Updated: 6/21/2021 | Red Flags to Help Identify an Abusive Person
This is a list of behaviors that are seen in people who abuse their partners.
Oftentimes, women are interested in ways to spot a potential abuser because abuse often happens to a majority of women. Hence the #metoo movement.
The first four behaviors (past abuse, threats of violence, breaking objects and any force during an argument) are almost always seen in an abusive person. If someone exhibits more than three of these warning signs, there is a strong potential for abuse in the relationship.
As time goes on, the abuser’s behaviors become more severe and are used to dominate and control their victims.
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Red Flags to Help Identify An Abusive Person
#1 Past abuse
Abuse can be visible or hidden (emotional or financial). An abuser may state, “I hit someone in the past, but they made me do it.” The abuser minimizes the situation by seeming like the victim to gain sympathy from a potential victim. They may often call their past victims “crazy” and will use examples that they provoked out of their victims.
Abusive behavior does not simply go away. It can be hidden but eventually becomes visible if the abuser does not get what they want and need from their victims.
#2 Threats of violence or abuse
Threats can involve anything that is meant to control the victim and force them to respond in a certain way. For example, an abuser may say, “I’ll tell everyone about your drug use if you don’t do what I want.”
Healthy relationships do not involve threats. An abusive person will try to excuse this behavior by saying that everyone talks this way or that you have no other option but to do as they say.
#3 Breaking objects
An abuser may break things, damage other’s belongings, beat on tables or walls or throw objects around or near the victim. This damaging behavior terrorizes the victim and can send the message that physical abuse is the next step if the victim does not do what the abuser wants.
#4 Jealousy and Possessiveness
An abuser will state that jealousy is a sign of love. In reality, jealousy has nothing to do with love. It is a sign of insecurity, possessiveness, and lack of trust.
Wants to be with you constantly to keep an eye on you. They may also accuse you of cheating all the time. They may even have friends check up on you and your whereabouts.
An abuser may question the victim about whom they talk to or be jealous of time spent with other people. As the jealousy progresses, the abuser will call the victim frequently, stop by unexpectedly or monitor the victim’s activities.
The abuser may question his partner about who she talks to, accuse her of flirting, having an affair, or being jealous of the time she spends with family, friends, or children. As the jealousy progresses, he may call her frequently during the day or drop by unexpectedly. He may refuse to let her work for fear she’ll meet someone else, or even begin behaviors such as checking her car mileage or asking friends to watch her.
#5 Controlling behavior
An abuser will claim that controlling behavior is out of concern for the victim’s welfare. They will be angry if the victim is late and will frequently interrogate the victim. As this behavior gets worse, the abuser will control the victim’s appearance and activities.
At first, the abuser will say this behavior is due to his concern for their victim’s safety and wellbeing and time management.
An abuser’s reactions to things will start to seem abnormal. An abuser will get angry if the woman is “late” coming back from an appointment. They may ask a ton of questions to probe into the victim’s life.
As the behavior progresses, he may not allow the woman to make personal decisions about the house, children, her clothing, or attending church. He may keep all the money or even make her ask for permission to leave the house or room.
Constantly questions who you spend your time with, what you did/wore/said, where you went. Makes you ask permission to do certain things. Acts like you don’t have the ability to make good decisions. Hides controlling behavior by pretending to be concerned for your safety.
#6 Quick involvement
An abuser will often pressure someone to make a commitment after a very short amount of time. This can be done through “love bombing,” a tactic used by abusers to get what they want from their victims in a short amount of time.
The abuser comes on quickly, claiming that it was “love at first sight” or that they have found their “soul mate” or “twin flame” and will tell the victim flattering things such as, “You’re the only person I love,” and “You are different from the rest.”
Abusers may often want to move in together quickly so that they can use their victims.
A large number of abused women dated or knew their abuser for less than six months before they were engaged, married, or living together. He comes in like a tornado, claiming, “You’re the only one who understands”, or “the only one I can talk to”, “the only one I’ve loved this much”. He will pressure the woman to commit to the relationship in such a way that the woman may feel guilty or that she’s ‘letting him down’ if she wants to slow down the involvement or break off the relationship.
#7 Use of force during an argument
An abuser may use force during arguments, including holding the victim down, physically restraining the victim from leaving the room, and pushing and shoving. For example, an abuser may hold a victim against the wall and say, “You’re going to listen to me.”
#8 Unrealistic expectations
The abuser is dependent on the victim for everything and expects perfection. The victim is expected to take care of everything for the abuser, particularly all emotional support. The abuser will say things like, “You’re the only person I need in my life,” or “You’re the only person who cares about me.”
Compliments you in a way that makes you seems superhuman. Over-flattering. Expects you to be perfect.
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The abuser will attempt to diminish and destroy the victim’s support system. If a female victim has male friends, she is accused of being a “whore.” If she has female friends, she is accused of being a “lesbian.” If she is close to her family, she is accused of being “tied to the apron strings.” The abuser will accuse people who are close to the victim of “causing trouble.”
The abuser tries to cut his partner off from all resources and support. If she has male friends, she’s a whore. If she has women friends, she’s a lesbian. If she’s close to family, she’s tied to apron strings. He accuses people who are her support of causing problems. He may want to live in the country, without a phone, or refuse to let her drive the car, or he may try to keep her from working or going to school.
Puts down everyone you know- friends are either stupid, slutty, or you are cheating with them- family is too controlling, doesn’t really love you, or you are too dependent on them. Refuses to let you use car or talk on phone. Makes it difficult for you to go to work or school. Tries to cut off all your resources.
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#10 Blames others for problems
Abusers will rarely admit to the part they play in causing a problem. She will blame the victim for almost anything that goes wrong.
#11 Blames others for their feelings and failures
An abuser will tell the victim, “I hurt you because you made me mad,” or “You’re hurting me when you don’t do what I ask.” Blaming the victim is a way of manipulating them and avoiding any responsibility.
If there are problems at school or work, it is always someone else’s fault. If anything goes wrong in the relationship, it is all your fault. Won’t take responsibility for own behavior.
An abuser can be easily insulted. The slightest setbacks are seen as personal attacks. An abuser will rage about the everyday difficulties of life as if they are injustices — such as getting a traffic ticket or not doing well on an exam.
Easily insulted. Sees everything as a personal attack. Looks for fights. Blows things out of proportion. Unpredictable. You can never tell what will upset him.
An abuser is easily insulted, claiming his feelings are “hurt’, when in actuality he is angry or taking the slightest setback as a personal attack. He will “rant and rave” about the injustice of things that have happened, things that are just a part of living (for example, being asked to work late, getting a traffic ticket, or being told about annoying behavior).
#13 Disrespectful or Cruel to OtherS
An abuser may brutally punish animals or be insensitive to their pain or suffering. Pets can be used to control the victim or to emotionally abuse them.
Punishes animals or children cruelly. Insensitive to pain and suffering. Teases children until they cry. Doesn’t treat others with respect. Dismissive of others’ feelings.
Abusers may expect children to be capable of things beyond their abilities (punishes 18 month old for wetting diaper). He may tease children until they cry. He may not want children to eat at the table or may expect them to be kept in their rooms when he is home. He may punish animals brutally or be insensitive to their pain or suffering.
#14″Playful” use of force during sex
The abuser may like to hold the victim down during sex. They may want to act out sexual fantasies in which the victim is helpless. An abuser may show little concern about whether the victim wants to have sex and use sulking or anger to manipulate the victim into compliance. They may demand sex or start having sex with the victim when they are sleeping or very intoxicated.
Little concern over whether you want sex or not, and uses sulking or anger to manipulate you into compliance. Makes sexual or degrading jokes about you.
An abuser may enjoy throwing the woman down or holding her down during sex. He may want to act out fantasies during sex where the woman is helpless. He is letting his partner know that the idea of rape is exciting. He may show little concern about whether the woman wants to have sex and uses sulking or anger to manipulate her into compliance. He may begin having sex with the woman while she is sleeping or demand sex when she is ill or tired.
#15 Rigid sex roles
Male abusers often expect women to serve and obey them. They view women as inferior to men and believe that a woman is not a whole person without a relationship with a man.
Women are seen as objects to cater to the man’s every need. Women are often required to do all types of menial tasks around the home and are seen as servants. Sometimes the women are also forced to comply sexually and unethically.
#16 Jekyll-and-Hyde personality
Explosiveness, sudden mood swings, and fluctuating between sad and happy personalities are typical of abusers. These behaviors are related to other traits such as hypersensitivity and lack of confidence.
This is not always a sign of mental health problems but may be a tactic used to control and confuse victims by being unpredictable and unstable.
The abuser keeps his partner confused by sudden changes in his mood. She may believe he has some sort of mental problem because one minute he’s loving, and the next he’s exploding. Explosiveness and moodiness are typical of men who beat their partners.
#17 Threats of Any Kind
Threats of physical violence meant to control the partner: “I’ll kill you!’, “I’ll break your neck”, and “you’d better watch yourself, or else”. Most people do not threaten their partners; abusers will try to excuse their threats by saying, “everyone talks like that”.
#18 Any Force During an Argument.
An abuser may push, shove, or physically restrains their victim from leaving the room. They may also locks any doors and windows to prevent the victim from escaping.
#19 Doesn’t Respect Your Property or Privacy.
An abuser may take control over many aspects of your life. Abusers may open your mail, throw away things that belong to the victim as punishment, control what you spend your finances on, and much more.
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#20 Verbal Abuse
In addition to saying things that are intentionally meant to be cruel and hurtful, verbal abuse is also apparent in the abuser’s degrading of his partner, cursing at them, and belittling their accomplishments.
The abuser tells the victim that they are stupid and unable to function without them. The abuser may also keep victims awake to exhaust and weaken them.
Abusive Behaviors Spectrum
Includes actions that engender fear and intimidation, or undermine the other person’s self-determination. Many controlling behaviors may also be abusive within the context of physical or psychological abuse.
Includes abusive behaviors but also actions that are undermining of the other person’s self-determination or self-esteem. This includes unilateral complaints, controlling the agenda, freedom from accountability to the other person (e.g., coming and going as one pleases). Behavior is non-abusive if it lacks the elements of fear and intimidation.
Insensitive and/or Alienating Behavior
Includes all abusive and controlling behaviors listed below, but also actions that are self-centered, inconsiderate, selfish, and isolating or withdrawing. Behavior is non-abusive if it lacks the elements of fear, intimidation, and control.
How to Report Abuse
The fastest way to report abuse is to call 911 or if you are in the United States, to call 1-800-799-7233.
Other Ways to Report Sexual and Physical Abuse
- Safe Helpful: Call, chat or report your abuse with a representative.
- RAINN: Call or chat online with a representative to get help with reporting incidents of rape and abuse.
- If the abuse is happening to a child please call or text the Child Help Hotline at 1-866-ENDHARM. You can also visit them online to make a report: https://www.childhelp.org/hotline/
Abuse Books We Recommend
- Family and Intimate Partner Violence by Denise Gosselin
- Family Violence Across the Lifespan by Ola W. Barnett
- Family Violence in the United States: Defining, Understanding, and Combating Abuse by Denise A Hines
- When Violence Begins at Home: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Ending Domestic Abuse (1997) by Wilson, K.J.
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