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How to Recognize Signs of Abuse?

Two people sit on a couch, one man and one woman in an argument. It seems as though he wants access to her cell phone

You’re worried that someone you care about is in an abusive relationship. But you haven’t seen signs of physical harm, so you keep your concerns to yourself. 

You may not know all of the warning signs of abuse. 

Signs of abuse may not be as easy to spot as you expect. This post will help you recognize signs of abuse.

What is Abuse?

Abuse is a pattern of behaviors used to control another person. And abuse can take many forms. It depends on the people involved and their relationship. It could come from a parent, a romantic partner, or a group. 

Abuse isn’t just physical. It can be emotional, mental, or financial as well.  

Types of Abuse

There are many types of abuse, and they intertwine. Therefore, a person in an abusive situation may experience multiple types of abuse. 

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse doesn’t always leave marks. Any non-consensual physical touch is abuse. 

Examples of physical abuse include:

  • Scratching, punching, biting, strangling, choking, or kicking
  • Pushing or pulling a person, their hair, their clothing
  • Physically preventing a person from leaving
  • Threatening a person with a weapon 
  • Throwing items at someone  

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is pressuring or coercing someone into unwanted sexual activity. It also can impact a person’s ability to control their contraceptive choices.

Not all sexual abuse is violent. People of all genders and ages may experience sexual abuse.

Examples of sexual abuse include: 

  • Unwanted touching or kissing
  • Sexual contact with a person unable to consent
  • Pressuring or threatening someone into performing sexual acts
  • Using sexual insults toward someone

Verbal/Emotional Abuse

Threatening, monitoring, or isolating someone is abusive. This abuse includes telling someone what to wear, insulting them, and controlling their communication. 

Jealousy also indicates emotional abuse. So does blaming someone for their abuse.

Mental/Psychological Abuse

Abusers tend to socially and mentally isolate others. This isolation leaves the person unable to get help, giving the abuser control.

In an abusive situation, your partner may criticize you, blame you, and tell you they’re the only one who loves you. These are all forms of psychological abuse.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse is a means of controlling a person’s life. When financial abuse occurs when one partner holds the money. The person only provides an allowance for their partner, making them justify their spending. It makes one partner always need to ask the other for money. It also keeps the person in the abusive relationship from leaving. 

Cultural/Identity Abuse

Cultural or identity abuse is when someone prevents another person from attending religious services or community meetings. The purpose of this abuse is to isolate the person from part of their identity. 

Digital Abuse

Digital abuse is using technology to harass, intimidate, stalk, or bully someone. For example, your partner may control who you follow on social media or force you to share passwords so they can monitor you. They also may message you while you aren’t with them to prevent you from gaining even momentary independence.


People usually stalk someone they know. 

While the legal definition varies by state, stalking activities include:

  • Showing up at a person’s work or home uninvited or unannounced
  • Using blocked or strange numbers to call, message, or otherwise contact someone
  • Using technology to track a person’s location
  • Making repeated hang-up calls 
  • Spreading rumors about someone
  • Hiring a private investigator to follow someone or track their movements

A person holds a cell phone that is showing a location arrow. Only hands and phone are visible

Understanding Trauma Bonds

Trauma is “anything less than nurturing.” Abuse or neglect induces trauma.

A relationship with an abusive person rarely starts as vicious. First, they create a bond, making you feel affection and trust toward them. Then, once you’re committed to that person or group, the abuse ramps up. You’re unlikely to leave the abusive situation because of the bond. 

The relationship may turn into a seriously dysfunctional or violent situation. But the abused person remembers and clings to the good times. 

This type of relationship may create a trauma bond or loyalty to a destructive person.

The abuser manipulates the person they want to control, entering into a cycle of abuse. They intersperse violent or manipulative behavior with reconciliation. Then there is a “honeymoon” period, where the abuser is on their best behavior and promises to change. After that, the cycle returns to abuse again. 

The abused person clings to happy moments or relies on euphoric recall. They think things will change if they can figure out what they did wrong.           

Signs of Abuse

Knowing the types of abuse you or your loved one may experience is helpful. There are warning signs of abuse you may be able to spot early on. Understanding the warning signs may keep you from entering into a bad situation. 

You may be in an abusive relationship if your partner:

  • Checks your social media accounts without your permission
  • Puts you down, including telling you that you’re unworthy or unattractive
  • Isolates you
  • Displays intense jealousy
  • Has extreme mood swings
  • Abandons you in an unsafe area
  • Attacks you with their person or with weapons
  • Prevents you from eating, sleeping, or receiving medical care
  • Checks your phone or computer to see who you’re interacting with
  • Tracks your GPS location without your consent 
  • Forbids you from seeing friends or family and keeps tabs on who you are with
  • Manipulates or forces you into having sex or performing sexual activities
  • Forces you into sexting or sending nude pictures of yourself
  • Accuses you of cheating or having an affair
  • Blames you for the abuse
  • Tells you how you should look or forces you to dress a certain way
  • Keeps you from working whatever job you want
  • Tracks what you spend and keeps money away from you

Abuse-Related Trauma

Emotional trauma results from abuse. You may experience trauma during abuse, or you may feel it days, months, or even years after the fact. For example, experiencing flashbacks, emotional triggers, or feeling unable to trust others are responses to abuse.

During trauma, your brain and body go into “fight or flight” mode, removing all non-survival-related brain functions. It’s how your brain protects itself. Therefore, you may feel fine during the traumatic experience, but it may manifest itself later.

You may need help for abuse-related trauma if you experience:

  • Sleep disruptions
  • Anxiety with anxiety or panic attacks
  • Substance abuse

Signs that Someone you Know is Abused

If you’re worried that someone in your life is experiencing abuse, there are some common warning signs to look for.

Signs of abuse include:

  • Providing unlikely excuses for physical injuries
  • Personality changes such as meekness 
  • Displaying low self-esteem, especially when this wasn’t always the case
  • Showing financial instability 
  • Not attending family activities or outings with friends without any explanation
  • Wearing weather inappropriate clothing such as long sleeves in summer

How ILC Can Help

Abuse takes many forms. Knowing the signs of abuse is the first step to protecting yourself or the ones you love.

At Integrative Life Center, we offer various treatment programs to help you recover from abuse. With our heart-centered approach to everything we do, we tailor our programs to help you live the life you deserve. We design our trauma treatment programs to fit the unique needs of each person. We offer different levels of care, so you can choose the type that suits you. Contact us today to learn more about trauma and abuse treatment.

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