Early Warning Signs of Abuse

One of the best ways to heal is to avoid the situation altogether. We can be fully healed from abuse if the abuse never occurs again but how can we be expected to predict the future? How we can see the abuse before it causes damage?

In truth, this may not be entirely possible. By recognizing the early warning signs of abuse, we can be vigilant to stay away from toxic situations and avoid abuse before it happens or gets unmanageable.


TOO MUCH TOO SOON: Your partner pushes for instant closeness and does not allow the relationship to grow at a pace that is comfortable to you.
Examples: Partner praises you constantly and puts you on a pedestal. They want to live together immediately. Partner wants to care for your children and disciplines them early in a relationship (instead of honoring your role as their parent). Initially, you may feel swept off your feet but these show your partner’s lack of respect for boundaries.

CONFUSION: They constantly change expectations or guidelines, thus keeping you guessing how to please them.
Examples: Saying they want you to work, but criticizing every job opening you apply for. Wanting to go out to dinner when you spent all day preparing their favorite meal.

INTRUSIVE AND CONTROLLING: Your partner consistently wants to know your whereabouts,
who you are with, where you are going, and when you are coming home.
Examples: Constant phone calls or showing up at a friend’s home unexpectedly. Initially, this may make you feel missed and cared for but these are actually signs of suspicion and distrust.

ISOLATION: Your partner insists on spending all or the majority of your time together, cutting you off from friends and family, or making fun of your interests in other activities.
Examples: Calls your friends derogatory names (“slut” or “stupid”); discourages you from keeping in touch with family or friends; discourages you from participating in any activities apart; not providing child care. Initially, this may make you feel wanted and needed because of all the time and attention devoted to you. Actually, this cuts down your resources (family, friends) so when you need them, they may not be there for you. Do they respect your need to have space or have time alone?

POSSESSIVENESS AND JEALOUSY: Your partner constantly accuses you of sexual interactions with others in your life (friends, teachers, bosses, counselors, etc.). Accuses you of flirting; monitors how you look, what you wear, and how you communicate with others.
Examples: Makes statements like, “I want you to be all mine”, “I don’t want anyone else looking at you”, or “You look like a whore with that makeup on.” Initially, jealousy may seem like a demonstration of a partner’s love but instead, it demonstrates a partner’s willingness to treat you like an object or a piece of property. These individuals use jealousy as an excuse to isolate you.

PRONE TO ANGER: You partner is easily angered, has rapid mood swings, or has unpredictable behavior; the anger displayed is out of proportion to the incident.
Example: Anger is directed toward a pet, possessions, or objects. A partner may kick the dog, destroy something of yours, or rage at you if you’re five minutes late. It is important not to ignore what may seem like even small overreactions. It is not acceptable for someone to use aggression to get their point across, regardless of how angry they are, or how they’ve dealt with their anger in the past.

UNKNOWN PAST & RESPECT FOR WOMEN: How has your partner treated previous relationships? Does your partner use derogatory or disrespectful language about women in general (bitches, whores, sluts, etc.)? Does your partner have stereotypical beliefs about gender roles?
Examples: Your partner makes statements like, “she’s got nice tits” or “women are good for just one thing”; or pinches your body parts in a humiliating or uncomfortable way. Past physical and/or emotional abuse to other women (their mother, ex-girlfriend). Blames past partners for all problems. It is important to take the “mystery” out of your partner’s past; talk to former significant others. Be in touch with your feelings — how do you feel when your partner degrades women, for example? By degrading women, your partner is also degrading you.

SELF-CENTERED: Your partner always focuses on their own wants and needs. They ignore your wishes.
Examples: Orders for both of you at restaurants. Interrupts you when you are speaking. Decides that you will go to a movie that you clearly do not want to see. Tells you what you want (without asking you what you want).

DOUBLE STANDARDS: Your partner expects others (and you) to abide by their rules/standards, yet they don’t live by them.
Examples: Buys an expensive stereo, but criticizes you for buying new shoes. Calls you a slut for having slept with your partner, yet they have slept with many partners.

ALCOHOL & DRUG USE: While alcohol and drug use doesn’t always cause a person to be abusive, these problems often coexist. If they are engaging in drug abuse (an unhealthy behavior), there is a strong tendency for them to also be involved in other unhealthy behaviors, such as physical/verbal/emotional abuse. Additionally, drugs and alcohol can decrease a person’s inhibitions about using violent behavior.
Examples: Hides alcohol/drug use. Makes excuses why they need to drink or why it is okay: They had a good/bad day so they deserve/need to celebrate/unwind.

BLAMES OTHERS: Your partner doesn’t accept responsibility for their actions.
Examples: Blames police for their DUI or domestic violence arrest. Says you provoked them into yelling at or pushing you.

INAPPROPRIATE SEXUAL BEHAVIOR OR DEMANDS: Your partner pushes you to engage in behavior that is uncomfortable or painful.
Examples: Not allowed to use birth control. You only have sex when they want it.

* Cited From SafeHouse Progressive Alliance for NonViolence
Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence, 835 North Street, Boulder, Colorado 80304
www.safehousealliance.org crisis 303.444.2424 admin 303.449.8623

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