How to Recognize Domestic Violence and Abuse

Domestic abuse  is an issue that everybody has heard of. However, there are still misconceptions about it that lead to many who have no experience of it dismissing it as irrelevant to their lives. They believe that domestic abuse occurs only in certain echelons of society, that it simply couldn’t happen to them, or to anyone they know. But, it’s time to think again. Victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse or violence do not only exist in the downtrodden areas of town, or among the poor who live on the council estates or in the trailer parks. The vicar’s wife, the respected GP, the politician whose face smiles at you from your television every day..all or any of these can become caught up in the cycle of abuse and fear that is domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse isn’t always easy to spot, either. Just because a woman doesn’t have a black eye or a bruised face doesn’t mean that she is not being abused behind closed doors. Many abusers are very clever at making sure that the injuries they inflict are not visible to the rest of the world. Or, the abuse may be emotional, leaving no physical marks but an indelible scarring of the psyche and ruining lives just as effectively as kicks and blows. And, men can also be victims of domestic abuse.

Some of these misunderstandings about domestic abuse can lead to even more problems for those involved. The doctor’s wife, for example, may be reluctant to admit, even to herself, that she is a victim. She may be afraid that as her husband is held in such public regard, she would not be believed if she told the truth. The politician who abuses his wife may be too shamed to seek help.
But, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, or how much you earn. Domestic abuse is never acceptable. No one, man or woman, rich or poor, should have to live in fear. Help is available, and it’s accessible to all.

Domestic Abuse (The Overview)

The first and greatest barrier to preventing, stopping and escaping an abusive situation in a relationship is denial. Of course, if you are a wife who is being beaten black and blue by your husband every day, you will know that you are a victim of abuse and violence. But, what of the woman  who has never been beaten or hit, but who is constantly told that she is ‘not good enough’, and who becomes afraid to voice her opinions and retreats into a half life? Or, the man whose wife constantly berates him for not earning enough, not being man enough? Or again, the man who slaps his wife sometimes just to ‘keep her in line’, just as his father did to his mother?

Domestic abuse is characterised by denial. Some victims know that they are being abused, but are too afraid (for any number of reasons) to seek help and to admit the problem exists. However, a high number of victims of domestic abuse, and even of violence, cannot accept even to themselves the reality of their situation. Victims lose self confidence and begin to believe that they have somehow deserved the treatment they are receiving. This may be from feelings of guilt (real or imagined) or because their partner tells them so, thus ‘absolving’ himself. Others become so intimidated that they begin to see the abuse as somewhow ‘normal’ within a relationship.

Denial is the enemy of hope. Knowing and accepting to yourself that you are trapped in a cycle of domestic abuse is the first step to overcoming it and escaping. This is as true of the abuser as it is of the abused.

How to Recognize Domestic Abuse

So, we’ve established that the first vital step to escaping a life of domestic abuse is to recognise it and accept it. As domestic abuse takes many different forms, it can be difficult to recognise.
If you are unsure whether or not you are in an abusive relationship, ask yourself the following questions:

How Do You Feel?

  • Are you afraid of your partner?
  • Do you feel that you have to ‘walk on eggshells’ and avoid certain triggers that may anger your partner?
  • Do you feel that nothing you do for your partner is ‘good enough’, or ‘right’?
  • Do you feel that you may have deserved the treatment meted out to you?
  • Do you question your own sanity at times?
  • Do you have a sense of helplessness or of living in an emotional void?

How Does Your Partner Behave Emotionally Towards You?

  • Does your partner humiliate you in public?
  • Does your partner shout at you a lot of the time?
  • Does your partner belittle you in front of your family or friends?
  • Does your partner tell you it is your fault he has to abuse you?
  • Does your partner view you as a sex object or of lesser importance than himself within the relationship?
  • Is your partner jealous and possessive of you?
  • Does your partner try to control your actions?
  • Does you partner try to stop you from spending time with your family or friends?
  • Does your partner control your access to money, the telephone, the internet or the car?
  • Does your partner always check up on you, wanting to know your every movement?
  • Does your partner threaten to take away your children and prevent you from seeing them?

How Does Your Partner Behave Physically Towards You?

  • Does your partner have an unpredictable or explosive temper?
  • Does your partner threaten you with violence or threaten to kill you?
  • Does your partner physically hurt you?
  • Does your partner push, shove or shake you?
  • Does your partner force you to have sex?
  • Does your partner take away or destroy your belongings?

If the above seem familiar, you are caught in an abusive relationship. Even if the abuse is fairly low level and emotional rather than physical, it is still damaging and needs addressing. Low level abuse often escalates into violence. Some times, women (or any victim) may feel that what is happening to them does not quite qualify as abuse if it is relatively low level or emotional rather than physical.

But, it’s important to understand that any use of physical force against you is abuse. As is emotional blackmail, belittling or any behavior that creates fear and emotional pain. It is also important to realize that occasional or infrequent abuse is also abuse. If your partner has abusive tendencies, the chances are that the behavior will escalate over time. Equally, you are still a victim of abuse even after the abuse has stopped if it has only stopped because you have adjusted your behavior to that required by your partner.

Major Kinds of Domestic Violence/Abuse

There are different categories of domestic abuse, depending on what literature you read or what website you research. Most sources agree on the following categories of domestic abuse:

Physical abuse

Physical abuse may or may not result in injury. It may be as little as being pushed or having a finger stabbed into your arm. However, if it involves intimidation in any way it is abuse. Even being pushed can result in serious injury or even death…imagine standing at the top of a flight of stairs when you are pushed from behind? Or standing on the kerb of a busy road?

Physical violence

Physical violence involves behaviour that can inflict an injury. It may be hitting, kicking, slapping, punching, shaking or shoving. It is an assault, and is punishable by law.

Sexual abuse

If you are forced, even by your husband or partner, to have sex when you do not want to, or to partake in sexual acts that you are unhappy with and feel degraded or frightened by, you are a victim of sexual abuse. If you have a partner who is sexually abusive as well as physically violent you are more likely to be seriously injured or even killed.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse is often harder to recognise than physical abuse. The abused partner experiences such feelings of low self worth and loss of confidence that she is blinded to the reality of the situation. The emotionally abusive partner is trying to create exactly this effect. Your loss of self esteem allows him to control your actions and even your thoughts, and his campaign of emotional abuse increases with its success. Once the abusive partner gains emotional control of you, you are less likely to feel able to leave him or to seek help.

An emotional abuser may shout at you, both in private and in public, he may call you names, insult your intelligence or body, tell you that you are worthless as a wife, mother or in your professional life. He may prevent you from seeing your friends and family, thus increasing your sense of isolation and decreasing the chances of anyone realising what is going on. An abuser may also ‘recruit’ your family and friends to believe in his lies and unite with him to control and humiliate you, thus cutting off your usual support network and isolating you even further.

In some ways, emotional abuse can be even more dangerous than physical abuse. It can undermine your whole personality and cause mental illness. It is less likely to be detected by outsiders, and so less likley to attract outside offers of help. Sufferers also think that they will receive less sympathy and undertanding should they report this type of abuse, due to the lack of physical evidence.
Financial abuse is also a common facet of emotional abuse. If an abusive partner removes your access to money, he is also removing your independence and making it less likely that you will be able to escape and leave him. So, recognising the signs that financial abuse is taking place is very important. If your partner does any of the following, you are being subjected to this abuse:

  • Needs to know everything you spend
  • Restricts your access to your credit cards or bank account
  • Restricts you to an allowance determined by himself
  • Withholds or restricts necessities from you (food, clothing, medication, shelter)
  • Sabotages your job. (Preventing you from attending regularly, jeapordising your career)
  • Doesn’t ‘allow’ you to go out to work or college
  • Steals or takes your money with out your express consent
  • Forces you to sign money or assets over to him against your wishes

An abusive partner is abusive by choice

The above statement is true. But it can be one of the hardest truths about abuse for a victim to accept. An abusive partner is not out of control, and he is not to be pitied. Even an abusive partner who was himself abused as a child has a responsibility for his own actions.  Whatever he may tell you, he is not the victim.
If you find that hard to accept, think about it this way. When your partner goes to work, he does not beat up his colleages. He almost certainly doesn’t hit, punch or kick his friends when he is spending time with them. It is highly unlikely that he shouts abuse at other people with whom he comes into contact in his life. He can choose who he abuses, and when and where he abuses them. He is actually in complete control of his behaviour.

The above is, of course, completely contrary to what he wants you to believe. It may even be contrary to what he believes himself. However, his abuse is actually a result of a number of strategies that he employs in order to exert control over your thoughts and actions. These are:

  • Control and dominance: The more he can dominate you, the greater the control he can assert over your life. An abusive partner may treat you as a child, as a slave or servant and he will employ any tactics he can to maintain this dominance.
  • Humiliation and removal of confidence: An abusive partner seeks to humiliate you in order to remove your self confidence. Loss of self esteem makes you more vulnerable to his control and demands.
  • Isolation: If you are not allowed to spend time with your family or friends, your abuser can better control your actions. He can also rest assured that you are unable to ask for help or to tell those close to you your side of the story. Preventing you from attending work, college or social events without him being present is also part of this tactic. Cutting you off from your outside contacts also increases your dependence on him.
  • Threatening and intimidation: An abusive partner may use threats to control your actions or to prevent you from reporting abuse. These threats can vary from relatively mild (threatening to withhold things that you enjoy, for example) to very serious. He may threaten to harm or kill you or those that you love. He might also threaten to harm or kill himself, forcing you to feel responsible for his safety and well being. Intimidation is also part of this tactic, but tends to involve actual actions rather than just verbal threats. A man intimidating his partner might smash up her belongings, hurt her pets or show her weapons he might use against her.  Intimidation is a threat taken further, with a very clear implication of violence to follow in the event of non compliance.
  • Denial and blame shifting: Domestic abuse is frequently characterised by the abusive partner’s inability to accept the blame or responsibility for his actions. He may deny that the abuse happened at all: there are well documented examples of a man beating his wife then looking at the bruises in the morning and asking her what happened to her face. It is also common for an abusive partner to make light of an assult or attack, claiming a very much more minor version of events than actually happened. (‘I threw a pebble at your feet to get your attention’, he may say, when in reality he threw a rock at your head.)
  • Abusive partners also use blame shifting to excuse their behaviour. Instead of accepting that his treatment of you was wrong, he will claim that you ‘deserved it’, ‘brought it on yourself’ or he may blame his own abusive parents. Whatever his excuses, however, nothing can get better until he accepts responsibility and owns up to the abuse to himself as well as to you.

Cycles of Abuse

Domestic abuse is often said to be a ‘cycle’. This is becuse abusive behaviour follows a pattern and repeats itself making it very hard to stop or break the cycle. The pattern can be seen as follows:

  • Abuse  –>Guilt–>Excuses–>Normality–>Fantasizing and Planning–>Set Up–> More Abuse.

To give a more precise explanation take a look at the following example of a domestic abuse pattern.

  • A man hits or otherwise abuses his partner. He then feels guilty for his actions and may apologise…although he does not accept repsonsibility as he then excuses his behaviour by blaming the woman or some other influence such as his own past experiences for the abuse. He may try to justify the abuse by claiming that the woman has done something to deserve the abuse, like being unfaithful or having let him down in public, even if there is no evidence of this.  The next part of the cycle usually sees a return to normality, as the abuser tries to calm the situation and persuade his partner that it was a ‘one off’ episode and that there is nothing for her to worry about. It is much harder for a woman to leave or to call for help during such a period of normality, so she stays, and the cycle resumes. After a while, the abusive partner begins to imagine what else the woman might do wrong and to fantasise about how he will ‘punish’ her.  As his fantasies escalate, he becomes more and more convinced that her ‘bad behaviour’ has taken place so he finds a way to set up a situation…usually an argument…where he feels justified in abusing her again.

How to Spot Signs of Domestic Abuse from the Outside

If someone you know or see regularly seems to be in danger of being in an abusive relationship, you may be their only chance of escape. However, it can be hard to be sure about what is going on from the outside. These signs or pointers may help you to decide if abuse is taking place and if your intervention is needed.

Subtle signs of abuse:

  • Victims of domestic abuse may give the impression of being afraid of their partner.
  • They might seem over keen to please their partner, agreeing with all his statements and rushing to look after him.
  • An abused partner may make a point of calling their partner all the time to say where they are and when they will be back. They may become anxious if they are late or unable to contact their partner.
  • An abuser may make too frequent phone calls ‘checking up’ on their partner.
  • A victim of domestic abuse may often seem upset or worried after speaking to their partner.
  • A victim of abuse might speak about their partner’s jealousy or controlling habits whilst not actually identifying this as abuse.
  • A victim might stop seeing friends or attending customary clubs or social events.
  • An abused person might only venture outside the home with her partner.
  • A victim of abuse might seem to have less money than previously, or less access to the car.
  • A victim may appear less confident than she used to, putting herself down and belittling her achievments.

More overt signs that abuse is taking place:

  • A victim may display serious personality changes, becoming withdrawn, depressed or defensive.
  • A victim may begin to speak of suicide and the hopelessness of life.
  • A person who is being abused may have unexplained absences from work or college or social events.
  • Someone whose partner is physically abusing them might display bruises, cuts, burns or other injuries.
  • An abused person might become reluctant to show their arms or keep parts of their body covered at all times.
  • An abused person may begin dressing differently. Blackened eyes and bruised arms can be hidden behind sunglasses and long sleeved dresses.
  • A victim of domestic violence willl often make excuses for their obvious injuries, blaming frequent accidents or their own stupidity.

If someone you know is displaying these worrying signs of abuse, it can be hard to know what to do. You don’t want to be accused of interfering, and you might worry that you are mistaken anyway.
However difficult it is, it is important to act if you suspect that someone is being abused. It’s too late after they have been killed or seriously injured!

Here’s what to do

  • Pick a calm moment when you can speak to the person alone, and ask them if everything’s OK.
  • Tell them you are concerned about them, and tell them what is worrying you about their behaviour or physical symptoms.
  • Listen to what they have to say and show them you understand and give it importance.
  • Offer your help and give them support in whatever action they decide to take.
  • Promise that any information they may divulge will be kept in confidence unless they ask you to act differently.

But, you shouldn’t

Wait until the person comes to you for help…they may not ask until it’s too late

  • Apportion blame or be judgmental
  • Give advice…this is best coming from a professional source
  • Pressurise the person to take any action they are uncomfortable with
  • Tell the person that you will only help them if they follow your advice

While accepting their word at the time, bear in mind that the abused person may want to tell the truth but might be afraid to do so. You may have to give them time to break down the barriers of isolation and loss of confidence that the abuse has created. Only take more drastic action, such as reporting the suspected abuse if you feel it is absolutely necessary. You can take advice yourself on how best to help by calling an abuse hotline (numbers and websites gven below) and speaking to a trained advisor. You can do this without giving names. Stay in touch with the person you think is being abused, even if you do not discuss the situation.This gives them a sense of support and defuses their sense of isolation. It also gives them more chance to find a time that they are ready to admit what is happening and to seek your help.

Contacts for help with domestic abuse

There is a lot of help out there for victims of domestic abuse. Whether or not a person is ready or able to leave their abusive partner, there are a lot of steps that can be taken to lessen the danger and to control the abuse.

For advice, whether you are being abused or know someone who is in that position, you can contact:

Help for Women

In the US:

  • Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline on 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)

In the UK:

  • Call Women’s Aid on 0808 2000 247

In Canada:

  • Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline on 1-800-363-9010

In Australia:

  •  Call 1800RESPECT on 1800-737-732


  • Go to the webpage of the International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies @  to find your nearest source of help.


Help for Abused Men

In the US and Canada:

In the UK:

In Australia:


  • Befrienders network operates worlwide to help those in crisis. The link allows you to find your nearest service.