Warning Signs of Abuse

You may suspect abuse is happening to a neighbour, friend or family member, but do not know what to do or how to talk about it. You may worry about making the situation worse, or be concerned about what to do. By understanding the warning signs and risk factors of domestic violence, you can help. (While most abuse occurs in intimate heterosexual relationships, it can occur in gay and lesbian relationships as well.  Information provided is equally applicable.)

If you recognize some of these warning signs, it may be time to take action:


Abuser's Behaviour

  • Puts victim down
  • Does all the talking and dominates the conversation
  • Checks up on victim all the time, even at work
  • Tries to suggest they are the victim and acts depressed
  • Tries to keep victim away from you
  • Acts as if they own the victim
  • Lies to make themselves look good or exaggerates their good qualities
  • Acts like they are superior and of more value than those in their home
  • Low self-esteem; reduces partner's self-esteem through verbal assaults              
  • Socially isolated; tries to isolate their partner         
  • Strong belief in traditional male/female roles            
  • Denies responsibility for violence; blames others for behaviour (blames partner)      
  • Does not believe the violent behaviour should have negative consequences
  • Pathologically jealous; feels jealous of others            
  • Becomes angry over trivial things            
  • Alternates between violence and being regretful; displays "Jekyll & Hyde" personality (may be very pleasant and loving at times)
  • Has severe stress reactions, with which they cope by alcohol and/or substance abuse, and being abusive; becomes paranoid under stress   
  • Uses sex as an act of aggression, often to bolster self-esteem
  • Very sensitive to the nuances of other's behaviour         
  • Controls by violence or threat of violence


Victim's Behaviour

  • May be apologetic and makes excuses for abuser's behaviour or becomes aggressive and angry
  • Is nervous about talking when abuser is there
  • Seems to be sick more often and misses work
  • Tries to cover bruises
  • Makes excuses at the last minute about why they can’t meet you or they avoid you on the street
  • Seems sad, lonely, withdrawn and is afraid
  • Uses more drugs or alcohol to cope
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lacks self-identity
  • Isolated; socially unsophisticated and shy
  • Strong belief in traditional male/female roles
  • Blames themselves; accepts responsibility for abuser's behaviour
  • Minimizes the abuse
  • Feels guilty, but denies terror and anger; fearful
  • Trusting, but has difficulty expressing feelings
  • Is emotionally dependent on spouse
  • Loves spouse, feels great loyalty to them
  • Presents as reserved and passive
  • Hopes for change
  • Has severe stress reactions, with psycho-physiological complaints [Refer to Effects of Abuse on the Victim]
  • Becomes withdrawn under stress
  • Uses sex to feel loved
  • Sense of hopelessness
  • Believes no one can help, that he or she must be self-sufficient
  • Lacks resources or knowledge of services [Refer to Resources Section]


Statistics indicate that women who are under 25 years of age, women with a disability, Aboriginal women and women living in a common-law relationship are at higher risk of abuse. (Statistics Canada: Family Violence in Canada, A Statistical Profile 2005)