Signs of an Abuser

abusive man 5One of my students recently wrote about her relationship with an abusive man. Amber’s ex-husband, “Dan,” fits many of the signs of an abuser.

An abusive man often takes his victim on a whirlwind ride of a relationship. He’s in a rush to make her fall in love so that he can begin the abuse sooner rather than later. And, she gets so attached that it is hard to leave. 

Later, when he uses jealousy as his excuse for abuse, it fits well with his “I love you so much that I am in a jealous rage” narrative, which helps to keep her with him — because deep down he loves her so much.

Except that he doesn’t. He only loves being abusive.

Here are a few warning signs to look out for — many of which fit “Dan” — via the Women’s Crisis Service.

He won’t always fit all of these, but look for clusterings:


Abusers can be very charming. In the beginning, they may seem to be Prince Charming or a Knight in Shining Armor. He can be very engaging, thoughtful, considerate and charismatic. He may use that charm to gain very personal information about her. He will use that information later to his advantage.

For example; he will ask if she has ever been abused by anyone. If she says, “yes”, he will act outraged that anyone could treat a woman that way. Then when he becomes abusive, he will tell her no one will believe her because she said that before and it must be her fault or two people would not have hit her.

Another example; he may find out she experimented with drugs in her past. He will then threaten that if she tells anyone about the abuse he will report her as a drug abuser and she will lose her children. The threat to take away her children is one of the most common threats abusers use to maintain power and control over their victims.


Abusers isolate their victims geographically and socially. Geographic isolation includes moving the victim from her friends, family and support system (often hundreds of miles); moving frequently in the same area and/or relocating to a rural area.

Social isolation usually begins with wanting the woman to spend time with him and not her family, friends or co-workers. He will then slowly isolate her from any person who is a support to her. He dictates whom she can talk to; he tells her she cannot have contact with her friends or family.


Jealousy is a tool abusers use to control the victim. He constantly accuses her of having affairs. If she goes to the grocery store, he accuses her of having an affair with the grocery clerk. If she goes to the bank, he accuses her of having an affair with the bank teller. Abusers routinely call their victims whores or sluts.

Emotional Abuse 

The goal of emotional abuse is to destroy the victim’s self-esteem. He blames her for his violence, puts her down, calls her names and makes threats against her. Over time, she no longer believes she deserves to be treated with respect and she blames herself for his violence. For some survivors of domestic violence, the emotional abuse may be more difficult to heal from than the physical abuse.


Abusers are very controlled and very controlling people. In time, the abuser will control every aspect of the victim’s life: where she goes, how she wears her hair, what clothes she wears, whom she talks to. He will control the money and access to money. Abusers are also very controlled people. While they appear to go into a rage or be out of control we know they are very much in control of their behavior.

The following are the reasons we know his behaviors are not about anger and rage:

He does not batter other individuals – the boss who does not give him time off or the gas station attendant that spills gas down the side of his car. He waits until there are no witnesses and abuses the person he says he loves.

If you ask an abused woman, “can he stop when the phone rings or the police come to the door?” She will say “yes”. Most often when the police show up, he is looking calm, cool and collected and she is the one who may look hysterical. If he were truly “out of control” he would not be able to stop himself when it is to his advantage to do so.

The abuser very often escalates from pushing and shoving to hitting in places where the bruises and marks will not show. If he were “out of control” or “in a rage” he would not be able to direct or limit where his kicks or punches land.

Here are a few more warning signals:

1. Jealousy of your time with co-workers, friends and family.

2. Controlling behavior. (Controls your comings and goings and your money.)

3. Isolation. (Cuts you off from all supportive resources such as telephone pals, colleagues at work and close family members.)

4. Blames others for his problems. (Unemployment, quarrels – everything is “your fault.”)

5. Hypersensitivity. (Easily upset by annoyances that are a part of daily life.)

6. Cruelty to animals or children.

7. “Playful” use of force in sex. (May start having sex with you when you are sleeping or demand sex when you are ill or tired.)

8. Verbal abuse.

9. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality. (Sudden mood swings and unpredictable behavior – one minute loving, the next minute angry and punitive.)

10. Past history of battering. (Has hit others but has a list of excuses for having been “pushed over the edge.”)

11. Threats of violence.

12. Breaking or striking objects.

13. Uses force during an argument.

Any woman who sees herself in this column should call the nearest women’s crisis line and tell someone what is happening. She will be provided with support and safety options.

Some women do not realize they are being abused until someone points it out to them. They have been made to believe that abusive treatment is what they deserve and that most women are treated this way. Women who see themselves in his should check out the nearest shelter and keep the phone number handy. They can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (TDD: 800-787-3224).

Still more:

1. Controlling behavior: “I know what’s best for you” and “I know what you want (or need).”The reality is that no one knows what is best for another adult.

2. Blames others for his problems: “Look what you made me do” and “If you hadn’t done that, none of this would have happened.” When Mr. Wrong and I had arguments, he would smother me with a pillow or choke me to get me to be quiet. I had to keep reminding myself that it was not my fault that he lost control of himself. I am responsible for my behavior, and he is responsible for his.

3. Use of force in sex: Mr. Wrong used to say that sex was one of my “wifely duties.”There is no law requiring a woman to have sex if she doesn’t want to. Forced sex is called rape.

4. History of battering: Excuses include the classic, “If you hadn’t provoked me …”The truth is that he chose to hit, push, kick, slap or punch you. If he hit you once, he will hit you again.

5. Verbal abuse: This was Mr. Wrong’s specialty. If someone deliberately hurts your feelings by word or deed, it is abuse, even if it is as simple as “You look fat in that outfit.”

6. Threats of violence: Threats are almost always precursors to the deed. If he threatens you, leave him before he does it.

7. Use of force during an argument: Most women feel, as I did, that if they haven’t been hit, they have not been physically abused. Restraining someone is also physical abuse. Pushing and shoving are physical abuse.

Abuse and battery take a toll on one’s physical, emotional and spiritual energy. It is easy to say no. We say this word all the time. Unfortunately, we find it especially difficult to say no to those we love and those we fear.

I thought it would be very difficult to leave Mr. Wrong. I worried that he would retaliate. I loved this man, and part of me always will. However, I don’t love anyone more than I love my life, health and sanity. All you have to do is decide that today you will be free. You can then be sure that tomorrow will be better.

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on July 1, 2016, in men, psychology, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. FHill_Spr'17JR

    Wow I wish I had read this article while I was in high school. When I was in high school, I had seen a lot of relationships that would be categorized as abusive. The common trend that I saw in these high school relationships was the isolation and control. One of my friends, after breaking up with him for a year, told me how she felt controlled by him. He had put a tracking device in her phone to monitor where she would go. She talked about how one day she made a detour to pick up her siblings from school and she got a phone call from him. The phone call showed that he was constantly monitoring him 24/7. Another type of control I saw was with my friend in college. At the time I did not recognize this as an abusive relationship. She was walking around school and would always feel so nervous. She talked about how she had to avoid certain corners and tables because her boyfriends friends were there. If her boyfriend’s friend saw her walking with someone they would not know, they would instantly report it to her boyfriend. Whenever my friend knew she was spotted, she would get really scared like she was going to get punished or something. So even having your friend monitor your girlfriend this way matches the control aspects of an abusive relationship. Fortunately now she is not with this boyfriend anymore and has found new boyfriend. Overall I think the signs of abusers need to be broadcasted to more college and high school students. Especially in high school because this is where I think some men perfect their craft of being abusers. If we can stop this abusive mentality ahead of time in high school, then we can prevent less women going through an abusive relationship.

  2. I have heard and seen a lot of abusers’ news in Korea. Most abusers are men such as ex-boyfriends, husbands, or fathers. I believe that abusers are not only men also can be women. However, the percentage of abusers who are men is much higher than women. Some abusers might think that their actions and obsessions are quite reasonable because they love their partners. I think that it is quite dangerous thoughts and they need to receive psychotherapy. They cannot realize their abuse is not acceptable, therefore they should get helped from others.

    • They sure do need help! As it is they are really dealing with their root problem and are only making things worse for everyone. Especially the poor person they are abusing.

  3. Thank you so much for your post on the signs of an abuser. I think that every woman should be aware of the depths of manipulation that are involved when dealing with someone who is abusive. All of my relationships had always been wonderful and loving – until I ended up in a relationship with someone who was abusive. Honestly, I never thought it could happen to me. I thought I was too smart for that, that I wouldn’t allow that kind of chaos and destruction in my life, but, I was wrong. Everything that I knew of abusive relationships centered on the theme of the cycle of abuse. And, honestly I could not fathom how I got into a relationship like this as someone who had never thought of me as being abused. I grew up in the early 1980s when the wealth of knowledge about healthy parenting wasn’t available like it is today. In therapy, which I decided to partake in in getting to the root of how I ended up where I did I recalled an experience as a 5-year old child where I showed a girl on the bus my Scooby Doo underwear – which resulted in a severe beating by my mother. In furthering my understanding of children’s behavior I’ve learned to understand that my action was not perverted or disgusting, rather, typical of a young kid exploring their own curiosity. Incidents like this were common place for me and I spent an entire lifetime normalizing the abuse rather than understanding that my mother was the product of abuse, which led to my abuse and my eventual abusive relationship. Luckily, I was able to escape and survive the relationship and it is with amazement that I read this blog and how eerily accurate it is in describing the personality traits of an abuser, and even though some of these traits may be somewhat ‘textbook,’ the experience is so nuanced that is difficult to even see it when it’s happening or until it’s too late. I appreciate you taking the time to help inform women (and men) of the signs of an abuser I can say, as a survivor, that this blog is a must read for everyone. Even if we haven’t suffered from abuse I think we all have these windows of time at some point in our lives where we aren’t quite ourselves and can be susceptible to such a person. Thank you for the ability to reflect on my own story.

  4. Abuse is seen in every relationships. Even family sometimes abuses their child to behave in certain way they want. In relationship partners do that. Not only females are abused but even males are not exceptions. Abusing anyone in any way is not right.

    • Hopefully not every relationship. But it’s far too common for sure!

      There is a difference between systematic abuse and sometimes being a jerk. Hopefully people aren’t in relationships marked by these signs, whether their partner is male or female.

  5. Omg so awful. My heart breaks thinking of these women.

  6. After reading this it just made me realize how many women are reading this and thinking this will never happened to them. Although, what many might not know is they are going through or know someone who is going through this situation. I believe the real issue is not having the information or facts but having the support of others without pity or guilt. Since it seems with a new wave of feminist movement of being a more powerful women it seems hard look week in front of other women. Even though many tried to find support it gets very difficult to find those who believe that a women is too fragile to handle criticism or can’t fight for herself. No matter who the abuser is male or female this is matter that needs to be taken more seriously. Even though physical abuse is more obvious we need better ways of identifying metal abuse as well.

    • I’ve never experienced this and I wonder if it’s because I was forearmed with this knowledge. I know others who have, but were not aware of the warning signs.

  7. I really enjoyed reading this as this article really struck a note in me. Until reading this article I would never have even considered that I had been abused. When I think of someone who has been abused, I think of someone who has been beaten, hit, slapped, something physical. Recently, I got out of a “sort of” relationship. The man I was seeing made me fall for him and used the tactics written in this article. Emotional abuse, control, jealousy and hypersensitivity were all used by him. I didn’t understand why he would treat me this way. What I did or said was never enough. I was never enough. Emotional abuse is just as painful as physical abuse. Your worth is diminished. You start to believe you are not enough for any man to actually love or care about. Thankfully, my friends noticed the situation I was in and basically told me to run. They saw these characteristics before I even could because in a way I let it happen. I wanted to be with him. Thanks for shedding some light on my past relationship!

  8. I really enjoyed reading this article. I think it is important for women to know all the signs and signals of an abuser. Often times women that are in an abusive relationship confuse the abuse with love, and this is not good at all. I never understood why men abuse or hurt women, if they say they love them. But, I know that it cannot possibly be love, because love is never jealous, controlling or harmful. I have a friend who use to be in a very abusive relationship that almost took her life. Her husband was controlling, physically and emotionally abusive to her. She would always blame herself for his behavior. When she first met him, he was nice, charming and sweet. Shortly after they met, he started to act very jealous and would always question her whereabouts and everything. She thought it was cute that he was so jealous at first; until he started striking her for not calling him back or telling him where she was. Fortunately, she is no longer with this monster and he is serving time in jail for what he did to her. Sadly, most women are not as lucky to escape their abuser and they end up dead or badly injured. Therefore, being aware of all the warning signs of an abuser can save your life.

    • So sorry about your friend. Hope this helps others!

    • “…most women are not as lucky to escape their abuser and they end up dead or badly injured.”
      Not true. If most women ended up dead or badly injured by physical abuse, there would be few women in the world. Where did you get such an idea?

      • Women are at most risk when they leave. That’s when they are most likely to end up dead. But otherwise, badly injured is unfortunately common.

  9. Jose Antonio Buenrostro

    The signs are there and often quite noticeable when you are getting to know someone. The problem is that most people that fall into abusive relationships are the last to realize it. The stories I’ve heard all fall in line with the warning signs listed in the post. A guy charms his way into a girl’s heart then slowly starts to show his true colors, but at that point the girl is already infatuated with the original charm that they dismiss any red flags as one-time occurrences and stick around. No one should stick around. In my opinion one red flag or any sign of abuse is a reason to end a relationship. Putting things like this out there is just what people need to be aware of who a potential abuser can be. The hope is that both women and men are aware of these personality traits so they do not find themselves in an abusive relationship.

  10. Abuse is not just perpetrated by a husband or a partner. Families too are a party to it. To my mind, violation of basic human rights (love, freedom, likes, dislikes, choices) by anybody around us – a parent, a sibling or a relative – is abuse. Awareness is the key. Please be smart enough to pick up early signals. Love is NEVER demanding, it is giving.

  11. abuses of people and animals are without doubt the most Disgusting AND BAD GESTURE THAT THE HUMAN BEING CAN DO !!!!

  12. This seems like a fairly one-sided perspective. Men are naturally larger and stronger than women and therefore are more capable of physically abusing their partners. In your recent post titled, “Women More Likely To Seek Divorce. Why?” you mention that men are “more emotionally dependent on their romantic partners.” I definitely agree with this but I also find it a bit scary. This allows women to basically have control of the emotional state of their partners. Emotional abuse brought on by women is just as severe of an issue as physical abuse brought on by men and it has a lot of the same warning signs. Honestly, I find myself more often worried about my guy friends being emotionally abused by their girlfriends than my girl friends being physically abused by their boyfriends. It might just be because I have seen one situation more often than the other but I still think there is merit to it.

    • I just googled to find signs of women abusing men and couldn’t find any. Even though I worded it that way, it was all the other way.

      I have both types in my family background.

      But in this post I was specifically addressing signs related to the abuse of my female student.

      There’s some overlap of signs but men are more likely to abuse, because they have additional reasons/motivations that stem from patriarchy. Patriarchal men believe women serve them, and should be punished when they don’t. Patriarchal men feel the should be powerful and do things to create a sense of power when they feel powerless (maybe at work). Sexist men are more likely to abuse than non-sexist men.

      • You know nothing of patriarchy (“father-rule”). The patriarchal rule is that men are to protect women – from other men, from environmental hazards, from danger, and from their own foolishness. Men are to care for and take care of women. Men are to be kindly toward the “weaker vessel.” The woman is to be his aide, not his slave. That men often fail to live up to this standard does not invalidate the standard.

      • You know nothing of patriarchy. There’s more than one definition. You’re talking about the earliest definition: father-rule. Which turns to older men ruling women and younger men, women and children. Turning to:

        A system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.

        A society or community organized on patriarchal lines.

        There are two types of patriarchies: 1) hostile 2) benevolent — in a way that limits women.

        You’re describing both. “Hostile” in seeing women as foolish and the “weaker vessel” and acknowledging that some patriarchal-types are even worse (e.g., beating women; stoning women for sex outside of marriage) versus “benevolently” “protecting” women from opportunity and themselves. She aids him, she doesn’t live for herself.

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