5 Lesser-Known Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship: Learn to Recognize Them

Dr. Serenity
April 13, 2023

5 Warning Signs of Domestic Violence Beyond Physical Abuse

Many people wrongly associate domestic violence only with physical abuse, but other forms of abuse can be just as harmful. Emotional abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, harassment, and stalking are all types of domestic violence that can be difficult to identify. The signs of these types of abuse are often hidden from outsiders and difficult to recognize for those experiencing them. This article explores the subtler signs of abusive relationships that people should be aware of, to recognize and seek help.


Who Is at Risk of Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence, also known as domestic abuse or intimate partner violence, can happen to anyone regardless of age, race, gender, or sexuality. However, some people have a higher risk of experiencing domestic violence in their lifetime. “Individuals who are isolated, vulnerable, or with limited or unavailable support systems are at great risk of being in abusive relationships,” says Genovese.

Women, especially Black women, Indigenous women, or women of color, are more likely to experience domestic violence than men, according to Dr. Kambolis. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.

Immigration status can also play a role in domestic violence. Women Against Abuse, a nonprofit organization, states that fears about deportation or separation from children born in the United States and difficulty with language barriers are all challenges that contribute to an unequal power distribution, which disproportionately affects the person being abused.

Other factors that increase the risk of domestic violence, according to Genovese, are:

  • A personal or family history of domestic violence
  • Financial instability
  • Traditional gender norms
  • Lack of social support
  • Poor neighborhood support
  • Low education level, or having parents with less than a high school education
  • Unhealthy family relationships
  • Young age


Identifying Domestic Violence: Watch for Subtle Signs

Domestic violence can be difficult to identify because abusers often try to hide their abusive behavior, says Jennifer Kelman, a licensed clinical social worker and certified professional counselor. However, there are subtle signs that can indicate abuse tendencies.

Here are five lesser-known signs of an abuser that aren’t based on physical violence:

  1. They Insist on Accompanying You Everywhere

Abusers may try to isolate you from others by never leaving you alone. This is about establishing power and dominance and separating you from loved ones, warns Kelman. Abusers may indirectly isolate someone by not allowing them to leave home or carry out any activities alone, such as going to school or work, doctor appointments, grocery shopping, picking up their children, or participating in events with extended family or friends.

  1. They Frequently Employ Gaslighting Tactics

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where an abuser causes a person to question their own reality. Abusers may taunt or humiliate a person, then accuse them of being overly sensitive or dramatic when they react to these taunts. This type of emotional abuse can put people at a higher risk of experiencing physical harm.

  1. Love Bombing as a Tool for Emotional Manipulation

Emotional abuse can involve constant judgment, criticism, and making someone feel worthless. According to Kambolis, this can result in the victim feeling dependent and trapped in the abusive relationship. Kelman adds that abusers often use love bombing to smooth things over following emotional attacks. Love bombing can take different forms, such as gifts, compliments, apologies, and grandiose promises never to repeat the abusive behavior.

If you notice this pattern of emotional attacks followed by love bombing in your relationship, Kelman advises seeking support to safely break free. She warns that attempts to confront an abuser about this behavior usually result in blaming, manipulating, and gaslighting to avoid taking responsibility.

  1. People in Abusive Relationships Tend to Please Their Abusers

Those experiencing domestic violence may agree with, compliment, praise, or make excuses for the abuser to minimize the abuse. As Genovese explains, this can include checking in with the abuser before making any decisions, no matter how small. They may also avoid responding to questions in front of others without seeking permission from the abuser. The Dawn Wellness Center and Rehab notes that this permission-seeking behavior may stem from a trauma response called the fawn response, learned in childhood as a result of trauma. It involves immediately trying to please or appease the abuser to avoid further trauma.

However, the fawn response can lead to entrapment and codependency in abusive relationships, according to The Dawn center.

  1. The Cycle of Breakups and Makeups in Abusive Relationships

According to Kambolis, it’s not uncommon for those experiencing domestic violence to try leaving the relationship several times before successfully reclaiming their life. Women Against Abuse explains that several reasons contribute to this, including lack of resources, fear of financial insecurity, concerns about children or pets, and fear of harm or retribution from the abuser.

Kelman adds that the abuser may use specific control tactics, such as threatening self-harm or suicide, to prevent the victim from leaving the relationship. Despite the emotional challenges of leaving an abusive relationship, seeking support is a crucial first step towards healing and ending the cycle of abuse, says Kambolis. While it can be challenging to watch a loved one return to an abusive relationship, it’s important to remember that emotional and psychological violence is never the victim’s fault. Kambolis advises being unwavering in your support, even if you can’t expect the victim to be empowered in a powerless situation.


Resources for Domestic Violence Help You Can Trust

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, there are resources available to help. Here are four organizations that offer support and assistance:

  1. National Domestic Violence Hotline

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 to provide support and resources to anyone who needs help leaving an abusive relationship. You can reach the hotline through live chat on their website, or by calling 800-799-SAFE (7233) or texting “START” to 88788. They also offer a guide on what to expect when you contact the hotline.

  1. WomensLaw.org

WomensLaw.org provides information about state laws related to domestic violence, as well as connections to free or low-cost legal services, domestic violence advocates, and shelters. Their website is a valuable resource for anyone seeking help.

  1. Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN)

RAINN provides support and resources for survivors of sexual assault. Their National Sexual Assault Hotline can be reached by dialing 800-656-HOPE (4673) or chatting online with a trained support specialist.

  1. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Experiencing domestic violence or trauma can be a risk factor for suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or ideation, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can provide help and support. You can reach the toll-free hotline by dialing 800-273-8255.

Remember, it is important to seek help if you are experiencing domestic violence. These organizations provide trusted support and resources for anyone in need.

Author Dr. Serenity

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