Signs of Domestic Abuse (2023)

Domestic abuse goes beyond physical abuse or violence. Abusers use many physical, mental, or emotional tactics to assert their power and control over the victim and to keep them in the relationship. There are patterns of behaviors in an abusive relationship. Identifying them is the first step to breaking free from abuse.

Signs of Domestic Abuse (1)

Signs of Domestic Abuse

In domestic abuse relationships, there are many behaviors that are used by the abuser to gain and maintain power and control over their partner. While all relationships are different, understanding the various ways that abuse manifests can help you identify signs of abuse and prepare you to respond to situations safely.

You may be experiencing abuse if your partner has or repeatedly does any of the following behaviors:

Physical Abuse

Someone is committing physical abuse when they:

  • Pull your hair or punch, slap, kick, bite, choke, or smother you
  • Forbid or prevent you from eating or sleeping
  • Use weapons against you, including firearms, knives, bats, or mace
  • Prevent you from contacting emergency services, including medical attention or law enforcement
  • Harm your children or pets
  • Drive recklessly or dangerously with you in the car or abandon you in unfamiliar places
  • Force you to use drugs or alcohol, especially if you have a history of substance use issues
  • Trap you in your home or prevent you from leaving
  • Throw objects at you
  • Prevent you from taking prescribed medication or deny you necessary medical treatment

Do You Need Help Now?

If you are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.
If you are not in immediate danger, but you are experiencing abuse or concerned about a loved one, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline:

  • Call: 800-799-SAFE (7233)
  • Text: "START" to 88788
  • Chat:

The hotline is a service that provides safe care, support, and resources to help you through options for your unique situation.

Emotional Abuse

Signs of emotional abuse include:

  • Calling you names, insulting you, or constantly criticizing you
  • Acting jealous or possessive or refusing to trust you
  • Isolating you from family, friends, or other people in your life
  • Monitoring your activities with or without your knowledge, including demanding to know where you go, whom you contact, and how you spend your time
  • Attempting to control what you wear, including clothes, makeup, or hairstyles
  • Humiliating you in any way, especially in front of others
  • Gaslighting you by pretending not to understand or refusing to listen to you; questioning your recollection of facts, events, or sources; making your needs or feelings seem unimportant; or denying previous statements or promises
  • Threatening you, your children, your family, or your pets
  • Damaging your belongings, including throwing objects, punching walls, and kicking doors
  • Blaming you for their abusive behaviors
  • Accusing you of cheating, or cheating themselves and blaming you for their actions
  • Cheating on you to intentionally hurt you and threatening to cheat again to suggest that they’re “better” than you
  • Telling you that you’re lucky to be with them or that you’ll never find someone better

Sexual Abuse

Someone is committing sexual abuse when they:

  • Force you to dress in a sexual way you’re uncomfortable with
  • Insult you in sexual ways or call you explicit names
  • Force or manipulate you into having sex or performing sexual acts, especially when you’re sick, tired, or physically injured from their abuse
  • Choke you or restrain you during sex without your consent
  • Hold you down during sex without your consent
  • Hurt you with weapons or objects during sex
  • Involve other people in your sexual activities against your will
  • Ignore your feelings regarding sex
  • Force you to watch or make pornography
  • Intentionally give you or attempt to give you a sexually transmitted infection (STI)

What to Do If You Are Sexually Assaulted

Traits of an Abuser

There is no one set of identities or personalities of an abuser. Abusers come from all different cultures, religions, economic backgrounds, and occupations. They can be any gender or sexuality. They could be your neighbor, your child's teacher, your coworker, your friend, or your spouse.

It's not always obvious or detectable when somebody is an abuser. However, abusers also have a set of common traits, including:

  • Abusers deny or minimize the seriousness of violence on the victim and other family members.
  • Abusers objectify the victim and view them as their property or sexual object.
  • Abusers may appear successful but, internally, they have low self-esteem and feel powerless and inadequate.
  • Abusers put the blame on others or on circumstance. For example, they may blame a violent outburst on stress, their partner's behavior, having a bad day, drugs, alcohol, or other factors.
  • Abusers are not constantly abusive. They go through periods in which they are loving and kind and often seem nice and charming to those outside the relationship.

Warning Signs of an Abuser

Some red flags or warning signs of abusers can include extreme jealousy, possessiveness, unpredictability, a bad temper or mood swings, controlling behavior, threatening, demeaning or humiliating the victim, sabotaging the victim's ability to make personal choices, rigid beliefs about roles of men and women in relationships, or cruelty to animals.

Identify and Prevent Intimate Partner Violence

Power and Control Wheel

Since the 1970s, the term "cycle of abuse" has been talked about in the courtroom, therapy sessions, and the media. This language is outdated and harmful to the victim because it implies that there are four predictable, repetitive patterns in the relationship (tension building, incident, reconciliation, calm).

The implication that domestic abuse is a cycle is often used in courts to put the blame on the victims. However, domestic abuse is not predictable, and victims are not able to know what and when to expect incidents of abuse.

Instead, the National Domestic Violence Hotline uses the Duluth Model of Power and Control developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs to more accurately describe an abusive relationship.

The outer ring of the diagram represents physical and sexual violence. The inner part of the diagram (the spokes of the wheel) describes the more subtle and systematic behaviors that the abuser uses. These continuous threats, intimidation, and coercion tactics instill fear, while physical and sexual violence holds the wheel together.

Signs of Domestic Abuse (2)

The diagram assumes she/her pronouns for the victim and he/him pronouns for the perpetrator, but the abusive behavior can happen to people of any gender or sexuality.

Domestic Abuse Resources

The process of leaving an abusive relationship takes an immense amount of courage and careful planning, as well as taking precautions to avoid physical danger. Many resources are available if you or somebody you know needs support in helping to leave an abusive relationship. The following websites and hotlines may be able to help you manage a crisis, create a safety plan, and plan your future, including financial education resources and service referrals.

What Is a Safety Plan?

During moments of crisis, it can be difficult to think clearly and logically. A safety plan is a personalized, practical plan to improve your safety while experiencing abuse, preparing to leave an abusive situation, or after you leave.

It provides vital and specific information such as where you'll have an accessible phone, whom you'll contact, where you can go in or out of the home, reasons to leave the house, or how to safely leave the house. If children are involved, it can include what they should do during an incident. This plan helps prepare you for high stress situations to protect yourself or others.

National Domestic Violence Hotline
800-799-7233 (SAFE)

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

National Dating Abuse Helpline

National Resource Center on Domestic Violence

National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health
312-726-7020 ext. 2011

Futures Without Violence: The National Health Resource Center on Domestic Violence

How to Help Someone Else

If you witness or become aware of abuse, it can be difficult to know how to react, if, and when to intervene. The National Domestic Violence Hotline suggests the following tips:

  • Consider your own safety as well as the victim's. If you're in a public place, gather a group of people to intervene physically or verbally. If you believe there is immediate danger, you have the right to call the police.
  • If an incident is happening in public or you overhear it happening, record the incident on your phone to pass to authorities.
  • Approach the person you suspect is experiencing abuse in a safe and private space. Ask them, "Are you okay?," and listen carefully and believe what they say. Tell them it is not their fault, and they deserve support. Do not blame them or tell them what to do in their situation.
  • Direct them to a crisis hotline and continue to offer your support as somebody they can speak with safely or discuss their safety plan.
  • Honor their autonomy. Only they can decide what is right for them, whether they choose to leave the relationship or press charges. You can provide your concern, but you do not have the right to make choices for them.

All types of abuse are serious, and no one deserves to experience abuse for any reason.


Domestic abuse occurs when an abuser uses physical, sexual, and/or emotional tactics to control their partner. There is no one set of identities or personalities of an abuser. They can be any gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and age. Many abusers exhibit common traits that can help you identify them, such as jealousy, possessiveness, unpredictability, a bad temper or mood swings, and more.

The process of leaving an abusive relationship takes an immense amount of courage and careful planning. Many resources are available if you or somebody you know needs support in helping to leave an abusive relationship.

These 'Distress Signals' May Help You Get Out of an Unsafe Situation

A Word From Verywell

If you are experiencing abuse by your partner, remember that it is not your fault. There is nothing you have done or are doing to cause the abuse. There is nothing that you can do that will change or control your abuser. It is their sole choice to abuse and their sole responsibility to change, not yours.

You may feel afraid or even trapped by your abuser, so it is important to have hope. While it will be difficult, it is possible to change your circumstance. When you feel ready, help and resources are available to help you stay safe and leave your abuser.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you recognize the signs of domestic abuse?

    Signs of domestic abuse are different in all relationships. However, a shared trait of most abusive relationships is the abuser tries to establish power and control over their partner. Methods used can include intimidation, shaming or demeaning you, isolating you from friends and family, and preventing you from making your own decisions.

  • Do abusers hide in plain sight?

    Abusers can hide in plain sight. Between periods of abuse, they can be pleasant and charming. To those outside their abusive relationship, abusers are often seen as "nice" people.

  • Can abusive relationships improve?

    It is possible, but unlikely that an abusive relationship can improve. Abuse is a result of learned attitudes, feelings, and behaviors, which can be very difficult to change. It can be a decades-long journey to a lifetime commitment that involves various interventions, such as counseling, anger management programs, and mental health treatments. As a result, only a very low percentage can truly change.

5 Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. National Domestic Violence Hotline. Types of abuse.

  2. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Signs of abuse.

  3. Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs. Understanding the power and control wheel.

  4. National Domestic Violence Hotline. What is a safety plan?
  5. National Domestic Violence Hotline. Tips for intervening if you witness domestic violence.

Signs of Domestic Abuse (3)

By Rebecca Valdez, MS, RDN
Rebecca Valdez is a registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition communications consultant, passionate about food justice, equity, and sustainability.

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Which are the 3 main warning signs that someone may be an abuser? ›

Warning Signs of an Abusive Person
  • Jealousy and Possessiveness. Wants to be with you constantly. ...
  • Controlling Behavior. ...
  • Quick Involvement. ...
  • Unrealistic Expectations. ...
  • Isolation. ...
  • Blames Others for Problems. ...
  • Blames Others for Feelings. ...
  • Hypersensitivity.

What are all the signs of abuse? ›

Examples include intimidation, coercion, ridiculing, harassment, treating an adult like a child, isolating an adult from family, friends, or regular activity, use of silence to control behavior, and yelling or swearing which results in mental distress.

Is signs of abuse always obvious? ›

The signs of child abuse aren't always obvious, and a child might not feel able to tell anyone what's happening to them. Sometimes, children don't even realise that what's happening to them is abuse. There are different types of child abuse and the signs that a child is being abused may depend on the type.

What symptoms might Someone display who was being abused? ›

General Warning Signs

Acting differently than they normally do. Exhibiting increased aggressive behavior. Being jumpier or more on guard. Having difficulty with sleep or having nightmares.

What are the 5 signs of emotional abuse? ›

5 Signs of Emotional Abuse
  • They are Hyper-Critical or Judgmental Towards You. ...
  • They Ignore Boundaries or Invade Your Privacy. ...
  • They are Possessive and/or Controlling. ...
  • They are Manipulative. ...
  • They Often Dismiss You and Your Feelings.
May 23, 2017

What are seven signs that could indicate abuse? ›

Signs and symptoms of physical abuse include but are not limited to:
  • bruises, black eyes, welts, lacerations, and rope marks.
  • bone fractures, broken bones, and skull fractures.
  • open wounds, cuts, punctures, untreated injuries in various stages of healing.
  • sprains, dislocations, and internal injuries/bleeding.

What are the 7 components of abuse? ›

The 7 most common types of elderly abuse include physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, self-neglect, and abandonment. Any of these elder abuse types can be devastating to older people and their families.

What are some emotional and physical signs of abuse? ›

Indicators of Emotional Abuse
  • Bed-wetting or bed soiling that has no medical cause.
  • Frequent psychosomatic complaints (e.g. headaches, nausea, abdominal pains)
  • Prolonged vomiting or diarrhoea.
  • Has not attained significant developmental milestones.
  • Dressed differently from other children in the family.

What are the softer signs of abuse? ›

Some of the 'soft signs' of child abuse to look out for include:
  • Overfriendliness towards strangers.
  • Recurrent nightmares.
  • Persistently seeking attention.
  • Excessive clinginess.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Habitual body-rocking.
  • Wetting and soiling.
  • Indiscriminate contact or affection seeking.
Jun 3, 2019

What abuse is the most difficult to identify? ›

Emotional abuse often coexists with other forms of abuse, and it is the most difficult to identify. Many of its potential consequences, such as learning and speech problems and delays in physical development, can also occur in children who are not being emotionally abused.

Why warning signs of abuse may be ignored? ›

They may feel guilty or to blame

They may think that the abuse is their fault because they've done something to deserve it. As a result, the details of what's happening may feel too embarrassing for them to talk about, making it easier for them to simply say nothing.

What is the easiest type of abuse to recognize? ›

Physical or sexual abuse may be easier to identify, as they often have physical evidence and a clear incident to reference. Emotional abuse is more often characterized by a pattern or collection of behaviors over time that can be difficult to recognize.

How do people act when they are abused? ›

Domestic abuse can cause people to believe that they will never escape the control of the abuser. They may also exhibit a constant state of alertness to the point they never can completely relax. Other emotional signs of abuse include: Agitation, anxiety, or constant apprehension.

What is the most common reaction to abuse? ›

They may have intense stress reactions. Their breathing, blood pressure and heart rate may increase, and their muscles may tighten. They may feel exhausted but unable to sleep, and they may have headaches, increased or decreased appetites or digestive problems.

Which of the following is an indicator of abuse? ›

Behavioral indicators of physical abuse include: Fear of going home. Extreme apprehensiveness or vigilance. Pronounced aggression or passivity.

What are signs of narcissistic abuse? ›

Signs of Narcissistic Abuse
  • Signs of narcissistic abuse include:
  • Love-bombing. It's not unusual for people with NPD to shower you with compliments and affection. ...
  • Gaslighting. ...
  • Ignoring boundaries. ...
  • Projecting. ...
  • Nitpicking. ...
  • Some common examples of narcissistic abuse include: ...
  • Anxiety and depression.
Sep 29, 2022

What are six signs of possible physical or psychological abuse? ›

Signs and indicators
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Feeling that the abuse is their fault when it is not.
  • Physical evidence of violence such as bruising, cuts, broken bones.
  • Verbal abuse and humiliation in front of others.
  • Fear of outside intervention.
  • Damage to home or property.
  • Isolation – not seeing friends and family.

What are the 4 main abuse? ›

There are four main categories of child abuse: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. Find out more about each below, as well as the warning signs that a child may be being abused.

What are 5 effects of abuse? ›

developmental delay, eating disorders and physical ailments. permanent physical injuries or death. violent, aggressive or criminal behaviour or other behavioural problems. drug and alcohol abuse and high-risk sexual behaviour.

What are the 13 types of abuse? ›

  • Bullying and cyberbullying. Find out more.
  • Child sexual exploitation. Find out more.
  • Child trafficking. Find out more.
  • Criminal exploitation and gangs. Find out more.
  • Domestic abuse. Find out more.
  • Emotional abuse. Find out more.
  • Female genital mutilation. Find out more.
  • Grooming. Find out more.

What are the 5 most common types abuse? ›

6 Different Types of Abuse
  1. Physical. This is the type of abuse that many people think of when they hear the word 'abuse. ...
  2. Sexual. ...
  3. Verbal/Emotional. ...
  4. Mental/Psychological. ...
  5. Financial/Economic. ...
  6. Cultural/Identity.

What do you look for in abuse? ›

  • Withdrawal from friends or usual activities.
  • Changes in behavior — such as aggression, anger, hostility or hyperactivity — or changes in school performance.
  • Depression, anxiety or unusual fears, or a sudden loss of self-confidence.
  • Sleep problems and nightmares.
  • An apparent lack of supervision.
May 19, 2022

What is a Behavioural indicator of emotional abuse? ›

humiliating or constantly criticising a child. threatening, shouting at a child or calling them names. making the child the subject of jokes, or using sarcasm to hurt a child. blaming and scapegoating.

How do victims of emotional abuse behave? ›

You may experience feelings of confusion, anxiety, shame, guilt, frequent crying, over-compliance, powerlessness, and more. You may stay in the relationship and try to bargain with the abuser or try to change the abuser's behavior, often placing blame on yourself, even though you are not at fault.

What does the abuse cycle look like? ›

The cycle of abuse is a four-stage cycle used to describe the way abuse sometimes occurs in relationships. The stages—tension, incident, reconciliation, and calm—repeat themselves over and over again if the abuse follows this pattern.

Which abuse is least likely to be reported? ›

For example:
  • Physical abuse was the most common form of maltreatment (37%).
  • One-quarter of these children were victims of sexual abuse.
  • One-fifth were victims of educational neglect.
  • The least common forms of maltreatment involved physical neglect (9%) and emotional abuse (13%).

What is the number one cause of abuse? ›

-- See NCJ-159823) The leading cause of child abuse in the United States is poverty; an increasing number of parents find themselves unable to cope with the stresses of poverty and their children often bear the brunt of parental frustration through physical abuse and neglect.

Why is emotional abuse so hard to prove? ›

“It is subtle and often the effects last longer and cut deeper than a physically abusive relationship,” says Crawford. Emotional abuse can be harder to spot because it doesn't leave a bruise. This has meant that it's not as well recognized by society.

Is not responding to someone abuse? ›

Share on Pinterest Refusing to communicate verbally with another person can be a form of emotional abuse. People use the silent treatment for a number of reasons. These include: Avoidance: In some cases, people stay silent in a conversation because they do not know what to say or want to avoid conflict.

What are three reasons that people who are abused often stay silent? ›

They may stay silent and choose not to tell others about the abuse — including authorities.
For example:
  • They feel responsible. ...
  • Downplaying abuse. ...
  • Lack of support. ...
  • Financial resources. ...
  • Fears for their children. ...
  • No safe space.
Apr 15, 2022

What would you do if you notice any signs of abuse? ›

You can pass on your concerns to the person's GP and social worker. Local authorities have social workers who deal specifically with cases of abuse and neglect. Call the person's local council and ask for the adult safeguarding co-ordinator. You can also speak to the police about the situation.

Which form of abuse is the biggest? ›

By far the most visible form of abuse is physical abuse. This kind of abuse is condemned by almost everyone and it is estimated that one in four women are victims of this kind of abuse. The most common forms of abuse include hitting, throwing and scalding, even suffocation is on the list.

Why is it so hard to admit abuse? ›

Shame of Abuse in General

People feel safer thinking about abusers this way and makes them think they will be able to spot them – giving them power in the situation. Thinking that an abuser could be a normal person – someone they know and even like – makes people feel frightened and powerless.

Which type of abuse are most likely to be visible? ›

Physical abuse is the most visible form of abuse and may be defined as any act that results in a non-accidental trauma or physical injury. Inflicted physical injury most often represents unreasonable, severe corporal punishment or unjustifiable punishment.

What does emotional abuse do to a woman? ›

Staying in an emotionally or verbally abusive relationship can have long-lasting effects on your physical and mental health, including leading to chronic pain, depression, or anxiety. Read more about the effects on your health. You may also: Question your memory of events: “Did that really happen?” (See Gaslighting.)

Does abuse change your personality? ›

Traumatic childhood events can change the way a person's brain and body work. Trauma can affect the person's emotions, memory, thinking and sense of self. Trauma can also affect relationships. Women most often develop the effects of trauma if, as children, they felt helpless and trapped by abuse.

What can trigger abusive Behaviour? ›

Aggression can happen as a natural response to stress, fear, or a sense of losing control. You might also respond with aggression when you feel frustrated, mistreated, or unheard — especially if you never learned how to manage your emotions effectively.

What are the six long term effects of abuse? ›

These changes to your brain can lead to long-term emotional effects of child abuse.
You might experience:
  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Trouble learning.
  • Trouble paying attention.
  • Memory problems.
  • Problems with self-control.
  • Low self-esteem‌
Sep 9, 2021

Why do abused people go back? ›

Victims stay or return for many reasons, such as: The deck is stacked against a victim when confronted with leaving or not. Abusers work very hard to keep victims in the abusive relationship. There is a real fear of death or worse abuse if they leave.

Who does abuse affect the most? ›

Women are most likely to be victims of abuse and perpetrators are most likely to be men. Children are often the hidden victims of domestic violence and abuse.

What are 6 behaviors that indicate emotional abuse? ›

Examples include intimidation, coercion, ridiculing, harassment, treating an adult like a child, isolating an adult from family, friends, or regular activity, use of silence to control behavior, and yelling or swearing which results in mental distress. Signs of emotional abuse.

What are 3 characteristics of abusers? ›

Red flags and warning signs of an abuser include but are not limited to:
  • Extreme jealousy.
  • Possessiveness.
  • Unpredictability.
  • A bad temper.
  • Cruelty to animals.
  • Verbal abuse.
  • Extremely controlling behavior.
  • Antiquated beliefs about roles of women and men in relationships.

What are three 3 indicators of psychological and or emotional abuse? ›

The following indicators may indicate emotional abuse:
  • avoiding home (particularly if the abuser is in the family home)
  • running away or continually staying at friend's houses.
  • fear of the dark, not wanting to go to bed, bedwetting or nightmares.
  • lying or stealing.
  • lack of trust in adults.

What 3 types of abuse should always be reported? ›

Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse are some of the most known types of abuse: Physical abuse is when someone hurts another person's body. It includes hitting, shaking, burning, pinching, biting, choking, throwing, beating, and other actions that cause physical injury, leave marks, or cause pain.

What is the most difficult abuse to identify? ›

Emotional abuse often coexists with other forms of abuse, and it is the most difficult to identify. Many of its potential consequences, such as learning and speech problems and delays in physical development, can also occur in children who are not being emotionally abused.

What is a controlling behavior by an abuser? ›

Coercive control is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.

What are characteristics of emotional abuse? ›

Emotional abuse includes:
  • humiliating or constantly criticising a child.
  • threatening, shouting at a child or calling them names.
  • making the child the subject of jokes, or using sarcasm to hurt a child.
  • blaming and scapegoating.
  • making a child perform degrading acts.

What are the 3 behavioral indicators? ›

Behavioral indicators of physical abuse include: Fear of going home. Extreme apprehensiveness or vigilance. Pronounced aggression or passivity.

What are the four main abuses? ›

There are four main categories of child abuse: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. Find out more about each below, as well as the warning signs that a child may be being abused.

What are the four categories of abusive? ›

The four different main types of child abuse are physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse.

What are two indicators of psychological emotional abuse? ›

Behavioural signs:

self-harm or self-abusive behaviours. challenging/extreme behaviours. excessive compliance to staff. very low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness.

What qualifies as narcissistic abuse? ›

Narcissistic abuse refers to the emotional, physical, sexual, or financial forms of abuse that a narcissist inflicts on others. This abuse can range from mild putdowns to severe, life-threatening violence. If you're in a relationship with a narcissist, you may frequently feel angry, confused, or alone.

What are the 3 R's to help avoid abuse? ›

As a military commander, I implore you to act on the three Rs of domestic violence awareness: recognize, respond and refer. Recognize the warning signs of domestic violence.


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