Signs of abuse

Early Warning Signs

This page is taken from the NSW Governments Police Force Website. I will write my comments about the provided information blue, and allow the reader to form their own views if there is some level of gender discrimination or bias happening within our government.

Typical offender behaviours that can indicate the ‘Early Warning Signs’ of an abusive and violent partner, as shown in the ’POWER and CONTROL’ Wheel. (Portrays the typical patterns of domestic abuse together with the primary tactics and behaviours that perpetrators use in intimate relationships to maintain power and control over their partners. Adapted from the ‘Power and Control’ Wheel, Minnesota Program Development, Duluth, 1980).

Many of the uncomfortable feelings and signs that some women experience in relationships may actually be the ‘Early Warning Signs’ for future and escalating abusive and violent behaviour, which may include:

Immediately this public document causes the reader to assume that the abusive and violent partner is a man. These feelings and signs are the same ones for men who are victimised through abuse… it’s starting to get recognised in research that 40% of abused victims are men and even perhaps more because of the lack of support and help for abused men limits the reporting of such abuse.

INTIMIDATION – Glaring looks, raising the voice and shouting, offensive gestures, smashing personal and joint property, displaying and threatening to use weapons and firearms, demonstrations of extreme anger when things don’t go the perpetrator’s way, furious and reckless driving to frighten the victim, and abusing or threatening to harm or kill family pets.

The only part of the above paragraph that may be more male specific is the use of firearms, though it’s common for females to use firearms also. Verbal abuse is abuse no matter who speaks it

THREATS / COERCION – Threats to harm victim or children, threats to take children away, threats to leave or remove financial support, threats to make victim drop criminal charges and withdraw protection orders (AVO), threats to do illegal acts and threaten through acts amounting to ‘personal blackmail’.

There are different types of threats and coercion that are perhaps gender specific. There is much documented court evidence that shows many women falsify AVO reports or threaten to do so if the man doesn’t bend to their wishes.

HUMILIATION / EMOTIONAL ABUSE– In the presence of others, do acts that amount to ‘name calling’, put-downs’, ‘making fun’, ‘mind games’, inferring the victim is ‘crazy’, ‘a bad mother’, inappropriate touching or grabbing, displaying obvious interest in others members of the opposite or same sex in the presence of the victim.

It is mentioned in this paragraph about a woman being called a bad mother….yet how many women will call their husbands or partners a bad father…again this paragraph needs to be gender inclusive.

MINIMISING, DENYING AND BLAME – Making ‘light’ of the abuse, minimising victim’s concerns of situation, by denying that abuse occurred, shifting responsibility for abusive behaviour and blaming the victim for perpetrator’s behaviour.

My ex wife used to tell people …I only hit him a couple of times and it wasn’t that bad..she was also told by many others that it was ok for a female to slap a man…

ISOLATION – Controls or limits contact with family and friends, ‘them or me’ ultimatums, controls victim’s time, communicates with the victim through the children.

Women abusers also do the same thing

LIMITING INDEPENDENCE – Controls the type of clothing, make-up and hairstyles that are worn, limiting access to money, limiting recreation, limiting access to activities outside of the home, access to transport, car and other activities and includes, repeated acts of jealousy.

There certainly are cultural / religious groups that will place these limits on women. However again there are many reported cases of women abusers doing the same thing.

VIOLATION OF PERSONAL BOUNDARIES – Unwanted intimacy or sexual acts (sexual assault), listening to phone calls, going through personal items, wallet, purse, diary in an attempt to ‘dig up dirt’.

I had personal journals torn up, some pages from my journal shown to others,

USING ‘MALE’ PRIVILEGE – Acts as though he is the ‘king of the castle’, treats victims like servants, as personal possessions, makes all the decisions, must have his permission first before victim can do something, defines ‘role’ of men and women, little respect for women and makes constant offensive remarks about women.

Again this can be a female dominant trait also having their husbands hand over the pay packet at the end of the week.

I would like to see this document changed to be either gender inclusive or gender neutral which would help all abuse victims to acknowledge they are being or in danger of being abused no matter what gender. The secondary issue of this is that female abusers in reading through public documents such as this may not recognise their actions as being abusive, or believe they can continue to abuse as there is no record of women being abusers.

12 responses

1 06 2010
David E. Brown, MS, LMHC

I fully agree that all material offered to the public regarding intimate violence needs to be as gender neutral as possible.

In my experience working with both male and female victims, and both male and female perpetrators, both males and females are roughly equal in finding it difficult to talk about being involved in an abusive relationship, whichever side of the issue they find themselves on. The dynamics that drive that reluctance are somewhat gender specific, at least in part, but the difficulties are relatively equal. Also, both males and females encounter disbelief and/or lack of empathy when reporting violence.

Both males and females make exaggerated reports upon occasion. However, when self-reporting on violence in their own relationship, a high proportion of women tend to maximize their own responsibility, and minimize their partner’s responsibility, while a high proportion of men tend to minimize their own responsibility and maximize their partner’s responsibility.

When this isn’t taken into account it can skew the statistics and lead to a belief that male on female and female on male violence is roughly equal, as some studies have reported.

One of the complicating factors for service providers is that, again in my experience, I never (in hundreds of cases) encountered an abuser who did not sincerely believe that they were a victim of their partner.

Given all these factors, it is nevertheless important to state unequivocally that domestic violence is never justified, and no one who is subjected to it should do anything else except withdraw from that relationship as soon as safely possible, until and unless the aggressor can demonstrate an understanding that the aggression they have employed is not only counter-productive, but wrong, that they understand the harm they have caused and sincerely regret their actions, and have taken concrete and adequate steps to ensure that no violence, physical, verbal, emotional, etc., will ever be employed again.

No matter which gender we are, or which side of the issues we find ourselves on, we must take responsibility for our own behaviors, and not expect, let alone wait for, others to change their behaviors to accommodate our needs.

Bottom line on all of this, intimate violence does enormous harm to all who are touched by it. It devastates our ability to trust others, or even ourselves. It places us in a position where we have to make decisions regarding our own safety and that of loved ones that we should never have to make. It leaves lasting memories that can cause us enormous pain for the rest of our lives and often have an enormous complicating part in future behaviors, especially in interpersonal relationships so that the legacy of pain can be compounded over time.

All of us are capable of intimate violence, and for the most part are not even aware of its impact. The only cure is to root out any behavior which is not consistent with our respect for others and/or ourselves.

1 06 2010
Craig Benno

Thanks John Dave for your comments.

From the research I’m doing it is common for both partners to be both abusers and victims in a never ending cycle. Tit for tat.

From my own experience I would say that I was under acknowledging what was happening in my relationship at the time.

5 06 2010
David E. Brown, MS, LMHC

It is very important, when addressing individual, as well as, societal, intimate violence issues, to closely examine both the nature of the interactions and their etiology.

One of the most important questions to ask is whether a specific act of violence is an isolated and primarily uncharacteristic act, or is part of a pattern of behavior.

While, for example, self-defense is generally considered to be an acceptable justification for violence, at least within reason, if it is part of a pattern of behavior, the “self-defense” issue may turn out to be more of a rationale than a reason. It is possible even to create situations where, effectively, aggression via “self-defence” appears to be an understandable response.

Since it is the intent of the actor which is the prime determinant in the differentiation between self-defense and aggression we can often uncover important indicators when we ask questions like, “what did you believe was happening” and/or “what were you trying to accomplish,” in reference to specific acts (as differentiated from the whole sequence).

Another factor to examine is whether there were alternatives to violence which were readily available. Since awareness of availability of options in such situations is often as much based upon perception as objective reality, this factor requires judicious examination.

Proportionality of response is can be a differentiating factor also. Proportionality is often a major issue in determining whether parental behavior is abusive or not.

When examining a pattern of multiple acts, issues like belief and value sets often play an important factor in the determination of the abusiveness of the acts. These can sometimes be tricky, because, for example, an aggressor will often deny that violence is an acceptable behavior towards the opposite gender, but will see their partner as a unique case because other factors such as issues of “ownership,” and expectations, may apply.

Learned behavior can play a huge role as well. When we grow up in, or are otherwise exposed to, an ongoing violent environment, that historical experience can play an important part in our decision of whether or not to use violence. Many of us can recognize the pain engendered by, and the counter-productivity of, a violent environment. We can even make a conscious decision not to employ violence in our own behavior, but our very exposure to it means that it becomes a relatively available option for consideration and/or selection, and a feeling of desperation, such as that engendered by a perceived lack of acceptable alternatives, can overcome the best of intentions.

These, and a number of other issues must be carefully examined in order to determine responsibility, as well as, what kind of response is appropriate to an individual’s situation. Their complexity, and often, subtlety, mean that a rush to judgment in any particular situation can often make things worse, rather than better, for all involved.

What is always important, however is to take whatever actions are necessary to ensure the physical and immediate emotional safety of all involved. Physical disengagement is often an important pre-condition to the emergence of truth and healing.

Meanwhile it is never too far amiss to extend empathy and comfort to everyone involved for the pain they have experienced. The feelings are always genuine, even if their foundation in perceptions and beliefs is not.

Fortunately we can validate feelings without validating choices of behavioral responses to feelings and perceptions.

As far as the future is concerned, however, blame and finding fault are always futile because they are static references to an unchangeable past, and too often become a means of distracting attention from our responsibility by pointing at external parties and other factors.

The only way forward is to accept responsibility for our own behavior by understanding exactly what we did, why we chose to do that, and then undertake the alteration of any internal factors such as beliefs, values, and any behavior patterns, and make any changes in the elements of our environment for which we are responsible, that will enhance our ability to move forward.

It is never profitable, except in passing, in order to enhance understanding, to focus on the behaviors of other, let alone hope or expect them to change.

When we are talking about a relationship, we never enter relationships with the intent of severing them, and our chosen partner is often an integral part of the hopes and dreams we have engendered. Thus is is not surprising that severance might be painful and considered only as a last option. Unfortunately, until we become better at resolving these issues, that is often the best course.

Sometimes we demonstrate our love best when we let go.

7 06 2010
Craig Benno

Hi “David. I certainly thank you for your comments.

A lot of people may find them heavy going and perhaps you could tone down the professional speak and comment in more layperson terms.

When examining a pattern of multiple acts, issues like belief and value sets often play an important factor in the determination of the abusiveness of the acts. These can sometimes be tricky, because, for example, an aggressor will often deny that violence is an acceptable behavior towards the opposite gender, but will see their partner as a unique case because other factors such as issues of “ownership,” and expectations, may apply.

One of the interesting things I found was that my ex surrounded herself with friends who would maintain her victim status even though she was the abuser. Instead of challenging her behaviour, it was encouraged by comments like. “You poor thing, you must feel sorry for yourself”? or “Of course your under so much stress its a understandable reaction” Once when challenged about her punches to the head it… she had convinced others it was only a slap and the others reactions were its ok for a women to slap her husband.

The only way forward is to accept responsibility for our own behavior by understanding exactly what we did, why we chose to do that, and then undertake the alteration of any internal factors such as beliefs, values, and any behavior patterns, and make any changes in the elements of our environment for which we are responsible, that will enhance our ability to move forward.

I’m not sure if you are talking about the abuser or the abusee in this situation. ,, It’s an incredible painful and destructive experience when your a victim of abuse and when you try and tell someone; they ask you what you did to deserve it. I have heard of many so called counselling programs that make the male victim of abuse feel like it is their fault because they are a man and because they are a man…they were actually the abusers and not the abusee.

9 01 2013

I can relate to women encouraging victim status instead by being, “supportive” instead of asking why would your husband react like that to you…..maybe you should look at yourself and your role….it would be like me going to my guy friends saying, poor me she yelled at me and threw me out of the house because I had relations with another woman!

9 01 2013
Craig Benno

Thanks for that. Some great thoughts

8 06 2010
8 06 2010
David E. Brown, MS, LMHC


Sorry about the density of the stuff I’m generating. It’s a bad habit and has been called to my attention before. I’d like to blame it on my attempts to be gender neutral, but I don’t think that’s gonna fly.

As I was reminded recently, for a long time I thought my epitaph should read “He meant well.” Then more recently I realized that it would be more accurate for it to read, “He thought he meant well.”

Unfortunately I’m having reservations about that as well.

But back to the issue at hand,

Actually I’m talking there to both abuser and abusee, as individuals.

I will never tell anyone that they have done anything to deserve to be abused, because, in my view, neither the behavior itself nor the assignation of responsibility to the abusee is consistent with my personal commitment to respectful behavior, nor to my view of how others should approach this issue if they want to have healthy relationships.

In fact I will always make the point that the abuse they’ve experienced is always the sole responsibility of the abuser.

At the same time, though, while we are never responsible for another’s behavior, we are always responsible for our own behavior, including our responses to any abuse directed at us by others.

By the same token, we can never change the behaviors of others, but we can always change our own, no matter how difficult that may seem at times.

I think it’s reasonable to say that when we want others to change their behavior towards us, that desire is often a product of both our sense of helplessness, and our disappointed expectations.

As long as we continue to hope, expect, or wait for others to change we are likely to be disappointed with the outcome. Especially since their primary motivator in very unlikely to be our welfare (no matter what they say).

It could be argued also that the desire for others to change to meet our needs is the primary motivator for abuse in the first place, so when we respond to abuse directed at us by trying to control or coerce change in others, even to protect ourselves, we may be engaging in at least a mild form of abuse as well.

On the other hand we can always invite change in others and make clear the consequences of a lack of change with reference to our decision of whether or how we will decide to continue in the relationship. That is the route to a healthy relationship.

This approach, incidentally makes it easier for me to work with both victims and abusers, since the fundamental message is the same for both.

9 06 2010
Craig Benno

Thanks David. Much easier to understand. I think there is a huge difference between honest constructive criticism and abuse.

It could be argued also that the desire for others to change to meet our needs is the primary motivator for abuse in the first place, so when we respond to abuse directed at us by trying to control or coerce change in others, even to protect ourselves, we may be engaging in at least a mild form of abuse as well.

If a behavior is abusive I think the abusee has the right to expect that behaviour to stop…

Other wise if we take your premise to its logical conclusion one could say that if someone rapes another, the one being raped shouldn’t expect that person to stop…rather they should look to make sure their reaction to what is going on doesn’t become abusive also.

It seems what your saying is for the abusee just to be compliant?

9 06 2010
David E. Brown, MS, LMHC


Thanks for the very constructive criticism.

It’s always hard to cover every detail in these discussions, which is part of the reason it’s important to have a dialogue about them. So thank you for challenging me.

I would most emphatically not suggest that the abusee be compliant.

It is always appropriate for someone to defend themselves as best they can, if they believe that is in their best interests. Retaliation is another matter. I have found people to be very creative in persuading themselves that they were justified and/or had no choice, when they made the decision to retaliate for real, or even perceived, aggression by another person, whether directed at themselves or others.

When addressing such problematic responses it is again important to determine whether the behavior in question is an isolated incident or a pattern of behavior. Again, remember that one of the characteristics of abusers is that they sincerely believe they are the victim, and will find the bulk of their justifications for their behavior in the actions of the person they are abusing.

The bottom line on all of this is that it is important not to jump to conclusions when interceding at any level, and why it is so important that anyone who intercedes be prepared to first, strive for safety, second, validate feelings, then try to help the individuals focus on their behavior, not with the intent of assigning blame, but with a view towards making the future better.

The number one objective of every victim I ever met was for the violence to stop. To some extent I have found that to be true of abusers also, although often they do not recognize their behavior for what it is. The next objective they share in common, namely, that the future be better than the past.

As long as either of them focuses on, or expects change in, the other, they are likely to be profoundly disappointed. Their only way forward is to focus on their own behavior.

28 02 2011
MS Cusic

I think the thing that I find that most upsetting in trying to find help for battered men is the notion that because statistics seems to indicate more women than men are abused, the men who are abused not only don’t matter, but that even disclosing such abuse may lend sympathy to clever, manipulating, abusive men.

It’s very frustrating. My friend was a student and had a 5 year old daughter. He had no where save a homeless shelter to take her when she would get out of control. No counseling was available for battered men in his community.

28 02 2011
Craig Benno

The issue of abuse goes much deeper than physical battering and the technical term is called “Intimate Partner Abuse” under this banner all abuse is recognised as being perpetuated. Emotional, spiritual, mental, verbal, physical, financial, etc.

There is a huge issue of homelessness and a total lack of facilities for men and their children to find shelter. Despite the research that shows otherwise; its perpetuated among community groups that children are always a victim of abuse from the fathers and therefore fathers don’t need any children friendly facilities.

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