Abusers can be hard to identify because at first they can be completely charming. Skilled at gaining people's trust, they often seem approachable, honest, generous, and kind, as they ease into people's lives and hearts. Slowly, though, things start to go terribly wrong. The abusive behavior escalates as the relationship advances, gradually becoming more controlling, demeaning, and aggressive. Only after the victim feels hopelessly trapped does the situation become unbearable.
It is essential not to let positive impressions blind one to a person's behavior as it develops over time.
The list below includes many common behaviors of abusers, thought it does not include the most obvious forms of violence, such as screaming or hitting. An extremely manipulative, predatory abuser might never physically harm a victim. Nonetheless, all behaviors listed here should be considered violent.
- Insist that their own thoughts and feelings be respected, but are not respectful of others' thoughts and feelings
- Blame the victim for inciting abuse: "You made me do it."
- Generally will not take responsibility—constantly blame everyone and everything but themselves
- Keep people isolated by preventing or discouraging contact with friends or family
- Shove, push, block the way, or stand or behave in a threatening manner
- Threaten to hurt people or their friends or family
- Discount other people's worth and opinions
- Encourage dependence; tell others they cannot get along by themselves
- Control access to finances, telephones, television, computer, cars, and other family resources
- Criticize, devalue, insult, humiliate, and otherwise make people feel small, worthless, stupid, clumsy, helpless, unwanted, or inferior
- Use intimidation or manipulation to get their way and control people
- Abuse or threaten to abuse pets
- Destroy or threaten to destroy things other people value
- Act distrustfully; intrude on privacy (e.g., barging in, reading mail)
- Withhold conversation or affection to control or punish
- Exhibit jealousy; make unfounded accusations
- Have unpredictable outbursts of anger or rage
- Cite authoritative sources to justify their oppressive behavior (e.g., quoting a religious text to justify physical punishment or assert superiority)