The truth is, it may be very difficult to know for sure if a relationship is abusive unless you are a party to that relationship yourself. But learning to recognize the warning signs of abuse can help you identify the potential for a dangerously escalating situation and take steps to protect yourself and those you love.
Common indicators of an abusive partner include:
Controlling behaviors – Because the abuser needs to be in control, he may be unusually obsessive about the smallest details. If you’re a few minutes late, he demands that you account for your time. He may refuse to allow you to make your own money and give you an “allowance” instead. He may ask you to account for every penny you spend and he likely spends a considerable amount of time and effort checking up on you to see if you’re telling the truth. Abusers also tend to limit the amount of contact their victims can have with the outside world so it’s common for abusers to prevent you from making phone calls and/or having friends.
Extreme jealousy and suspicious demeanor – The abuser is always looking for reasons to justify the abuse so he may accuse you of having an affair or insist that you and others are laughing at him behind his back. He may threaten you with bodily injury if you were to ever leave him or he may threaten to commit suicide instead. Abusers tend to be very possessive and interpret the smallest amount of contact with another person as proof that you are looking outside the relationship.
Excessive hostility – Abusive partners often have a volatile temper and one that can go off at the smallest thing. It’s frequently difficult to tell when or what will set an abuser off. Once enraged, however, most abusers can control their temper when necessary, suggesting that the abuse is a choice and not a disease or uncontrollable urge. Most abusers are able to keep their tempers in check when it serves them such as while at work, out at a restaurant or when speaking to the police. This indicates that the abuser has more control over his temper than he may be willing to admit.
Lack of respect – Abusers don’t see their victims as “victims” but rather the cause of their aggression. As a result, the abuser often belittles his victim, calling her names and insulting her at every turn. He frequently forces sex on his victim because it is his “right” to do so and he doesn’t view his victim as an individual but rather as his “property” to do with as he wishes. Abusers don’t hesitate to trash or break their victims’ belongings nor do they care if their victims are “happy” with their lives or themselves. In fact, the abuser prefers his victim to have a low self-esteem because this makes her easier to manage.
Common indicators of an abused partner:
Constant and excessive fear – People who are abused are typically fearful of any disruption in the normal flow of things, from a traffic jam to a stain on a shirt. They are afraid to disappoint, having seen the repercussions of a less-than-perfect performance and they work excessively hard to meet their partner’s expectations, no matter how unreasonable those might be.
Low self-esteem – The longer a victim stays in an abusive relationship, the more likely she will suffer from a lack of self-esteem. Because abusers frequently demean and devalue their victims, people in an abusive relationship often believe that they deserve the abuse and can avoid it in the future by being better, faster, prettier, etc. Abuse victims take little pride in themselves or their accomplishments but instead strive to please their abuser, even though that’s an impossible task.
Withdrawn – Even the most outgoing person can become withdrawn and isolated if she suffers an abusive relationship. This is partially due to the abuser’s desire to cut his victim off from outside support. Sadly, this is easily done as most abuse victims are initially embarrassed by the abusive incident and tend to hide it away from family and friends. As the abuse continues, the isolation grows until the victim is completely withdrawn from her normal circle of support.
Unexplained injuries – While many abusers will take care to hit in places where bruises can’t be seen, this isn’t always the case and the victims will often show up with unexplained cuts and bumps on a consistent basis. In addition, when questioned about the new injury, victims of abuse don’t want to talk about it and try to dismiss it quickly and change the subject.
Lack of self-support – Victims of abuse often seem to be unable to “stand on their own two feet”. They lack the financial resources, transportation or decision-making abilities that you would normally expect a grown person to have. This is because their abuser has taken these things from them and the abuse victim no longer feels that she has control over her life.
If you or someone you know is a victim of abuse, you should read How to Stop Domestic Violence and seek assistance from social services and/or law enforcement. In addition, you may also find this book on domestic abuse helpful.