Understanding and Recognizing Abusive Behavior

By OBOS Violence & Abuse Contributors | October 15, 2011
Last Revised on Apr 5, 2014

The following list identifies a continuum of abusive behaviors that come from the batterer’s desire for coercive control. The more behaviors that apply to the relationship, the more dangerous the situation may be.

Overprotective and jealous behavior: Abuse occurs with an escalation of behaviors that begins with actions that may not be overtly seen as abusive. Often, overprotective behavior is seen as “He/she cares so much about me” or “He/she really loves me” or “He/she doesn’t like it when I wear revealing clothing—that is so sweet.” While these actions do not always predict abusive behavior down the road, they can indicate overprotection as a form of control or reveal jealous motives that can lead to abuse. These actions can be confusing; they can seem to indicate special attention or loving concern, especially since popular culture often portrays such behavior as romantic, but they may escalate to increasing levels of coercive control, emotional and economic abuse, and/or physical violence.

Emotional and economic abuse:

  • Destructive criticism/verbal attacks/blaming/disrespect/insults
  • Intimidation/pressure tactics
  • Immigration-related abuse/threats of deportation and/or threat to withdraw or not file immigration papers on your behalf
  • Lying
  • Minimizing/denying the abusive or controlling behavior
  • Threatening suicide or self-harm as a method of control or manipulation
  • Isolating you from friends and family, supportive persons, and important activities
  • Depriving you of access to needed assistive devices such as eyeglasses, hearing aids, or walkers, or access to needed services such as transportation, medical or dental care, counseling, or home health aide assistance
  • Threats or unwarranted actions to remove children from your custody, turn your family against you, have you declared mentally ill or incompetent, throw you out of your home, place you in an institution, or have you deported or arrested
  • Threats of harm to you, your children, family members, or pets
  • Surveillance, stalking
  • Controlling all the money or withholding necessary resources
  • Preventing you from getting or keeping a job
  • Taking away something you desire if you don’t do what the abuser demands

Acts of violence: These may be directed against you, your children, your family members, or other beloved people or pets.

  • Making angry gestures
  • Destroying objects
  • Sexual violence
  • Physical violence
  • Using weapons or everyday objects

All battering is dangerous. However, certain factors, such as the batterer’s possession of weapons, extreme possessiveness, controlling behavior, or use of drugs and alcohol, can mean that you are at even more serious risk.

For information on getting out of an abusive relationship, see Making a Safety Plan.