Subtle Signs of Abuse

Abuse is a choice. Avoiding it is also a choice but when abusive behavior is subtle, it can be hard to recognize especially when it is coming from someone you love.

You may not realize you need to get away from it. Physical abuse is obvious but subtle signs of emotional abuse can be harder to detect.

Eventually though, the negative effects build up over time and can leave you feeling hurt, dominated, intimidated, foolish, bullied, and like your independence has been stripped in one form or another.

Abusive behavior can be so subtle, you may not even realize that the person is being abusive.

Make no mistake about it, people who exhibit subtle abusive behavior have the same full intentions of dominating you as people who are physically abusive.

It is all about trying to take your power to be yourself, to keep you from making your own choices, to make you do things their way, or just simply to dominate you because it makes them feel powerful.

Typically a person who dominates is one who believes they have the right to have power or control over you such as a spouse, an older sibling, or immediate family member.

Anyone can be a victim of abuse especially when the abuse is subtle.

Healthy relationships are based on equality and respect while unhealthy relationships are built on domination and fear.

“If you don’t do this, I will be angry with you!”

My answer to this kind of attitude now is, “Go right ahead and get angry. Your anger doesn’t affect me at all.”

It may be as subtle as fear that the other person will be offended or stop hanging out with you or will not be there when you need them.

I can tell you from experience that you don’t need people who are like that in your life. Life is actually much more peaceful without them.

You can love them from afar and it’s actually easier to do so because you don’t constantly have to deal with their negative behavior.

People who make you feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells, will wear you slap out. That’s an Alabama term, btw. 😉

It isn’t good for your emotional health so I find it best to avoid this type of person.

When I think of freedom I think of a dancer, arms high in the air, not a care in the world.

If you are an adult, anyone who makes you feel less than free, is probably displaying signs of abusive behavior.

My goal here is to help you recognize that behavior so that you can protect your emotional or physical well being.

Maybe they think they know best, and may even have good intentions of controlling you so that you make better decisions in life but this doesn’t give them the right to control you.

A parent and child situation, for instance, where controlling behavior may be necessary is not what I am referring to. What I am referring to here is not just simply positive reinforcement or punishment for wrong doing.

I am referring to a situation where both parties are adults and have the right to choose to be free.

Why We Stay

Many times we put up with an abusive relationship because we have a lot invested in it.

Maybe you gave up everything to be with that person, or had children with them. Maybe you built a business or bought a house together.

When we invest ourselves in a relationship it makes it harder to get out of it because we don’t want to lose whatever time and energy was spent.

Having kids with someone is one of the top reasons people stay with abusers. Keep in mind those kids are affected by everything that goes on in your home, even what you experience affects them greatly.

My goal here is to help you recognize when behavior is negative. Adults who respect one another will display positive behavior toward one another.

Keep in mind you are not responsible for another person’s negative behavior. We do not cause another person to react in anger or in a violent way.

Abusive Behaviors so subtle they Resemble Love

The most overlooked subtle abusive behavior is behavior that looks like it’s coming from a loving intention.

  • Unprovoked Jealousy -Provoked jealousy is a situation where your spouse flirts, lusts, or even cheats. Flirting is being openly forward with another person. Lusting is not just noticing a pretty face but rather staring at body parts as though trying to take mental snapshots. Cheating is self explanatory but mental cheating is just as hurtful to your partner. Lusting is mental cheating. All of these behaviors not only cause jealousy but also distrust. Unprovoked jealousy is where they have never given you a reason to be jealous and the jealousy comes from your own fears or insecurities.
  • Unreasonable Demands -This can look innocent but when a spouse insists on things like staying at home, not working, not going back to college or self-improving in some way, not wanting you to spend money on driving your car to get out of the house, or not wanting you to have a life of your own away from them. The question to ask yourself is can I afford to do these things? If the answer to that is yes then you probably have a controlling or dominating situation on your hands. A lot of abusers like to keep their spouse broke, uneducated, and without work experience so that they don’t have a way out.
  • Takes You to a Deserted Place -Moving you away from friends and family is the first sign of domination. Abusers like to have full control without input from people who love you because they know people who love you will see through their abuse.
  • Makes Demands on Someone Else’s Behalf -Demands that make it appear as though they are looking out for someone else but in reality have selfish motives.

Subtle Signs of Abusive Behavior

  • Name calling
  • Fit throwing because you won’t do what they want
  • Yelling or screaming at you
  • Banging on things because you won’t do what they want
  • Stomping feet in an attempt to get your attention
  • Withholding objects that belong to you
  • Reckless driving to scare you
  • Hitting walls with their fist or feet to make you feel intimidated
  • Throwing objects across the room in anger
  • Hiding, breaking, or taking your things
  • Refusing to allow you to have freedom in any kind of way

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse can also be subtle or may have been going on long enough you don’t realize it is abuse.

Any physical touch that harms or traumatizes you is physical abuse. Now, let me first clarify that the definition of abuse is relative.

People can take it too far and say they are being abused when reality is they are just simply selfish, whiny, or spoiled rotten who want everything to go their way, so much so they wrongly accuse others.

In which case, the spoiled rotten person would be the abuser of whomever they accused. A wrong and unjustified accusation is verbal and emotional abuse.

This list isn’t complete but will give you a good idea of the difference between subtle and outright physical abuse. Some intimidating behavior can also be seen as abuse so I have included this as well.

  • Hitting
  • Pushing
  • Knocking
  • Grabbing
  • Kicking
  • Thumping
  • Restraining
  • Unwanted touch of any kind
  • Unwanted sexual contact such as touching, fondling, kissing, rubbing or having sex with you without YOUR consent. Having your parents consent is NOT consent.
  • Having sex with a child who is under the age of making such decisions
  • Throwing things at you

Unhealthy or Dangerous Responses

  • Hitting back. This could cause you to get hurt worse.
  • Standing up to them verbally. Many times this provokes an abuser to anger.
  • Online behavior where the abuser can trace your activity.
  • Anger. This can escalate abuse.
  • Reacting in any negative way can cause an abuser to react out of control.

Healthy Responses to Abusive Behavior

  • Find the right time for communication.
  • Set boundaries.
  • Pay attention to your body language. Many times our anger is expressed with our body language. Stay calm and in control at all times.
  • Communication -an open, honest relationship breeds comfort. Honest communication can bring healing where two people are both willing to work on the relationship.
  • Talk about serious issues in person, not over the phone, texting, through social media, or in email.
  • Do not attack verbally or physically unless you feel your life is being threatened.
  • When something makes you uncomfortable, SAY SO.
  • If you are not heard when you tell someone you are uncomfortable with their behavior, tell them again in a different way. Tell them how it makes you feel and that you feel your rights are being invaded or boundaries are being crossed. Keep in mind an abuser may not realize they are an abuser!
  • Call the police.
  • Call a family member and tell them what is going on and ask for help.
  • Get out. Leave. If you can’t get out alone ask someone to help you get out.
  • Go to and ask for help but be sure you do this on a secure computer that cannot be traced if you think someone is monitoring your use.
  • Call the help hotline
    1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
    En Español

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