Typical Behaviors of An Emotional Abuser

“The local woman whose husband beat here severely, cut her achilles tendons, made her watch him murder her three year old, set the house on fire and shot himself (last week) is the subject of much sympathy.
There are also people, however, who asked a friend of hers “Why didn’t she leave sooner?” ARRGGH!
I am constantly trying to think of ways to get people to think more deeply, with no victim blaming. We have great but long articles about that; wish we could teach some snappy and illuminating come-backs to such ignorant remarks.”
(Rose Garrity)

Here are signs of domestic abuse/Violence


1. Isolates You From Others

Abusive partners want you “all to themselves” and go to great lengths to keep you from social acitivity. (This is not “romantic” or related to love at all, but is part of their sense of entitlement to control and prevent you from communication with others about anything, especially your relationship). They do not allow that you have a life outside the relationship, even with family and friends. They do not believe you have a right to a previous life that impacts the current relationship. Even your children from a previous relationship can be a source of his deep jealousy.  It is healthy and normal for you to hang out with other people besides your partner. If he prevents you from doing so, or escalates his abuse when you do spend time with others, this is serious emotional abuse.  (See also numbers 6 & 8.)

2. Is Verbally Abusive

When a person calls you names, taunts or ridicules you they mean to hurt you and keep you “in line”. Abusers often try to blame you, like saying that you are “too sensitive”. You are not too sensitive; you rightly feel that this is not the way you should be treated. Abusers have a way of making you think that this is normal behavior and that it is you who has the problem. (See number 3.) Abusers also commonly accuse you of behaviors such as talking to another man, etc. They often talk in circles or twist things to confuse the issues, and they are often impossible to discuss issues with, because it all becomes convoluted and about anything but him.

3. Blames Others For His Behavior and its Consequences

If your partner blames everything on others, often you, this is a red flag. He will say his tantrums or attacks are because of you. When he says his behavior is your fault he is trying to say he is not in control of himself; this is an attempt to take away his own responsibility. It is not a healthy relationship if your partner never admits to being at fault, or if he seems to admit it, then goes right back into blaming you and escalating an argument. He feels entitled to your compliance, and feels blameless for the things he does. He may blame others for bad things that he has done, like being arrested, fired, having a car repossessed, etc. These are all signs a person may feel entitled to behave however he chooses.

4. Alcohol and Drug Use

Not all abusers drink alcohol excessively or use other drugs, but some do. Being under the influence of alcohol does not cause abuse, but can make it worse, and can be used as an excuse for the abuse. Addictions need intervention that is separate from the issue of abuse.

5. Instills Fear

If you feel fear and tension around your partner something is very wrong. Abusers may intimidate you with violence or dominating tactics like all of those listed here. Putting you in potentially harmful situations, or showing you a weapon or fist and stating they are not afraid to use them are common examples. Threats of various types are common. He may demand to know what you did all day if he was at work, wanting you to account for every hour. He may stalk you and insist on even seeing your doctor with you.

6. Punishes You For Spending Time Away

This is related to isolation, (number 1).  If you do go somewhere or do something without your partner, or even if he goes along but others are also there, an abuser will punish you later. He may shout, insult, threaten or worse, all because you were not exclusively hanging out with him. He will give you signals while others are around to make you frightened of later, such as raising an eyebrow or texting you during the visit, even though he is right there. An abuser may text you constantly, to track where you are, to threaten, to remind you of the limits he sets, etc. He may follow you through the use of GPS devices on your car or cell phone. He will demand to read your text messages and email as well. He will demand to know all of your passwords, and read your mail. He threatens to or tells lies about you to your family, friends, doctor or boss.

7. Expects You to Do As He Says

An emotional abuser feels entitled to be treated like “the boss”, and expects you to do as he says.  He may give you orders, and lists and threats about housework or cooking, or even what you can wear.    Abusers feel very entitled to be in control of you and the relationship at all times

8. Is Extremely Jealous of You

A frequent trait of abusers is their jealousy. An abusive partner is usually very jealous of you, other people and even of your dreams and goals. Their jealousy and rage over intangible things like your aspirations is from the lack of control they feel over those aspects of your life. They often do not want their partners to go to school, have a job, see a therapist, take classes, or have any social life. If you do have a job or classes he will wait nearby for you to leave, may even be there to watch what you do on breaks.

9. Controls You Through His Emotions

An abuser is a grand manipulator and will sulk, show rage, smash things, threaten to leave, and emotionally punish you for not going along with his idea of how things should be. An abuser will try to make you feel guilty any time you exert your will and assert what is right for you. He will accuse you of “cheating” or flirting if you even answer the door for a delivery person or speak politely to a store clerk. At times the abuser may appear to be apologetic and loving but his “remorse” doesn’t last long; the abuse begins again, over and over, and usually escalates as time goes on.

10. Gets Physical

If you are emotionally abused, there is a high chance that he will eventually physically abuse you. At first he might pull your hair, push you, or grab you so hard that you bruise; these are serious warning signs that things will get more dangerous. A partner who has reacted with violence before (breaking things, punching walls, getting into altercations with others), is more likely to hit you. Abuse usually gets more frequent and more severe as time goes on.


Note: This article uses “he” for the abuser. Anyone can abuse an intimate partner, including same sex relationships. Our models for intimate partner relationships are mostly based upon centuries of attitudes and practices of heterosexual relationships, and many of those traditional dynamics are copied in same sex relationships.

In heterosexual relationships men have the traditional sense that they should be “in charge” and dominant. Men are the most frequent users of violence and tactics that support it. While women may abuse men they don’t do so out of the same sense of entitlement, and are not seen as traditionally entitled to control a male partner. Men seldom  walk around in fear of a female partner.

Men abuse women frequently and with little accountability or consequences. Men are often socially expected to be in control of female partners and controlling, demanding, jealous or humiliating behaviors toward women are accepted as “normal male” actions; men are essentially acting the way they have been socialized to be.  Male children are frequently told to “act like a man” and we all know exactly what that means, even if we cannot articulate it.

Society is beginning to teach more messages of equality and fairness; it may take a generation or more to see much change in gendered attitudes, however.


We want to be clear that when men are abused they deserve our full support and help to escape. No one deserves to be abused. No one has the right to abuse others. 

A New Hope Center provides confidential, free services to any survivors of abuse, including intimate partner abuse, sexual assault, child abuse, hate crimes, incest and other crimes. 

Services include crisis intervention, counseling, support groups, advocacy and accompaniment, safe shelter, and more.


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