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Top Warning Signs of Domestic Abuse

Some of the signs of domestic abuse, such as physical marks, may be easy to identify. Others may be things you can easily explain away or overlook—say, chalking up a friend's skipping out on an activity you once enjoyed together as being due to a simple loss of interest.

Domestic abuse affects each person differently, but it impacts everyone both physically and psychologically. It's often an aggregate of related signs of domestic abuse that tip someone off that a person is at risk.

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone regardless of their social, educational, or financial status. While red flags aren't always proof that someone is being mistreated in this way, they are worth knowing. Many who are abused may try to cover up what is happening to them for a variety of reasons, and it goes without saying that these individuals could benefit from help.

Physical Signs of Domestic Abuse

If someone is being physically abused, they will likely have frequent bruises or physical injuries consistent with being punched, choked, or knocked down—and they'll likely have a weak or inconsistent explanation for these injuries.

Some signs of physical abuse include:

  • Black eyes

  • Bruises on the arms

  • Split lips

  • Red or purple marks on the neck

  • Sprained wrists

It's also common for someone to try to cover up the physical signs with clothing. For example, you may notice that someone you care about is wearing long sleeves or scarves in the hot summer. Wearing heavier than normal makeup or donning sunglasses inside are also common signs of domestic abuse.

Abuse occurs when one person in a relationship attempts to dominate and control the other person. Usually, the control begins with psychological or emotional abuse, then escalates to physical abuse. When domestic abuse includes physical violence, it's termed domestic violence.

Emotional Signs of Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse, of course, can take a serious emotional toll, creating a sense of helplessness, hopelessness, or despair. Domestic abuse can cause people to believe that they will never escape the control of the abuser. They may also exhibit a constant state of alertness to the point they never can completely relax.

Other emotional signs of abuse include:

  • Agitation, anxiety, or constant apprehension

  • Changes in sleep habits (sleeping too much or not enough)

  • Developing a drug or alcohol problem

  • Extremely apologetic or meek

  • Loss of interest in daily activities

  • Low self-esteem

  • Seeming fearful

  • Symptoms of depression

  • Talking about or attempting suicide

These symptoms, of course, could be due to many other conditions or factors, but they are typical of domestic abuse victims who feel they are trapped in an abusive relationship.

How Abuse Causes Behaviour Changes

If you notice that someone who was once outgoing and cheerful has gradually become quiet and withdrawn, it could be a sign of domestic abuse.

You may notice that the person:

  • Becomes reserved and distant

  • Begins isolating themselves by cutting off contacts with friends and family members

  • Cancels appointments or meetings with you at the last minute

  • Drops out of activities they would usually enjoy

  • Exhibits excessive privacy concerning their personal life or the person with whom they're in a relationship

  • Is often late to work or other appointments

Showing Signs of Fear

People who are being abused may seem anxious or nervous when they are away from the abuser, or they may seem overly anxious to please their partner. If they have children, the children may seem timid, frightened, or extremely well-behaved when the partner is around.

Although victims may not talk about the actual abuse, they might refer to the abuser as "moody" or having a bad temper. They may reveal that the partner is particularly bad-tempered when drinking alcohol.

Sometimes, the fear a victim of abuse experiences is so intense they feel paralysed to make decisions or to even protect themselves or their children. When the fear gets to that point, they will even turn down help offered to them by friends, family, or even professional protective services.

What Controlling Behaviour Looks Like

Domestic abuse is not about violence, it's all about control. If you notice that someone seems to be controlled or extremely manipulated in all areas of their life, it could be a sign they are being abused at some level.

Here are some examples of control:

  • Asking permission to go anywhere or to meet and socialise with other people

  • Constant calls, texts, or tracking by their partner wanting to know where they are, what they are doing, and who they are with

  • Having very little money available to them, not having access to a credit card, or having to account for every penny spent

  • Not having access to a vehicle

  • Referring to their partner as "jealous" or "possessive," or always accusing them of having affairs

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact:

Refuge for advice on dealing with domestic violence / abuse

Phone: 0808 2000 247 (24-hour helpline)


Women’s Aid

Support for women and children exposed to domestic violence

Tel: 0808 2000 247

Men’s Advice Line

Helpline for male victims of domestic abuse

Tel: 0808 8010 327

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