Domestic violence is a complex reality, not simply physical abuse. Learning how to detect a potential abuser early on is one crucial aspect since many are charming. They deceive family and friends to keep their partner isolated and ostracized from what should be a trusted support network, and they make the victim fearful of losing their social place amongst family and friends if they take action against the abuser.

The importance of understanding the abuser’s psychology cannot be understated. If we recognize how their mindset and resulting behaviors create emotionally destructive relationships, then we can learn how to properly respond.

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Recognizing Abuse

First, we must not be deceived by the abuser. To recognize them, we must understand why they choose to abuse. Without this knowledge we are blind. Knowing is half the battle and actively looking for it is the other half. Abuse can have lifelong repercussions. Learning how to spot a potential abuser and teaching our children what to look for is, perhaps, the best preventative measure. Abusers generally have many psychological motivations in common with one another.

Everybody wants something, but add entitlement and they think others should meet their needs. Self-centered and selfish, their wants and needs are paramount in any relationship and any failure to meet expectations results in not just anger, but a perception of having suffered an injustice. If their moral system does not rule out abusive behaviors or violence, they will employ those behaviors to seek recompense and meet their demands, whether their methods are psychological, social, economic, manipulative or physical.

Understanding domesitc violence abusers and abused
The abuser doesn’t care about the impact on the victim. They don’t have any sense of remorse for their negative and abusive actions.

Abusers are not good at delaying gratification or persevering in the face of frustrated desires. Once their expectations go unmet, they will often become angry or depressed. Recovering to a normal or good mood is difficult. Their self-centered worldview creates a lack of empathy for others. They love others as a potential resource, always assessing what they can provide. They may express the appearance of empathy at times, but the person they “love” and what they are going through becomes irrelevant the second it impacts the abuser’s life negatively. If there is a conflict between the abuser’s wants and the partner’s needs, the abuser’s wants will win out.

Generally, abusers are astute observers of what works. They recognize fairly early the effectiveness of emotional and social manipulation, intimidation, controlling behaviors and threats of physical force. Can they make their partner feel guilty and responsible for letting them down or ruining something they wanted? Can they utilize friends and family to apply leverage or guilt to bolster their cause? Intimidation and threats aimed at something valuable to the partner are effective methods as well.

The abuser doesn’t care about the impact on the victim. They don’t have any sense of remorse for their negative and abusive actions. Their goals supersede any ethical dilemmas. In fact, their goals become the driving ethical framework, justifying their actions to get what they want.

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Take Back Control

Abusers seek to control their partner and illicit the response they want. Establishing and enforcing some form of “power imbalance” is standard, and they will often be attracted to vulnerability. Essentially, the abuser wants dictatorial influence. All decision making must be on their terms. Personal freedom is for them, not their partner, who is now a possession and a resource. Abuse is a tool to help the abuser gain control of their partner and retain ownership. Jealousy is common and leads to isolation and the monitoring of the partner’s every activity. This forces the partner to focus their time and energy on the abuser, separates them from outside sources of counsel and strength, and makes the partner more dependent on the abuser in general.

Remember, the abuser still needs a good public image. Physical violence isn’t the first choice for control. It’s too easily spotted. The abuser wants good PR outside the house. Psychological and emotional manipulation are common tactics, along with controlling finances. Look beneath the surface for character traits and particular behaviors that provide strong indicators for potential abuse and create an emotionally destructive relationship. Especially look at how a person behaves when they don’t get what they want. It’s then that they often slip up and their true colors show through.

The abuser’s sense of entitlement grants them a special status in their mind, including exclusive rights and privileges not available to their partner. These entitlements span multiple categories and shape how the abuser views their partner and how they behave toward them.

Understanding domesitc violence abusers and abused
Learning how to identify a potential abuser and teaching our children what to look for are, perhaps, the best preventative measures for protecting against domestic violence before it’s too late.

Physical caretaking mostly applies to traditional household duty roles, but it can also involve demands for some form of special treatment. However, the abuser may also declare all of their partner’s accomplishments, both at home and at work, to be worthless. This establishes how inferior and insignificant their efforts are compared to what the abuser does.

The abuser expects the partner to be at their beck and call, but the abuser is not equally obligated. Their needs and interests are dominant. They expect absolute attention whenever they speak. They may also devalue their partner’s interests so they don’t take part in them anymore but adopt the abuser’s interests instead. Dropping everything to spend time with the abuser becomes standard operating procedure.

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Sexual caretaking basically translates into sex being all about the abuser getting what they want. The partner is a tool, a sexual object and a servant essentially. It is the partner’s duty to keep the abuser sexually satisfied, and even their pleasure is often about the abuser feeling good about their performance.

Lastly, abusers believe they are above criticism. They may say otherwise, but when confronted, they will not submit to another’s judgment or concede accountability. They will justify their behavior based on entitlement and their scheme of justice, or they will blame it on their partner’s actions. In their eyes, it’s the partner’s responsibility to read the abuser and to not do anything that would provoke them. The victim will often be accused of overreacting.

Warning Signs

Watch anyone suspected of abuse carefully. If any of these mindsets, character traits or abusive behaviors are a defining aspect of their personality, or if they become a repeated pattern of behavior, the probability is high that they are abusive.

Also, pay attention to your friends and family members. Do they seem afraid? Is their relationship with you and others more distant than before? Are they depressed or preoccupied with relationship problems all the time? Does the relationship seem to be unhealthy for them, or is it consuming their identity?

Try to determine what lines have been crossed and whether the situation calls for counseling, separation or immediate intervention by police. If in the early stages, help them to set boundaries, inform their partner of what behaviors are hurtful, insist that they not be repeated and enforce those boundaries if necessary. It is important that the victim begin to protect their own identity and freedom. Encourage them to not tolerate behaviors that seek to control them or dictate behavior. If you have a relationship with the abuser, you can try to convince them to attend counseling.

Understanding domesitc violence abusers and abused
1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience violence from their partners in their lifetimes. ( The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010)

Safe Escape

Leaving is a very personal decision and not a light one. However, if the abuser routinely retaliates against their partner for complaining about abusive behaviors, justifies their actions or shifts blame, delivers insincere or angry apologies, denies what they did or demonstrates any disrespectful or degrading behaviors, leaving is probably the appropriate choice. Convincing the abused partner to leave may be difficult, but if children are involved, ask them to consider that kids learn best by modeling. By staying in an abusive relationship, children are learning to abuse others or to be abused themselves over the course of their lives.

If physical violence or any type of sexual coercion or assault takes place, it is time to leave. According to author Gavin de Becker in the book Gift of Fear, “Staying is a choice…The first time a woman is hit, she is a victim, the second time she is a volunteer.”

Help them utilize all resources to determine the best way to safely leave the relationship. Leaving can be dangerous. Past instances of violence and an abuser’s level of attachment, combined with how publicly shamed they will likely feel, is a good baseline indicator for possible escalation.

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The police are a good resource. They can provide the abused partner with information and options. If violence occurs, the police are there to help, protect and arrest the abuser. Protective orders are a good tool but not a cure-all. They tend to work best on abusers who have no track record of violence yet or whose level of emotional attachment is low. A piece of paper won’t stop an abuser determined to be violent, but it will allow the police to arrest him if he violates the order.

Limit the abuser’s access to the partner. Advise their employer so if the abuser shows up they can call police and ban them from the premises. If the potential for violence is high, living with friends or family outside the area or going to a shelter are viable options.

Our job as friends and family is to keep an eye out for potentially abusive mindsets, character traits and behaviors. We need to listen and support our loved one, counsel them when appropriate, help them make the best decisions possible, and, when necessary, work to ensure their safety.


Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 for confidential support. The Hotline can advise on police and protective orders, how to help a loved one, as well as provide further information on abusive relationships. (; 800-799-7233)

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE ™ Spring 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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