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Identifying Abuse

Each page of this subsite includes a large red “Exit to Google” button at the bottom of each page to view an unrelated website if your abusive partner comes into the room. 
Note: This does not clear your browser history.

If you are experiencing abuse in your relationship, please see the Safety Planning and Resources sections, at right.    

Domestic violence includes more than just physical abuse. It is when one partner uses coercion and control to maintain power over the other. This can include emotional, financial, spiritual, psychological, physical and sexual abuse. Abusers often invest time in building trust and love before revealing their abusive nature. Unfortunately, the abuse may not become obvious until later in the relationship.

Warning signs to help you recognize an abusive relationship

  • Name calling, insults, putting you down.
  • Preventing or making you feel guilty for going to work, school or to see family/friends.  
  • Trying to control how you spend money, where you go, or any activity.
  • Giving you an “allowance” even if you earn your own money.
  • Acting possessive or accusing you of cheating. This can sound like they just miss you or want to spend quality time with you.
  • Constantly texting/calling/asking you to send pictures to keep tabs on you.
  • Becoming angry when you use substances; or forcing you to use substances.
  • Verbal or non-verbal threats to hurt you, or use a weapon on you.
  • Hitting, kicking, shoving, slapping, strangling, pinching, pushing, etc.
  • Coercing or forcing you to have sex or engage in sexual acts that you do not consent to.
  • Blaming you for their actions and abuse, telling you that you deserve the abuse.
  • Criticizing or shaming you.
  • Humiliating you or guilting you into feeling like you aren’t good enough.
  • Dismissing your thoughts, values or opinions, ultimately leading you to believe your feelings and input are of no value.
  • Neglecting your physical or emotional needs by deliberately withholding affection or using the silent treatment.
  • Demanding to have access to phone, work schedule, clothing choices, finances, food intake, or other items.
  • Questioning your motives, especially if you change the way you do something.
  • Threatening to “out” your sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Incorrectly telling you that authorities won't help, because of your sexuality or gender identity or immigration status.

Loop of abuse and reconciliation

Oftentimes, abusive relationships follow a pattern, which leaves the victim hopeful that the abuser will change. It is important for victims to remember - you are not to blame for your abuse.

  1. Tension building phase: The abuser makes threats to their partner. Threats can be directed at the victim or their loved ones.  
  2. Abusive Incident: The abuser follows through on threats and uses abuse to exert control over the victim.
  3. Honeymoon phase: The abuser attempts to make amends by offering gifts, apologizing or saying the abuse will never happen again. 
  4. Repeat: The cycle repeats itself.    


Gaslighting is an abusive tactic to make someone question reality. Often, the victim may not notice anything is wrong until they are well into the abusive behavior and it feels routine. The abuser’s goal is to:  

  • Trick the victim into thinking an event wasn’t as bad as they remember or didn’t happen at all.   
  • Make the victim question their own knowledge and instincts.
  • Convince the victim that they are crazy or delusional.
  • Break down the victim’s trust in their own reality, so they will not leave the relationship.

Some phrases can be easily identified as gaslighting, including: 

  • “You’re crazy – that never happened.”
  • “It’s all in your head.”
  • “You always over-react to things.”

People experiencing abuse may show changes in behavior, both socially and emotionally. If you witness these changes in a loved one, know that there are SAFE ways to support them.

Potential signs: 

  • Socially withdrawn:  Canceling plans, their partner is repeatedly texting/calling, they have to ask “permission” before making plans. Your loved one may feel isolated from others, leading to further dependency on their abuser.
  • Low self-esteem:  Feeling like they can’t do anything right or constantly apologizing.
  • Conforming to their partner’s expectations:  They change their interests, appearance, spiritual beliefs, or other characteristics to match their partner’s expectations.
  • Losing their identity:  They give up activities they enjoy.
  • Co-dependent:  They lose their sense of independence.
  • Loss of influence:  The abuser is making all decisions, large and small.
  • Physical changes:  Experiencing rapid weight change or changes in appetite as a result of partner’s expectations.
  • Psychological symptoms:  They may show signs of depression, anxiety, or change in general mood.

Barriers to Leaving:

Even after identifying and acknowledging abuse in a relationship, many victims experience barriers to leaving. It is important not to blame them for their own abuse. Barriers can include:   

  • The abuser blames the victim for the violence.
  • They have defended themselves, verbally or even physically against their abuser.
  • The abuser uses threats, including threats to kill.
  • The abuser only exhibits abusive behavior with the victim.
  • They fear increased violence, court involvement, not being believed or retaliation.
  • They hope the abuse will stop; the abuser makes promises to change and they believe them.
  • They don’t have access to resources including social supports, transportation, housing, finances or community supports.
  • They experience societal pressures to “make it work”.

Things that may be helpful to say:  

  • “I love you.” 
  • “I believe you.”
  • “I am here for you.” 
  • “I want to listen and understand.” 
  • “What do you need from me/how can I help?”
  • “You don’t deserve to be abused/treated that way.” 
  • “I will be here when you are ready for change or need a safe space.” 
  • “This is not your fault.” 

Things to not say: 

  • “Why don’t you just leave/why didn’t you leave the first time?” 
  • “Why didn’t you tell me before?”
  • “You are over reacting/that doesn’t seem like them.” 
  • “Why did you let them do that to you?” 
  •  “I would never stay in a relationship like that/let someone treat me like that.” 
  • “I understand.” 

Things that may help show support: 

  • Appreciate that your loved one is the expert on their own life. Though it may not seem like it, they know their abuser best and there may be times they stay to mitigate the violence/abuse.
  • Empower them to make their own decisions.
  • Offer to stay with them or let them stay with you if they need a safe place.
  • Continue to check in on them, even if they feel distant.
  • Talk about things, other than their relationship, when you see them. Don’t push them to talk about their partner or how you worry about their safety. This can help remind them what life without abuse is like.  
  • Let them know you are available to talk, when they need it.
  • When they are ready, help brainstorm steps they can take to feel safe and connect them with resources.

General things to avoid: 

  • Cutting your loved one off to force them to leave their abuser.
  • Not inviting your loved one to events because you don’t think they will come.
  • Attempting to make decisions on what they should do.
  • Trying to forcefully remove them from their abuser or staging an “intervention” for them.
  • Confronting the abuser.

24-hour Oklahoma State Safeline:
1-800-522-SAFE (7233) - Call or text!

Last Modified on Jan 02, 2024
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