top of page

Abusive Relationships:


To properly understand what an abusive relationship is, it is important first to understand that abuse is more than just physical violence.  Most people don’t knowingly enter into an abusive relationship but find themselves in that situation after some time has passed.  Abusers don’t begin physically or sexually abusing someone on “the first day”.  It is more of a “boiling frog” type of situation.  The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into a pot of boiling water, the frog will jump out of the pot to save its life. However, if a frog is put into a pot of lukewarm water, and the temperature is slowly increased over time, the frog will not perceive the danger that it is in and will be cooked to death without jumping out of the pot.  This happens in abusive relationships as well.  People find themselves with someone that they care for a great deal, only to find minor issues in the beginning of the relationship, but major issues later when the relationship becomes abusive.  Victims of this abuse will experience verbal, psychological and emotional abuse, gaslighting, being subject to severe manipulation and control, being isolated from other friends or loved ones, and also physical and sexual violence.  We will provide information on each of these below so that you can better understand and recognize these situations, and navigate them appropriately regardless of your situation.


Verbal, Psychological and Emotional Abuse


These types of abuse are when an abuser uses words or behaviors to cause emotional or mental distress to a victim.  This is how abusers try to maintain power and control in the dynamics of the relationship and also degrade a victim to have a negative impact on that person’s self-esteem, mental health and overall feelings of happiness and security.



Types of Verbal, Psychological and Emotional Abuse are:


  1. An abuser humiliating or constantly criticizing the victim.

  2. An abuser threatening or shouting at the victim or calling them names.

  3. An abuser making the victim the subject of jokes, or using sarcasm to hurt a victim.

  4. An abuser blaming a victim for things that aren’t their fault, and using the victim as a scapegoat.

  5. An abuser making a victim perform degrading acts.

  6. An abuser withholding affection or ignoring the victim (giving them “the silent treatment”).

  7. An abuser setting unpredictable rules and unrealistic expectations, and constantly “moving the goal post”, keeping the victim in a constant state of uncertainty and fear.

  8. An abuser treating the victim as if they don’t matter and nobody cares about what they say, or that nobody will believe them or value them because they are “worthless” or “unloveable”.



Toxic Relationships


A toxic relationship is one that makes you feel unsupported, misunderstood, demeaned, or attacked.  Sometimes toxic relationships are the fault of an abusive person in that relationship, and in some instances, toxic relationships contain two people who have abusive tendencies or some kind of personality disorder associated with abusive characteristics.  It is important to understand these dynamics and how to prevent yourself from staying in one of these types of relationships.


Toxic Relationships: Humiliation, Negating, and Criticizing


The following are signs or symptoms associated with this aspect of toxic relationships.

  1. Calling you names that are abusive or criticizing.

  2. Calling you derogatory “pet names”.

  3. Assassinating your character publicly.

  4. Yelling at you.

  5. Patronizing you.

  6. Publicly embarrassing you.

  7. Being dismissive with your thoughts or feelings.

  8. Making jokes at your expense.

  9. Being overly or unnecessarily sarcastic with you.

  10. Insulting your appearance.

  11. Belittling your accomplishments.

  12. Putting down your interests and things that you enjoy or make you happy.

  13. Pushing your buttons.


Toxic Relationships: Control and Shame


The following are signs or symptoms associated with this aspect of toxic relationships.

  1. Threatening you.

  2. Monitoring your whereabouts.

  3. Spying on you using digital devices or media.

  4. Not allowing you to do any of the decision-making.

  5. Controlling your finances and money.

  6. Lecturing you.

  7. Giving you unwanted direction or ordering you around.

  8. Engaging in verbal or physical outbursts that are directed at you.

  9. Treating you like a child.

  10. Pretending that they are helplessness and forcing you to do things for them unnecessarily.

  11. Being unpredictable in ways that are abusive, unsettling or alarming.

  12. Walking out on you to gain control of a situation.

  13. Using others against you and telling everyone else your person business to make you look bad.

Toxic Relationships: Accusing, Blaming and Denial


The following are signs or symptoms associated with this aspect of toxic relationships.

  1. Being overly or inappropriately jealous.

  2. Turning the tables on you during arguments.

  3. Denying something you know is true or really happened, and then making you question whether you remembered it correctly or making you think that you might be losing your mind (gaslighting).

  4. “Guilt-tripping” you into doing things.

  5. Pushing your buttons and then blaming you for reacting.

  6. Denying that what they are doing is abuse.

  7. Accusing you of abuse instead.

  8. Trivializing things that have happened as if they “aren’t as bad as you’re making them out to be”.

  9. Saying you have no sense of humor.

  10. Blaming you for their problems.

  11. Destroying things that are common property or things that are yours.  

  12. Denying you things that you want or need or that make you happy.


Toxic Relationships: Emotional Neglect and Isolation


The following are signs or symptoms associated with this aspect of toxic relationships.

  1. Demanding respect from you, even though they don’t deserve it, or even if you are already being appropriately respectful.

  2. Shutting down communication with you and refusing to communicate with you.

  3. Dehumanizing you.

  4. Keeping you from socializing with friends and family.

  5. Trying to come between you and your family.

  6. Withholding affection from you.

  7. Tuning you out, giving you the cold shoulder, or ignoring you.

  8. Actively working to turn others against you.

  9. Calling you needy or clingy.

  10. Interrupting you and not allowing you to speak.

  11. Indifference and not caring about what you say or think.

  12. Disputing your feelings as if they are not correct for some reason.


Toxic Relationships: Codependence


This is when everything you do is a reaction or in response to your abuser’s behavior, and they need you to boost their own self-esteem, which creates a cycle of unhealthy or toxic behaviors.  The following are signs or symptoms associated with this aspect of toxic relationships.

  1. You are unhappy in the relationship, but fear alternatives.

  2. You consistently neglect your own needs for the sake of theirs.

  3. You ditch friends and sideline your family to please your partner.

  4. You frequently seek out your partner’s approval.

  5. You critique yourself through your abuser’s eyes, ignoring your own instincts.

  6. You make a lot of sacrifices to please the other person, but it is not reciprocated.

  7. You would rather live in the current state of chaos than be alone.

  8. You bite your tongue and repress your feelings to keep the peace.

  9. You feel responsible and take the blame for something they did.

  10. You defend your abuser when others point out what’s happening.

  11. You try to “rescue” them from themselves.

  12. You feel guilty when you stand up for yourself.

  13. You think you deserve this treatment for some reason.

  14. You believe that nobody else could ever want to be with you.

  15. You change your behavior in response to guilt, but your abuser says, “I can’t live without you…”, so you stay with them.


Narcissistic Abuse


Narcissistic abuse is a very common form of emotional abuse that is typically perpetrated by people who are deeper on the narcissism spectrum and who possibly suffer from narcissistic personality disorder or sociopathy.  These people use their words in ways that are very damaging and controlling, and they can be extraordinarily manipulative with other people’s emotions.  Politicians, wealthy people and people in the public eye are typically more prone to this type of abuse because those individuals are either from or are currently in a more privileged environment. They seek constantly to be the center of attention, and for that reason, there is no room for anyone else’s needs but their own.  Narcissists are very closely associated with all forms of abuse, but especially physical and sexual abuse.


Domestic and Interpersonal Violence


Domestic violence or assault can be any threat of violence or physical act of violence made by an offender to a victim who is either a relative, a romantic partner, or a roommate. These offenses become more serious in the level of criminal charges, based on the level of threat or violence used or the seriousness of the injuries sustained by the victim. Since power and control are often the chief motivational factors behind domestic violence, it is important for investigators to know exactly how control was being asserted over the victim. This could include isolation from friends and family, financial control, digital or social media control, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, use of threats or violence against children and animals as control, and many more. It is also important to understand that victims of domestic and interpersonal violence may have formed a type of accommodation syndrome or a form of trauma-bonding with the offender, and therefore may be reluctant to cooperate with investigations either to protect the offender, or as a measure of self-preservation in the victim to avoid more violence once the police leave.

It is also commonly seen that offenders will be the cool, calm and collected ones in the aftermath of an abusive incident, and may attempt to paint the victim as being irrational, crazy or unstable.  If one party in particular seems to be engaging in high levels of self-control while still engaging in denigrating statements about the victim, this should be a clue that this person is likely the offender.  It is also commonly seen that offenders who engage in physical violence with domestic partners are also sexual offenders with that same partner, or physical and/or sexual abusers of the children in the home as well.


Stalking and Harassment


Stalking or harassment would include any behaviors by an offender that represent a pattern of repeated and unwanted contact inn any form that is directed at a victim. These behaviors are engaged in with the intent to harass, alarm, annoy or cause legitimate fear in the victim.  Some of these behaviors include:

  1. Unwanted or threatening communications over phone, internet, or social media.

  2. Sending unwanted items or gifts.

  3. Following the victim as they travel about in the world.

  4. Showing up at the victim’s residence, work, school, or any other place that the victim frequents with the intent to alarm the victim.

  5. Damaging the victim’s property.

  6. Making direct or indirect threats towards the victim, the victim’s family or the victim’s friends or associates.

  7. Putting tracking devices on a victim’s phone or vehicle so the offender can see where the victim is going.

  8. Sending explicit photographs or videos of the victim to others to humiliate the victim.

These behaviors are also intended to enforce or maintain power and control over the victim, who in most circumstances, is an ex-romantic partner to the offender. For victims who experience both physical abuse and stalking from an offender, the risk of homicide exponentially increases.  Research shows that 89% of female homicide victims who were killed by an ex-boyfriend or ex-husband, were shown to have been victims of stalking by that same offender prior to their murder.


Interpersonal or Domestic Sexual Violence


Domestic violence offenders also use sexual violence to victimize, demean, intimidate, and control their adult victims as well. Intimate partner sexual assault is more likely than stranger or acquaintance sexual assault, and intimate partner sexual assault is also more likely to cause physical injury to the adult victim as well. As much as 25% of women are sexually assaulted by their intimate partners during their relationship. As much as 75% of women in physically abusive relationships have already experienced sexual violence by the same perpetrator. Over half of women who have experienced intimate partner sexual violence, have experienced patterns of ongoing and repeated sexual violence from that same perpetrator.


Women who have been sexually abused and physically abused by an intimate partner are at a substantially higher risk of being murdered by that same partner. Women who experience physical and sexual intimate partner violence are at a much higher risk of experiencing long-lasting mental and physical health problems, higher rates of depression and anxiety, and higher rates of suicidal ideation and suicidal attempts.  A majority of women who experience intimate partner sexual violence either don’t believe that they can report it to the authorities or choose not to report it to the authorities for a variety of reasons.


There are many other forms of manipulation and control that are used by abusers to maintain that power dynamic.  Our information is in no way to be considered an exhaustive list of those tactics.  However, we do want to emphasize a few more commonly seen dynamics used by offenders to control their victims, such as:


  1. Abuse of the children as leverage or deterrent.

  2. Isolation from the children as leverage or deterrent (parental alienation). 

  3. Using pets, threatening or actually hurting pets as leverage.

  4. Threats by the offender of committing suicide as a form of abusive control.

  5. Using religious beliefs or cultural beliefs as a form of abusive control.


Impact on Children in the Home


Think about what your children are seeing and what they will grow up thinking is normal. You can’t provide a good life for your child if you aren’t providing a good life for yourself too. The same people that would treat you in this way, will treat a child that way, especially if the child is not theirs biologically. Statistically speaking, children are at an exponentially higher risk of sexual abuse or death in the home with a non-biologically related male (for example, stepfather or boyfriend).


And remember that domestic violence, when it is done in the presence of a child, is CHILD ABUSE. One third of children who witness domestic violence are also victims of child abuse. Domestic violence offenders often use child custody disputes to threaten or harass adult victims as well. Because of domestic violence, children tend to develop generalized anxiety, sleeplessness, aggression, difficulty concentrating at school or elsewhere, nightmares and separation anxiety. Domestic violence offenders will often use children to control their adult victims. This includes threats regarding custody, threats to kill the child, threats to kidnap or otherwise harm a child if the adult victim leaves. Children who witness domestic violence often have great difficulty in establishing and maintaining healthy relationships in adulthood. Also, children who are exposed to domestic violence are three times as likely to become domestic abusers themselves.


Children who witness domestic violence (considered an “Adverse Childhood Experience”) are at a greater risk of developing serious health problems later in life, such as:


  1. Obesity.

  2. Cancer.

  3. Heart disease.

  4. Depression.

  5. Substance abuse.

  6. Alcoholism.

  7. Unintended pregnancies.


Remember that children need to feel safe and protected, to feel cared for by their family, to feel appreciated, accepted and forgiven, to be guided by their family, to feel genuine and real love, to be supported and comforted, to be allowed to explore and play, and to be felt, seen, heard and understood.  None of those things can be provided to a child in an abusive environment.


If you or someone you know is currently in a domestic abuse situation call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) or text “START” to 88788 today.


Or if your child or a child you know is currently suffering from abuse or neglect, contact the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453) today.


It is typically mandatory under the law in any state, that these things be immediately reported to law enforcement once a disclosure of sexual abuse is made by any person.  Failure to do so and act protectively for a child may be a crime depending on the circumstances.  Even if you or someone else was the victim of sexual abuse as a child, and the victim is an adult today, you should still report it to the authorities.

bottom of page