel that you aren’t capable of making it on your own. It’s important to remember that there are people who can help you every step of the way.

Getting help

Click here to learn more about what you can do if you’re in an abusive relationship.

You can always call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), a free national hotline that provides information, referrals and counselling for domestic violence, family violence, and sexual assault. It’s available to call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship

Extreme Jealousy

Jealousy is a sign of insecurity and lack of trust, but the abuser will say that it is a sign of love. The abuser will question the victim about who they talk to, accuse them of flirting, or be jealous of time spent with their friends, family, or children. The abuser may refuse to let the victim work or go to school for fear of meeting someone else. The abuser may call the victim frequently or drop by unexpectedly.

Controlling Behavior

One partner completely rules the relationship and makes the decisions. This includes “checking up” on the victim, timing a victim when they leave the house, checking the odometer on the car, questioning the victim about where they go. They may also check the victim’s cell phone for call history, their email or website history. The abuser may control the finances and tries to tell the victim how to dress, who to talk to, and where to go.

Quick Involvement

The abuser comes on strong at the beginning of the relationship, pressuring for a commitment and claims “Love at first sight” or “You’re the only person I could ever talk to”, or “I never met anyone like you before”. Often, in the beginning of a relationship, the abuser is very charming and romantic and the love is intense.

Unrealistic Expectations

Abusers expect their partners to meet all their needs and be “perfect”. They may say things like “If you love me, then I’m all you need”.


The abuser tries to keep the victim from friends and family by putting down everyone the victim knows, including their family and friends. They may keep the victim from going to work or school.

Blames Others

The abuser does not take responsibility for their problems, blaming others (usually the victim) for almost everything (“you made me mad”).


An abuser is easily insulted and takes everything as a personal attack and blows things out of proportion.

Cruelty to Animals or Children

The abuser may punish animals brutally or be insensitive to their pain. They may have unfair expectations of children or tease them until they cry.

“Playful” Use of Force of Sex

The abuser may throw or hold their partner down during sex, may pressure their partner into having sex, may demand sex when their partner is tired or ill or doesn’t want to have sex. They may ask the victim to do things they do not want to do.

Verbal Abuse

The abuser says cruel and harmful things to their victim, degrades them, curses at them, calls them names, or puts down their accomplishments. The abuser tells their victims they are stupid, and unable to function without them. They embarrass and put down the victim in front of others as well.

Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde

The abuser experiences severe mood swings and the victim may think the abuser has a mental health problem. One minute they can be charming and sweet and the next minute they become angry and explosive. Explosiveness and moodiness are typical of people who beat their partners.

Past History of Battering

The abuser has a history of past battering of partners and although they may admit to that, they say their previous partner provoked them to do it. A batterer will beat any partner they are with if the person is with them long enough for the violence to begin; situational circumstances do not cause a person to have an abusive relationship.

Use of Violence and Threats of Violence

Violence can include holding the victim down, restraining them from leaving the room or pushing, shoving or holding them against a wall.

Abusers may also throw or break objects as a punishment (breaking treasured possessions), but throwing or breaking objects mostly used to terrorize the victim into submission. The abuser may break or strike objects near the victim to frighten them.

Threats of violence include any threat or physical force meant to control the victim: “I’ll kill you”, “I’ll break your neck”, “If you ever leave, I’ll kill you.

If you think you may be involved in an abusive relationship, know that you are not alone and you can seek help.  Please call our Toll-Free, 24-Hour Hotline at 800-323-HOPE (4673).


Signs of an abuser in a relationship: how to recognize them in a woman or a man

You hear the word "abuser" - what kind of person is pictured in your imagination? When I ask this question to clients and program participants, I most often hear the following descriptions in the descriptions:

Most of us have formed a stable image of a villain for this epithet that has recently settled in the Russian language. Most often - a man who, it seems, can be quickly recognized by the above signs. If this were the case in reality, then the number of stories of traumatic, and sometimes even disabling relationships would be significantly reduced. And then it went down to zero. nine0003

There are two main myths worth mentioning, thanks to which even people who have knowledge about toxic relationships still continue to fall into them.

Two myths about abusers

Myth 1. An abuser can be seen right away - this is an openly aggressive person

to violent behavior. Most often, people who are subsequently capable of abuse, at the first stages of rapprochement, masterfully know how to impress pleasant, attentive, erudite interlocutors and companions. nine0003

Myth 2. The abuser is a man

Linguistic cunning. The word is masculine, which automatically, unconsciously prevents women from recognizing and naming as early as possible their tendency to emotional and physical violence. The case when gender-based expectations can get in the way. A female abuser is not uncommon.

Exposing these two myths is the first step, allowing us to look more broadly and more attentively at the quality of communication with which we surround ourselves. The second step is to give a comprehensive answer to the question about the signs of an abuser in a relationship. nine0003

Abusive relationships: a beautiful beginning

Rare relationships that later became destructive began immediately unpleasantly. For rapprochement to happen, it is important for us to be fascinated, to feel attraction. And it’s not so important - it’s about romance or friendship, a lively interest is the main condition for contact.

Often in a relationship that brought a lot of pain, only after a while you manage to remember those moments when you already felt “something was not right”, but did not attach any importance to it. This happens because a favorable impression at first tends to be fixed in our perception, creating a “pinkish filter” for some time. Since getting close to someone we like brings joy, we will unconsciously strive to prolong it as long as possible. nine0003

If we dare to look a few more layers deeper, then unconsciously, in approaching some people, we are looking for the healing of some old wounds. It’s as if something within us wants a happier ending to a scenario in which questions about our importance, value, uniqueness were addressed to a significant person, and no affirmative answers were received.

In the hope of getting a convincing and unequivocal "yes" we are ready to turn a blind eye first to the little, and then to the big. Excuses - multi-story, seemingly logical explanations for the cruelty and inadequacy of human actions - become a separate skill. And the abuser gives enough reasons to train him, bringing him to the level of virtuosity. Especially if yesterday he again promised love. nine0003

This is the dance of toxic relationships in partnership and friendship. And the more familiar its rhythm is to us, the more difficult it is to deny ourselves the temptation to rush into the dance.

Abuse: how to understand that violence has already begun

The melody of abuse in a relationship will never sound from a loud intro, but intensifies gradually, by a decibel per week. And therefore, the signs of abuse in a relationship are often difficult to recognize and completely inaudible to a loving ear. However, just as there are 7 musical notes, I was able to identify 7 signs by which abuse is guessed. nine0003

1. Very white coat

A person who is prone to abuse in relationships very subtly, imperceptibly, but quite unequivocally in his statements and views claims to be the elder. He may not speak directly about it, but you will feel that his opinion is more correct than yours. His mind is clearer, his jokes are funnier, his experience is richer, and his intelligence is higher. It's not like he's asking you to compete with him. Rather, it states a fact: this is the first place, and this is the second.

2. “It seemed to you”

When the other appears all the time in white, then the causes of any roughness (which sooner or later arise in any relationship) will for some reason only be on your side. Attempts to object to such an interpretation of the situation are stopped by one effective method: through an unobtrusive, progressive denial of the adequacy of your perception, as well as distrust of your memory.

This is how the phenomenon of gaslighting in a relationship takes shape. For a while, you manage to let it go past your ears, but there comes a moment when you begin to doubt the reliability of the information received through your native senses. Somewhere in the depths of the subconscious, an agreement is being prepared for the conclusion of the rejection of one's truth if it is inconvenient for another. nine0003

The first and second points are united by the abusive person's desire for influence and control. Initially, there is nothing wrong with wanting to matter to another and knowing that your words are being listened to. Everything depends on what methods the partner is ready to achieve this, and most importantly, from what position: respect for the right of another to be himself or intolerance for this right?

3. A debtor is convenient

One day I received a message from a reader: "My friend advised me to treat people as if they had already done something nasty to me." This relationship building strategy is quite popular among average abusers: broadcast dissatisfaction in the background and make it clear - "you better correct your mistake. " What kind of error is in question is often unclear. nine0003

However, this way of inducing feelings of guilt really works with neurotic people with increased social anxiety. Especially when the abuser is charming and sparkling, and approaching him seems to promise joy.

The second popular way to make a partner feel guilty or ashamed is to play "good ahead of the curve." Some people who are prone to abuse are masters at being helpful. The more subtle the abuser acts, the more difficult and shameful it will be to refuse kindness or help, which you probably did not even ask for. But a return of gratitude may not be enough. nine0003

The abuser is interested in leaving you in debt, because, firstly, it feeds his sense of superiority, and secondly, it gives him a reliable lever of influence: at the right moment, he will remember his good deeds, putting you in an awkward position. And of course you want to get out of it.

And the third way to get you to do what the abusive partner wants is to activate your sense of duty by putting you on a pedestal. Comparisons with others in your favor, high enthusiastic assessments of your qualities or competencies, generous compliments under the sauce of revelations, phrases that begin with the words: “only you”, “only with you”, “without you” ...

A lot of effort will have to be made in order not to melt under the flame of such speeches and not hasten to justify every deliciously spoken word. Especially if you rarely heard praise in your early experience.

When a client declares at the first appointment: “Only a specialist like you can help me!” I make a separate note in building my therapeutic strategy. After all, these are not just words with a touch of compliment. Behind them is a clear meta-message: "Now it's your responsibility not to disappoint me." nine0003

4. Consumerism

A person who is prone to abusive behavior does not tolerate rejection very well and will try to do everything to make his expectations from a partner come true. This is how an approach to the other as an object is formed, when the phenomenon of consumerism, that is, the consumer attitude, arises within the relationship.

This phenomenon can manifest itself in all layers of communication and in all spheres, not only of your relationships, but also in purely personal matters that lie within the boundaries of individual choice. For example, how to look, what to wear, with whom and how much to communicate. nine0003

The abuser in some matters, and sometimes totally in everything, does not see the border where he ends and you begin - with your ideas, aspirations, values. It is easier for him to use all possible tools of pressure to force you to live up to his ideas of beauty than to accept that you are a separate, living person, and not a plasticine figure, which can be shaped into whatever shape you want.

5. From lack of security to brutality

One of the main characteristics of a healthy relationship is mutual emotional involvement, when partners are interested in each other's condition; know that they can share experiences in contact without the risk of being devalued, used or punished. In a relationship with an abuser, such risks not only exist, they are immensely high.

Decreased ability to empathize, that is, the ability to listen to your partner with warm attention, to empathize with him without resorting to persuasion, is a common occurrence among people with abusive behavior. At first glance, a slight atrophy of empathy seems harmless, but often it becomes a predictor of the manifestation of cruelty in a relationship. nine0003

In order to move on to blackmail, verbal insults, using confidential information against you that you once entrusted to this person, to pressure through ignoring (or the so-called “playing silent”), you need to be sufficiently cold-blooded and disconnected from their feelings. And, as is often the case with abusers, when they hurt another, they find "exhaustive" and "logical" justifications for such cruelty.

The question of the inadmissibility of violence in relationships, regardless of the reasons, in principle, is not raised. And this is perhaps the main danger of intimacy with an abuser. For the emotional abuse that gets away with him, sooner or later can turn into physical. nine0003

6. Psychological promiscuity

Impulsiveness, impulsiveness, emotionality are personality traits that can be quite attractive if a person feels the measure. The boundary beyond which his turbulence begins to cause outright harm to others.

The abuser experiences pronounced difficulties in self-regulation, stopping before communication becomes emergency. Ease of transition to screaming, damage to one's own and others' property, risky behavior, aggressive driving - all these behavioral acts in a state of passion tend to be justified not only by the abusers themselves, but also by their partners. nine0003

“He is such a person, we are all different” sounds very tolerant, but the principles of tolerance imply individual responsibility for the consequences of what is said and done.

At whose expense does the banquet take place? As a rule, the abuser refrains from compensating for the consequences of his own permissiveness, suggesting that you write it off over and over again to “such a life”, circumstances, Mercury retrograde or you, which (which) forced or overlooked (a).

7. “Just a little more”

A common situation in relationships with an abuser is the emergence and perpetuation of the feeling that something is wrong with you. In his version, you are always a little short on something. But! You can make it if you try. This move allows the abuser to hold down the main button in the attachment relationship: the need to be accepted.

Each of us, reflected in the eyes of a significant person, wants to feel in order. And the trick is that the abuser does not refuse to accept you - he sets conditions in which case this will happen. Inspiring hope, he gains even more power, making you dependent on his assessment. And in this hope for a better relationship, you are ready to “correct” for some time, until the fog of dependence begins to dissipate and you realize that you yourself are already worthy of respect and love. nine0003

If you imagine that learning to interact safely with an abuser is a separate task, then being able to recognize abusive tendencies in a person is already half the battle. The second half is to find the best ways to resist cruelty and take care of your safety in contact with such a person.

Abusive relationships: self-help methods

There are effective methods of self-help in dealing with an abusive person.

Call a spade a spade

Many of the violent manifestations of a person with abusive traits tend to "dissipate into the background." It is important to remind yourself who you are dealing with and call a spade a spade, weaning yourself from the habit of attributing unacceptable behavior to magnetic storms.

Practice self-support

It is important to establish a warm, friendly conversation with yourself inside, to maintain a high level of trust in your feelings. Start trusting all your senses, mind and heart again. nine0003

Let go of illusions and expectations

Being in an attachment relationship is one of our basic psychological needs. If this attachment is formed to a person who is prone to violence, then it is very difficult to accept him as he is, without the hope that he will change. But perhaps the most important step in getting out of a toxic addiction is to start seeing a person for who they are, and not as you would like them to be.

Set clear boundaries

When dealing with an abuser, it is important to pay special attention to the integrity of one's boundaries, since in contact with such a person they are subjected to regular onslaught. If you don't care about your own psychological comfort by placing stop signs where you want them to be, a partner with a toxic style of behavior will believe that this is his territory.

Adjust the amount of communication

Remember that you are free to regulate the distance and amount of time you are willing to spend with a violent person. Even if it is your closest relative or oldest friend. nine0003

If you feel bad from communicating with a person, you have the right to reduce this communication or refuse it. When it comes to life and health, other arguments recede into the background. And there comes a moment of honest and caring conversation with yourself. Take care of yourself!

11 signs of emotional abuse, who is an abuser, how to recognize psychological abuse

Physical abuse is unacceptable in any relationship. But there is a more insidious form of violence that friends, family members, and even the victims themselves may not immediately notice. We are talking about emotional abuse, or abuse. Unlike physical and sexual abuse, emotional abuse is a rather subtle tool. With it, the manipulator gains almost unlimited control in the relationship. nine0003

Emotional abuse can take many forms, ranging from seemingly harmless but frequent ridicule to open insult and humiliation.

According to psychologists, emotional abuse is not immediately recognized by the victims. Moreover, usually at first the abuser acts as a “good uncle” (aunt) or an attentive boyfriend who shows maximum care, thereby confusing the victim. An abuser is a person who first enters into trust, which makes the object of his attention even more vulnerable. Those who have been emotionally abused for a long time are at risk of future consequences such as anxiety disorder, depression, chronic pain and substance abuse (alcohol, drugs). However, there are a number of signs that give away an emotional abuser and a toxic relationship associated with it. We list them and talk about them in more detail. nine0003

1. You constantly curry favor with your partner.

You try not to anger your loved one and carefully choose your words in a conversation with him. “It seems that you have come to terms with a secondary role, diligently controlling yourself, which means that you have learned what to do so that your partner does not insult you openly,” explains psychologist Steven Stonis, author of Love Without Hurt (“Love Without Harm” ).

2. Your partner uses gaslighting techniques

“Your partner is trying to influence your perception of reality by denying or distorting what is really happening. He says things like "You're making it up, it didn't happen" or "I never said/did that". Over time, such statements can develop a sense of self-doubt, and you begin to agree with your partner's distortions. Self-doubt leads to self-doubt, which makes you more vulnerable to a manipulative partner,” says psychotherapist Carol A. Lambert, author of Women with Controlling Partners. nine0003

3. Partner requires constant accountability "where, when and with whom"

According to Dr. Lisa Ferenc, trying to maintain complete control can be a serious problem in a relationship. Contact several times a day for the purpose of "checking in" can turn into constant harassment. In simple terms, the requirement to constantly report on the whereabouts of a partner and attempts to limit the freedom of movement and communication with others is one of the characteristic signs of emotional abuse.

4. Partner says hurtful words to you, disguising them as a “joke”

“When you start complaining, they retort that it's just a joke, and you are too suspicious. But the truth is that there is some truth in every sarcastic remark or hurtful joke,” warns psychotherapist Shari Stines. 5. You apologize even when you know you did nothing wrong Beverly Engle, author of Emotionally Abusive Relationships. nine0003

6. Your partner is either too hot or too cold

“For a while he exudes love, but suddenly becomes cold and inaccessible. You cannot understand the reason, no matter how hard you try. He refuses to communicate, you start to panic, trying to win back his favor, and because of the lack of explanations, you begin to blame yourself. Quite often, this can turn a relatively independent person into a restless sycophant trying to win back a partner’s favor,” says Peg Streep, author of Daughter Detox: Recovering from An Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life. own life"). nine0003

7. Partner refuses to acknowledge your strengths and discounts achievements

“Depreciation and derogatory remarks may not be taken seriously at first, but these are not casual slips of the tongue. Most likely, they are aimed precisely at your strengths, which the partner evaluates as a threat and tries to control them. Your partner's reaction to your achievements can say a lot. Does he show little or no interest in you? In a conversation about your virtues, does he change the subject or criticize you for something you don't do? Over time, your sense of self-confidence and sense of self-competence can seriously decrease,” explains Dr. Lambert. nine0003

8. A partner restricts you in emotional intimacy, sex or money for the purpose of "punishment"

Relationships in which there are "certain conditions" in fact become problematic. “Trying to limit emotional attachment or financial support is not always perceived as abuse. Most regard violence as physical harm, but when it comes to limiting or depriving what a person deserves, this is also violence, just emotional,” says Ferenc. nine0003

9. You have lost your sexual desire

“This is especially true for women. Usually, women need to trust their partner in order to feel physical and emotional arousal. If a girl feels fearful or angry with her partner, she will not feel safe and her body will react accordingly,” Engle says.

10. You feel sorry for your partner, despite the fact that he hurts you

“Emotional abusers are masters of manipulation. They hurt you while making you think it's your fault, or at least that they were hurt in childhood or past relationships. You just feel sorry for them. Victims of emotional abuse often ignore the behavior of their abusers because they appear miserable, rejected, abandoned,” warns Dr. Stines.

11. The partner suddenly changes plans too often in order to "make a surprise"

Open attempts at control are easy to spot, but there is a more sophisticated method, the so-called "hidden control", which is often resorted to by abusers. “Hidden control” is a sudden change in an already planned one (the two of you go to a nearby bistro instead of an evening with friends) or a sharp revision of joint plans under the guise of a “surprise”.

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