Abuse is any behaviour or action designed to control, intimidate, threaten, or injure another person. It is a misuse of power which uses the bonds of intimacy, trust and dependency to make the victim vulnerable.

Abuse can be emotional, psychological, financial, sexual, and physical, but is not limited to any one of these. Any misuse, manipulation, or exploitation of power for the purpose of controlling the behaviours, actions, thoughts, or feelings of another person is abuse.

Warning Signs:

You may be at risk of domestic abuse if one or more of the following factors are applicable to you:

  • You feel like you are walking on eggshells
  • You have stopped seeing your friends and/or family
  • You feel like you can’t live without him
  • You are afraid of his temper
  • You feel like you are the only one who can help him
  • You stay because you are afraid of what he might do
  • You have the urge to “rescue” him when he is in trouble
  • You are afraid to express yourself or you stop expressing your opinions
  • You feel like you can’t do anything right no matter how hard you try
  • You blame yourself for your partner’s actions and behaviours
  • You have been slapped, pushed, hit, etc. by your partner
  • You are constantly concerned about what kind of mood he is in
  • You go along with whatever your partner wants to “keep the peace”

Characteristics of Abusive Men:

The “overarching behavioural characteristic” of abusive men achieved with criticism, verbal abuse, financial control, isolation, cruelty, etc. (see Power & Control Wheel). May deepen over time or escalate if a woman seeks independence (e.g., going to school).

The “overarching attitudinal characteristic” of abusive men. A belief in having special rights without responsibilities, justifying unreasonable expectations (e.g., family life must centre on his needs). He will feel that he is the wronged party when his needs are not met and justify violence as self-defense.

Selfishness & Self-Centredness
An expectation of being the centre of attention, having his needs anticipated. May not support or listen to others.

Contempt for a woman as stupid, unworthy, a sex object or a house keeper.

Seeing a woman and his children as property.

Confusing Love & Abuse
Explaining violence as an expression of his deep love.

A tactic of confusion, distortion and lies. May project image of himself as good, and portray the woman as crazy or abusive.

Contradictory Statements & Behaviours
Saying one thing and doing another, such as being publicly critical of men who abuse women.

Externalization of Responsibility
Shifting blame for his actions and their effects to others, especially the woman, or to external factors such as job stress.

Denial, Minimization, & Victim Blaming
Refusing to acknowledge abusive behaviour (e.g., she fell), not acknowledging the seriousness of his behaviour and its effects (e.g., it’s just a scratch), blaming the victim (e.g., she drove me to it; she made it up because I have a new girlfriend).

Serial Battering
Some men are abusive in relationship after relationship.

The Cycle of Abuse:

Domestic violence (also called wife abuse, family violence and partner assault) is rarely a one-time occurrence. It usually takes place as part of a cycle that includes the following phases:

Tension-Building Stage
Insults and other verbal attacks; minor abusive situations; victim tries to be compliant, “walks on eggshells,” and feels helpless; atmosphere becomes increasingly more oppressive.

Violent Episode
Built-up tensions erupt into incidents ranging from severe verbal/emotional abuse to physical/sexual assault and can last from a few minutes to a few days, depending on the relationship. It is during this time that a woman is most likely to be seriously injured or killed by her partner.

Honeymoon Stage
Following a violent episode the abuser is usually contrite and attentive; they may apologize and attempt to make amends, promising that it will not happen again. The victim once again recognizes the person she first fell in love with and may be inclined to believe his promises to change.

Unless there is some form of intervention, the cycle usually repeats itself with the violent episodes, escalating in frequency and intensity. The cycle can happen hundreds of times in an abusive relationship. Each stage lasts a different amount of time in a relationship. The total cycle can take anywhere from a few hours to a year or more to complete.

It is important to remember that not all domestic violence relationships fit the cycle. Often, as time goes on, the honeymoon stages disappear.

Are You a Victim of Abuse?

The following are all signs of an abusive relationship. Be attentive in your own relationship and with those that you love – if you notice the signs of abuse, get help immediately.

  • In your relationship, have you ever experienced verbal abuse, including put-downs or threats?
  • Have you suffered physical violence such as hitting, pushing, pulling hair, and forced sexual contact?
  • Has your partner threatened to leave if you don’t do as he asks?
  • Does your partner try to isolate you from family and friends?
  • Is your partner bossy; does he try to control who you see and what you do?
  • Does your partner use guilt trips to get his own way?
  • Do you have to explain your whereabouts?
  • Does your partner have a bad temper and a history of violence? Does he brag about mistreating others?
  • Does your partner blame you when he treats you bad?
  • Does your partner have a history of bad relationships?
  • Does he believe that men should be in control of his partner and family?
  • Does your partner treat you “like dirt” or humiliate you in front of friends and family?
  • Are you afraid of your partner? Do you worry about how he will react to what you say or do?
  • Does he abuse alcohol or drugs?
  • Have your friends or family warned you about him or told you they were worried about your safety?

If you answered “Yes” to any of the above questions, your relationship may be abusive. Don’t ignore or minimize these warning signs. Get help.

Types of Abuse:

The following information has been compiled to provide knowledge on the different forms of domestic abuse.

Physical Abuse
Any physical abuse or threat of physical assault is against the law and must be taken seriously. Mild physical abuse could suggest a pattern of abuse that could become more serious and more frequent over time. The following are examples of physical abuse:

  • Restraining an individual in any way
  • Refusing to let an individual leave
  • Holding or hugging when it is unwanted
  • Choking, kicking, punching, slapping, etc.
  • Any unwanted physical contact
  • Pointing a finger or poking
  • “Caring” in an abusive way; this could include giving someone too much medication or confining her

Emotional/Psychological Abuse
Emotional abuse can include put-downs, threats, and criticisms. Abusers often falsely accuse a partner of cheating or flirting with someone else as a form of abuse. Some other examples of emotional/psychological abuse are:

  • Intimidation
  • Playing “mind games”
  • Ignoring, silence
  • Verbal threats
  • Yelling
  • Being sarcastic or critical
  • Degrading an individual or his/her family
  • Laughing in an individual’s face
  • Brainwashing
  • Inappropriately expressing jealousy
  • Accusing a partner of cheating or flirting with someone else
  • Lying
  • Falsely accusing
  • Walking away from an individual while in discussion
  • Refusing to do things
  • Denying sex or affection
  • Consistently having to get his way
  • Treating an individual as a child
  • Finding and verbalizing an individual’s faults
  • Commenting negatively about an individual’s physical appearance
  • Telling sexist jokes
  • Stalking/harassing
  • Cutting off contact with friends/family
  • Having a double standard for an individual
  • Controlling an individual’s actions
  • Threatening to take the children away
  • Threatening to commit suicide
  • Comparing a partner unfavourably to other women

Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse is violating and degrading. It can and does take place within marital relationships. The following are examples of sexual abuse:

  • Forcing sex or engaging in unwanted sexual acts
  • Inflicting pain during sex
  • Denying birth control
  • Refusing sex
  • Lack of intimacy
  • Unwanted touching or fondling
  • Hounding an individual for sex
  • Forcing certain positions
  • Having affairs
  • Treating a partner like a sex object
  • Intentionally infecting an individual with AIDS or another sexually transmitted disease
  • Forcing an individual to get pregnant, have an abortion, or an operation that prevents pregnancy
  • Forcing an individual to look at pornography

Social Abuse
Isolation is one common form of social abuse. Additional forms of abuse are as follows:

  • Putting a partner down or ignoring her in public
  • Not letting her see her friends/family
  • Not being nice to a partner’s friends/family
  • Making a scene in public
  • Change of personality with others
  • Not taking responsibility for children
  • Embarrassing her in front of others
  • Using children as a weapon
  • Choosing friends or family over a partner
  • Moving a partner to a new city/country or to a remote/rural area
  • Denying access to a telephone
  • Keeping a partner busy when others are over (i.e. keeping a partner busy in the kitchen during a party)

Financial Abuse
Financial abuse includes the following:

  • Withholding money
  • Not letting a partner know how much money she has or the family has
  • Making a partner ask for money
  • Making a partner hand over her pay cheques
  • Not allowing an individual to buy food, clothes for herself and/or the children
  • Controlling how money is spent
  • Destroying an individual’s credit rating by using her credit cards without permission
  • Diverting or embezzling funds

Abuse is not limited to the forms mentioned above. Abuse can consist of any pattern of threatening or intimidating behaviour that makes you feel uncomfortable, powerless, stressed out, shameful, discouraged, scared, or hopeless.