There are various signs of abusive behavior a person can be aware of. There are also many ways of reaching out for help for oneself or someone they know.

There are different kinds of abusive behavior. However, typically it is about gaining power and control over a person. If a person thinks they may be experiencing abusive behavior, there are several early signs they can look out for.

This article discusses the different types of abusive behavior, some of the early signs, and how a person can find help if they think they may be experiencing abusive behavior.

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There are several common characteristics that people displaying abusive behavior may share, including low self-esteem.

If a person believes they may be experiencing abusive behavior, there are several early signs they can be aware of.

Controlling behavior

Controlling behavior typically presents as wanting to control how a person spends their time and can include:

  • Constantly questioning where a person has been and who they were with.
  • Making all the decisions.
  • Controlling the finances.
  • Checking the call history, messages, emails, and internet history of a person.
  • Telling a person how to dress, who they can talk with, and where they can go.

Jealousy and possessiveness

A person displaying abusive behavior may be excessively jealous and possessive. Some examples can include:

  • wanting to be with their partner all the time
  • frequently calling or dropping by unexpectedly
  • accusing a person of flirting with others or having affairs
  • not allowing a person to go out, to work, or school in case they meet someone else
  • being jealous of a person spending time with friends or family

Quick involvement

A person may come on very strong and want to escalate the relationship quickly. They may want to live together or propose a few months into the relationship, and express feelings of intense love very quickly. This may be an early sign of abusive behavior.

Unrealistic expectations

Having constant unrealistic expectations of a person can be an early sign of abusive behavior. A person may expect their partner to be perfect, behave a certain way, and meet their every need.


A person displaying abusive behavior may be extra sensitive and unpredictable. They may see everything as a personal attack and blow things out of proportion.

Blaming others

A person may not take responsibility for their own behaviors. They may constantly accuse other people of doing something wrong or upsetting them when they are the ones actually displaying the behavior.

Rigid gender roles

If a person rigidly conforms to gender roles, it may be a sign of abusive behavior. They may believe that males are superior to females and expect a person to do everything for them without question.

Breaking or striking objects

A person may break precious possessions, strike objects close to a person, or throw things to intimidate, threaten, or punish them.

Aggressive behavior during arguments

Behaving aggressively during disagreements can be a sign of abusive behavior, such as:

  • pushing or shoving
  • threatening violence
  • stopping a person from leaving a room
  • restraining a person or holding them against a wall


A person may try to turn their partner against their friends and family, to stop them from spending time together. They may make it difficult for a person to go to school, work, or anywhere independently. This can be an early sign of abusive behavior.

Typically, a person uses abusive behavior to gain power and control. It can present itself in several forms.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse can be one of the easiest forms of abuse to identify, as it can result in visible injuries. Any form of direct or indirect physical harm or threat of violence can be physical abuse, including:

  • hitting, slapping, grabbing, pinching, pushing, shoving, biting, pulling hair, choking, or stabbing
  • threatening physical violence
  • denying a person medical attention, food, or money
  • physically restraining a person and holding them against their will

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse defines controlling behaviors that are not physical. These behaviors can be difficult to identify as they are typically more subtle than physical abuse, and can include:

  • name calling or constant criticizing
  • jealousy or possessiveness
  • attempting to control where a person goes, who they see, or what they wear
  • isolating a person from friends and family
  • gaslighting a person or blaming them for their abusive behaviors

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is defined as when a person attempts to force a person into sexual intimacy or acts in a way that is nonconsensual. Some other signs of sexual abuse can include:

  • displaying violent behavior during sexual intimacy
  • forcing a person to watch pornography
  • forcing a person to dress in a sexual way
  • insulting a person with sexually explicit language

Financial abuse

If a person has control over all the finances in the relationship, this may be a type of abusive behavior. Signs of financial abuse can include:

  • preventing a person from accessing their bank accounts
  • providing a person with an allowance and closely monitoring their spending
  • refusing to pay their share of the rent, bills, and household items

Digital abuse

Digital abuse is when a person attempts to control or intimidate a person using technology and can include:

  • monitoring or restricting how a person uses their phone, computer, the internet, and social media
  • using technology to watch or track a person
  • insisting on knowing all the passwords a person uses
  • constantly phoning or sending messages to a person when they are away from them

Sexual coercion

Pressurizing a person into being intimate is sexual coercion and a form of abuse. Some signs can include:

  • applying pressure to be sexually intimate despite a person saying no
  • giving a person drugs or alcohol to try and loosen their inhibitions
  • implying a person owes sexual intimacy

If a person feels they are in danger, they should call 911 immediately.

There are several ways a person can find help if they believe they are experiencing abusive behavior. There are organizations a person can contact anonymously and put together a safety plan.

Was this helpful?

Abusive behavior can be physical, emotional, sexual, financial, or digital. It is typically about gaining power and control.

Early signs of abusive behavior can include controlling behavior, jealousy and possessiveness, aggressive behavior, and blaming others.

If a person believes they may be experiencing abusive behavior, there are several organizations they can contact for help.

If a person believes they are in immediate danger, they should call 911 immediately.