Resources for Understanding the Abusive Relationship

Signs of an Abusive Relationship

The abusive relationship can be difficult to define.

Surprisingly, many who are involved in an abusive relationship either do not know that they are, or are not sure that they are, regardless of whether the abuse is emotional or physical. The reasons for this confusion are many. Among the reasons? The characteristics of an abusive relationship are not always understood, and the symptoms of an abusive relationship are often denied.

In this article, I offer resources that you can explore to learn more about the characteristics and symptoms of an abusive relationship.

What is the definition of an abusive relationship?

Briefly stated, an abusive relationship exists when one party of the relationship causes the other to repress feelings and behaviors in order to meet the first party's needs. An abusive relationship occurs when there is an imbalance of power, that is, when one party of the relationship succeeds in controlling the other. You can read an eloquent and substantive definition of the abusive relationship on the University of Maryland Health Center website.

Abuse takes many forms including verbal, psychological, physical, and sexual. Abuse can be manifested through neglect, hate crimes, bullying, and discrimination. Abuse may occur in any form of human interaction including domestic partnerships (regardless of sexual orientation), family systems, and workplace relationships. In every case, the core of the abusive behavior is a power imbalance.

How do you know if someone is involved in an abusive relationship?

You may identify with some of the following feelings and behaviors, either because you have experienced them yourself, or because you have heard them from someone close to you:

  • Blaming only yourself for the problems in your relationship
  • Feeling embarrassed, humiliated, or ashamed because of a joke or comment directed at you by a co-worker, relative, or significant other
  • Being afraid to speak your mind to, or be yourself with, a person who is important to you
  • Making excuses to your famiy, friends, or co-workers for obvious physical injuries such as a black eye ("It was such a silly thing, I ran into a doorknob!"), or a twisted ankle ("I misjudged the new stairs to our deck!"), when these injuries occurred not while you were alone, but when you were in an emotionally vulnerable position with someone else and that someone else caused the injury

Among the many Internet resources to help you identify whether a relationship is abusive is The Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness article, Warning Signs of Abuse.

Are physical and emotional abuse different?

Remember that the core of abuse is an imbalance of power in the relationship. In this respect, physical and emotional abuse are the same. However, emotional abuse is not as obvious as bruises and broken bones, although it can negatively impact a woman's overall health more than physical abuse. The article Responding to Emotional Abuse, published by Springtide Resources, is a rich resource that offers information about physical and emotional abuse, how to identify abuse, and how to help someone you know is being abused.

Does the abusive relationship occur only between two people who share a personal living situation?

Abuse is not confined to personal, intimate, or domestic relationships. Abuse can occur in the workplace as well. In the workplace, abuse falls into categories including sexual, racial, and gender discrimination, as well as harrassment and bullying.

Let me give you an example of something that happened to me.

It was late in the evening at my place of work. I believed I was alone in the building. I left my office to copy a document on a large office copier. As I watched the copies come off the machine, I felt someone come up behind me. I didn't see anyone, I just felt it. I turned around and saw an older man I had never seen before, and I jumped and gasped. My reaction was nothing I could control. He said, "Geeze, you're acting just like you got goosed." He laughed.

I felt as though I had fallen on my butt chasing fireflies on wet grass as a child, and all the air blew out of my lungs. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't talk.

He left, laughing.

Although I didn't know it at the time, there was a witness to his behavior.

To make a long story short, this man was fired the next morning, because his behavior was categorized as sexually abusive.

For more information about sexual harrassment (abuse) in the workplace, see this article on The Nature of Sexual Harassment, again from Springtide.

To gain an insight into workplace abusers and bullies, see the article Are Workplace Bullies Sabotaging Your Ability to Compete? from Pepperdine University.

More resources on emotional and physical abuse.

Abuse has no relationship boundaries and no limited class of victims. There are elder abuse, child abuse, and spousal abuse, to name just a few. Visit these additional authorities for more information. These websites will also refer you to channels of support in your local region.

MentalHelp.net publishes many articles on abuse, including how to identify if you are being abused. Just select Abuse in the Topic dropdown menu.

For statistics on abuse, visit Frequently Asked Questions About Relationship Abuse.

Signs of Abuse and Abusive Relationships, from HELPGUIDE.org, is a comprehensive article providing invaluable information about the topic of abuse as well as help hotlines in the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK for both women and men victims.

© 2008 Sally's Trove. All rights reserved.

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Comments 44 comments

cgull8m profile image

cgull8m 8 years ago from North Carolina

Parents should teach kids from day one to respect one another and opposite sexes, if they are taught early and frequently then the abusive situations could be avoided. I don't know how any one can abuse and still expect love to grow.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Yes, parents should teach their children to respect others. But that's very hard to do when they themselves were never taught by their own parents. It's a complicated issue, isn't it?

And you make another good point, cgull. Love cannot grow in an abusive relationship, it can only wither and die.


Dorsi profile image

Dorsi 8 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

What a scary feeling to have someone standing close by like that and then making light of his scaring you. Creepy for sure.


marisuewrites profile image

marisuewrites 8 years ago from USA

Absolutely terrific information. I have seen and experienced some of this abuse myself. On the flip side, I sure hope we don't all turn into people who see boogie men everywhere. Ya know? Still, we must err on the side of caution, and be able to spot abuse for what it is...keeping the human element in prespective.

Today's world makes most of us shrink away from each other as we become afraid to touch, hug, tease, or comment about a cultural difference for fear we're being taped, videoed, or reported for something misunderstood. Still, as a foster parent who saw a lot of abuse and handled the results of it first hand, and as a worker in the corporate environment, sexual and other harassment is strong; the lines that separate that from normal human contact seem thin at times. Alas! Life! read more of my blogs on www.partnershipinparenting.com

As always, I enjoy your writings, Marisue


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Dorsi, yes. Abusers do that. In the home, in the workplace. The setting doesn't matter. That behavior is meant to control through fear and humiliation. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. S.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

marisue, I am sorry that you have had this experience.

Your observations are correct: experiencing abuse makes us afraid, afraid to touch, to hold, to express ourselves, to love. Consequently, we remain vulnerable.

I value your comments, always.


marisuewrites profile image

marisuewrites 8 years ago from USA

Sally (is that your first name?) lol anyway, thanks for your comments....I had a boss (more than one, but one will do for this memory) that made huge sexual advances during the late 80's (eek that ages me...) then when I reported him (to save his life as my husband was ready to wipe him out - ha) I got the cold shoulder from the powers that be at work....

no one likes the messenger....it was easier to quit than deal with the drama...so I moved on...

Still, I hate that things are like this....sometimes all of us just need a hug. But, hard to come by in today's world.

Happiness to u....Marisue


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Penalties for perpetrators of sexual discrimination and harassment have come a very long way since the 80s. My guess is that your boss's tactics would never be tolerated after 2000, and you would never get the cold shoulder for reporting him.

It is because of people like you and me, who had to go through this crap, that legislation and practice were finally turned around. Today, retaliation for harassment accusation is, in all major US corporations and most small businesses, punishable by immediate termination.

So bully for us for surviving it. And here's a heartfelt (((hug))) to you!


marisuewrites profile image

marisuewrites 8 years ago from USA

=) back at ya....ever onward. Marisue


lacyleathers profile image

lacyleathers 8 years ago from US

Having suffered abuse throughout my childhood and in to adulthood (until I decided I was worth something) I am so grateful for this hub! This issue is swept under the rug and it SHOULD NOT BE! Anyone, male or female, suffering from current or past abuse, needs to reach out! There are those (thank you Sally's Trove) that are here for you!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Lacy, I hear that this topic touches you deeply. I applaud your cry to others to reach out. Yes, there are people who are there for you. Always.


proudgrandpa profile image

proudgrandpa 8 years ago from Charlotte, NC

Sally, I was right in my first comment, you do have a gift that connects with people at a deep and profound level.

I tought my son to respect people, and not to forget that women are people too. I am so very proud of what a neat and decent man he has grown to be.

I applaud your willingness to share your gift.

NEIL


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Neil, the world needs more fathers like you.

Still and yet, some young men are raised to disrespect women. It's a twisted situation. They love and need women, but they are also threatened by them.

This situation with the older man in the office happened because no one intervened in his early life and told him the difference between healthy humor and humor which is designed to subjugate. 

As always, I love hearing your thoughts.  S.


pgrundy 8 years ago

Great hub! I was in an emotionally abusive marriage for 7 years, and finally went hired a marriage counselor. I went alone the first time (and most of the rest of the times!) and described what was going on, and the therapist said, "Oh, well, usually counseling doesn't work for abusive men." I felt like someone threw a cold bucket of water on me? Abusive? I didn't get hit or anything. The idea of emotional abuse was completely foreign to me.

That was over 6 years ago. I ended up leaving him within months, and I lost a lot financially, but I'll NEVER be sorry I left. I have a great guy now who is my best friend and a great life. It's amazing how someone can wear you down without you even realizing it.

Thanks for putting together a lot of good info here.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

pg, I'm so glad you took action and hired a counselor. You may find it helpful to know that many people who seek counseling are surprised to hear the reality of their situation. And when they are told that they are in an abusive relationship (or that they carry a heavy load of anger or depression) their first reaction is disbelief. You were very brave to take that step and then to leave the relationship.

Yes, it is amazing how someone can wear you down without your realizing what's happening. Abusers are masters of this technique. Now, after your counseling sessions and after these 6 years that have gone by, I know you know that you will never entertain such a relationship with anyone--not a boss, not a coworker, not a friend, not anyone--because you know it exactly for what it is.

Thank you so much for sharing. I think your words may do others a lot of good.

Warmest regards, ST


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 8 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Great resources you have listed here. Those who are abused truly need all the help they could get.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Ripplemaker, these resources are just the tip of the iceberg. There is a great deal of help out there, and it is not difficult to find through the Internet, phone books, departments of health, and religious organizations.

Thank you so much for your comment!


sheenarobins profile image

sheenarobins 7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

I think I was in this kind of mess a few years back. You name it verbal, emotional, pychological and on the later part sexual. The sexual part is he doesn't want to do it with me anymore as a wife because he felt guilty for the other woman.

And now he lives to see me soar high with a smile. I will never allow it to happen again because I will not give them the permission to do so.

This is a very insightful hub. I enjoyed reading it and recognized the sign. I hope a lot of people will read this who suffered the same thing.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Sheena, thank you for sharing your experience. You understand the key to avoiding an abusive relationship: the key is permission. You are a strong and wise woman to see what happened, to act on it, and then to never give permission for it to happen again. Cheers to you!


Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 7 years ago from Virginia

Bravo Sally. You did an outstanding job here, and I know it will be a very helpful resource for many. It's amazing to me how we can sometimes not even recognize abusive relationships. You make a huge point about permission...it's so important to not allow abuse of any kind.

You've got style Sally. This is written incredibly well with perfect organization and flow, and you've packed it full of good, concise information and resources.

I remain your devoted other number one fan...until Christoph knocks me off the chair. ;) :D [psst, I sent you a message]


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Pam, you are an excellent critical reader. Thank you for emphasizing that this is a resource Hub. I am by no means an expert on abuse. My understanding comes by way of personal experience, on-the-job training as a manager, and committed research. It was important to me to direct readers to resources more knowledgeable than I.

As for permission, first you have to recognize abuse before you can permit or disallow it. As I think many of us know, the first few whammies we are subject to may not look like abuse at all, and the first thing we are inclined to do is to pass them off as misunderstandings or something equally innocuous. The key to recognizing abuse, I believe, is acknowledging how you feel. If an episode leaves you feeling degraded, humiliated, and shamed, no matter if that feeling lasts for only an instant, then something abusive has occurred.

As for you and Christoph, you two will have to duke it out. My guess is that he will be happy to share. I think he plays well in the sandbox. :)


Robin Layne profile image

Robin Layne 7 years ago from Oregon

Great Hub. I like how you mentioned other sources of information, and you wrote well. As a victim of abuse in several situations, including a fiance who was emotionally, sexually, and finally physically abusive, I see how I was set up to accept and absorb some of the abuse. It took me many years to realize I was date-raped. And he had me believing that because he took advantage of me without my permission that we were married! My embarrassment is that I believed him. My advice to others is don't cheapen yourself. If the act or the commitment is not mutual, it's not marriage, and you don't have to put up with it. This opened the door to the phsycial abuse, once he had his way with me sexually. I got out of that relationship, barely escaping with my life!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Robin, thank you so much for sharing your experience. Abuse comes in many forms, and as your story illustrates, can masquerade as something else. You are very brave and very smart. I hope all who read your comment take your words to heart and gain courage from them.


mayhmong profile image

mayhmong 7 years ago from North Carolina

Been there, done that. Just glad that I'm out of it!?

This is a great hub! Everyone should find out if they are actually involved in an unhealthy abusive relationship.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

mayhmong, thank you so much for your comment. "Been there, done that" as a comment on this Hub speaks worlds of wisdom. I think that you may have good advice for those who have been there but haven't done that. Perhaps some day you will write your story. Again, thanks so much for sharing.


karmen88 profile image

karmen88 7 years ago from San Francisco

This was an excellent read! Many women tend to stay in abusive relationships because they think he won't hit you again. I know from personal experience that is absolutely not true. Thanks for this.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Karmen, thank you so much for sharing your very personal thoughts and experience. Those in abusive relationships need to hear from you and others like you who have lived this first-hand.


camlo profile image

camlo 6 years ago from Cologne, Germany

I was an emotionally abused child, and know only too well how hard it is to accept that fact, then do something about it.

Of course, when I was a child, that sort of thing was totally ignored. Only marks of physical abuse were acted upon in schools -- my mother was always very careful not to leave any marks, keeping me at home if necessary (should there accidentally have been any). Her greatest weapon was to constantly deride, ridicule, insult and scream. Yes, I come from a perfect family with perfect parents and am, naturally, the 'black sheep'. I'm afraid I rebelled. Nevertheless, I was still convinced she was actually right about me. My rebelling was just a consequence of me being, well, air I suppose. Good for nothing or nobody.

There's more to it than this, but it would take too long to explain.

Since the term Emotional Abuse became a term, and one I then first recognised, I was able to do something about it.

Since then, my life -- my self-respect, self-esteem, my sense of who I am, my belief in myself -- has never been better. Of course, I'd learnt to suppress anything good about myself. If anyone said anything good about me, they were just being kind.

Anyway, this is a great Hub for those who have suffered, or suffer, any type of abuse. As you say, many don't know they do, and this might make them aware. Only then, can they do something about it.

Good that there are people like you about.

And, I'd like to say, this Hub is excellently written.

All the best, Camlo


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Camlo, you are very brave to share your experiences here. I know that anyone who reads your comments will gain strength from your words.

One of your many revealing thoughts really hit home: "I'd learn to suppress anything good about myself. If anyone said anything good about me, they were just being kind."

Being abused will take away that knowledge that we are inherently good and make us disbelieve that we have worth.

I am so glad you have come to the place you are in your life's journey.

Thank you for your comments. ~Sherri


gramarye profile image

gramarye 6 years ago from Adelaide - Australia

Yes, I agree with everything here - especially the control factor. I became extremely depressed over my relationship and when I realized what was going on, changed the way I responded to control. Fortunately for me, it worked but I hate to think how things might be if it hadn't. Your insights are worth sharing - thanks


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

gramarye, thank you very much for sharing your personal experience. When in the middle of an abusive relationship, hopelessness makes it almost impossible to see that there is a way out. Your courageous words show otherwise.


ahmadraza212 profile image

ahmadraza212 6 years ago from Pakistan

Great information dear


RecoverToday profile image

RecoverToday 6 years ago from United States

This is such a good example of how one can be manipulated. Manipulation and emotional/physical abuse go hand in hand. In fact, I consider it abuse. You have some great information here. It is amazing how even the most intelligent individuals can be fooled and manipulated simply because they are blinded by their own feelings or in denial. Such a helpful article. I give it 2 thumbs up!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Thank you so much, RecoverToday, for your good words and thoughtful comment. The ability to be abused has nothing to do with intelligence, but rather, as you say in different words, it has everything to do with both self-awareness and how we value ourselves.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

ahmadraza212, thank you for reading and commenting.


Brenita 6 years ago

I come from a very dissfunctional family and my Father is controlling and abusive and so arrogant that he refuses to see past hes own views I am a very strong person who has always stood up to him for my own

independence, one thing that I do find frustrating is that people always tell you that the reason that you are getting abused is the fact that you do not stand up to your Father when in fact that is all I do.


Zaiden Jace profile image

Zaiden Jace 5 years ago from Oregon

This was an amazing hub. If only people cared more about other people this world would be a much safer, happier place.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

I'm glad you brought up the subject of abuse in the HP forums today, Zaiden Jace. It's a subject that can't be brought up enough.

Definitely, the root of abuse is the lack of caring, translated a little differently, the lack of the ability or the willingness to empathize; this lack can lead to the battle for control.

The world will be a safer, happier place, in terms of lack of abuse, when people understand what abuse is and how it happens.


celeBritys4africA profile image

celeBritys4africA 5 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

Your hub is helping so many abused persons to start regaining confidence in theirselves.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Thanks so much for reading and commenting, celeBritys4africA.


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

Hi Sally, This is a very resourceful hub on abusive relationships. The guy who spooked you deserved to be let go. I would have retaliated in some way, shape or form. What goes around, comes around. Thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge so that others could learn.


mary615 profile image

mary615 4 years ago from Florida

This was a very interesting article. I just read all the comments, and it is amazing how many people stay in abusive relationships. I can't imagine, but I've never in that situation. I feel bad for women who are suffering from abuse.

I voted this UP, etc. and will share. Mary


CarlySullens profile image

CarlySullens 4 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

Hi Sally, thank you for taking the time to write this. This hub is an excellent resource. I am voting up and sharing. I appreciate the thoroughness, honesty and explanation of abuse.

I am sorry to hear what happened to you at work. Speaking your truth is supporting other's to come forward and free themselves from shameful daemons that are not theirs to hold onto. Bravo for your bravery.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 4 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Thank you, Linda, Mary, and Carly for your thoughtful and valuable comments. Unfortunately, those in abusive relationships too often either don't recognize the abuse (because it can sometimes be so subtle) or deny that it is there.

As for the guy who spooked me, I was fortunate to have an excellent HR representative who recognized--more than I did--what was happening. She taught me to rely on the feelings elicited by an exposure like this: If you feel humiliated, shamed, and exposed as if you were naked, something very wrong has happened. She also had another piece of advice: Some older gentlemen think nothing of this kind of exchange, because it used to be accepted and that's how they were raised. However, today, this behavior is not accepted and, rightly so, is subject to termination. So, old dogs need to learn new tricks if they are going to keep their jobs.

I'm feeling very grateful for having had good teachers in my life on the topic of abuse.

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