Warning Signs of Abusive Behavior

“Stupid people should have to wear a sign,” comedian Bill Engvall jokes, “that way you wouldn’t rely on them, would you? It would be like, ‘Excuse me…oops…never mind, I didn’t see your sign.’ “

As funny as his routine is, it would be nice if Engvall’s vision of life was real. How great would it be if people came with signs or warning labels? If abusers were forced to wear a flashing sign that said “I’m an abuser,” and psychopaths came with the warning label, “Proceed with caution: I’m crazy,” then we would know not to trust them and we wouldn’t date them.

Unfortunately, identifying an abuser is not this easy. When I was a teenager and I was stuck in an abusive relationship, it took me a long time to realize that what my boyfriend was doing was wrong. I thought we had a perfect relationship; the abuse started so slowly and so subtly that I didn’t know it was abuse until it was too late.

Abusers aren’t dressed up in dark, scary clothing. They don’t look like the villains we see in children’s movies or books. Instead, they are often charming. They can be the life of the party; funny and popular. One of the scariest parts about abusers is how hard they can be to identify. As a teenager, it can be even harder to identify an abusive relationships because you are new to the world of dating .

There are several things you can keep an eye out for in relationships. The sooner you pick up on red flags the better your chances of getting out of an unhealthy relationship before it is too late.


  • A history of being abusive in previous relationships. As sweet and nice as a person is, if they have a history of being abusive, they will likely repeat their abusive pattern. It is questionable whether or not abusers can change, even with intense psychotherapy. More often than not, even if an abuser goes through periods of time when they are not abusing you or someone else, they will do it again.
  • Quick Involvement or a tendency to move quickly. Saying I love you right away, becoming serious after a short amount of time, pushing you to do things sexually before you are ready.
  • Unpredictable mood swings or Explosive Anger. Does he get overly angry at minor things? Or switch from extremes of fawning over you to putting you down?
  • Alcohol and drug use. Does your partner’s personality change after they have been drinking? Does he/she have trouble stopping once they have started drinking?
  • Cruelty toward animals or children. Big red flag. This is one of the biggest signs that someone is a psychopath.
  • Belief in rigid sex roles. Things like ‘women should be seen and not heard.’ In teenagers, this is usually seen in gender slurs or sexist behavior, calling girls ‘bitches’ or ‘sluts’ or saying things like ‘boys will be boys.’
  • Extreme jealousy or hypersensitivity. Does the person get jealous of platonic friends, or any other person you spend time with? Does he/she exaggerate situations or make you feel guilty even when you have done nothing wrong.
  • Controlling behavior. Does he/she always have to decide plans? Does he/she tell you what you can and cannot wear? Or who you are allowed to talk to?
  • Attempts to isolate you from your friends of family. Abusers often try to turn you against friends or family, or make you feel guilty for spending time with other people. This makes you dependent on them.
  • Use of force or aggression when in an argument or threats of violence. Hitting, pushing, slapping, kicking, biting….none of this is ok. If your partner hurts you, no matter how sorry he may be later, it is abuse and it is against the law. Threatening to do these things is also not ok.
  • Blames others for problems or feelings, inability to take responsibility. Abusers try to make you think that everything is your fault. They “don’t want to hurt you,” or they “didn’t mean to hurt you,” but it is “never their fault.” They can make you feel like you are the crazy one. They often make you feel as if you did something to deserve the abuse.
**Information based on research collected by theSafeSpace.org and RAINN.


  1. I agreed what you had written.My problem is very similar that my husband do’s the same.He don’t want to tak to me with anybody, if i talk somebody infront of him.He took mistakes.All the time he is saying you are wrong and he is doing wrong.

    One example i want to tell you today morning my kid is suffering for cold and fever.I just said him can you check chikoo. He replied me your behaviour is not good.one more example if my friends invites he don’t want to come .He lies all the tome……..I DON’T know .He is not taking withme good he is not interested at all

    • Please find help. A support group is a good place to meet friends who understand. You & your children deserve to live free of abuse. Blessings

  2. I am in a bad place. I typed in a search engine confused, scared, abusive and ignoring. This describes myself, my husband and my boyfriend. Those words led me to this web site. I’m not sure if the men in my life are sociopaths exactly. I did have a sociopath for a step father when I was young and my sister fits the mold as well, so it figures I would be drawn to these sorts and may even feel oddly at ease, or familiar, with them.
    I have a child with a man who was in and out of jail, came from a horrible family life, and I wanted to prove to him there are good people out there that you could believe in and trust. I was fortuitive enough to leave him while pregnant, after an array of abusive acts (lying, cheating, telling me I am the one keeping him down) helped me out the door, but I still held on to hope until I cut the cords when I met my present husband.
    He was addicted to meth when I met him and I new he deserved better. From his bio he told me, he seemed to be opposite from my ex. No problems with the law, a mother he adores, a family with old fashion values, but a gay brother that added a spark of tolerance, understanding and worldliness I was looking for. It was all bullshit. He quit the meth and took up drinking. His mother he loved was a woman he fought to please, and never could, and they lie to each other regularly to keep up the act. His gay brother killed himself because his mother and father lied to themselves about that too, and the old fashioned family values turned out to be closed mindedness and judgment.
    He lied to me for a year and a half about everything and anything and I was oblivious until I caught him cheating and was DESTROYED. I took him back, as I was not ready to let go, still in shock, and was pregnant a month later. Believing he was young and learned from his mistakes, we married and have been together six years. He quit his job and let me support him, criticizes me for my housekeeping and mothering skills, my efforts to maintain a social life with my tight friends and puts down my family. His drinking escalated to the point I invited meth back into his life to sober him up and it helped at first. Then that made us more isolated, him even less motivated and ever increasingly critical of me to the point of physical and verbal abuse. A drug I began to get him to leave me alone soon became my escape and numbing agent to get through my days. It blew up, I left him, and quickly found my dream man. He took me to court to try to gain custody of both kids claiming I abandoned him and his mooching off me and laziness was actually him being a stand up father and primary caretaker of the children. I did not get a lawyer, I did not slander him back in retaliation, I believed the truth would be evident in court. He’s crazy and I am a stable person, never been in trouble with the law and a fricken school teacher. By the first court appearance, he was awarded half time, spousal and child support and all of the state benefits we were receiving. They ordered an investigation on my boyfriend and hired a liaison to determine what was best for the kids. I gave him the home, just wanting to get out, and was sleeping on the floor at my moms. It was obvious who was going to win this one.
    In the meanwhile, my boyfriend was hot and cold. Either extremely supportive and sympathetic, or cold and distant, almost irritated when I requested his attention. After compiled feelings of rejection from the boyfriend and the fear of losing my kids, I moved back in with my husband and dropped the divorce.
    It was good for two weeks and now he puts me down in horrible ways daily. In defense, I went to the support of the old boyfriend who was ecstatic to have me back, until today when he treated me cold and aloof again.
    I love them both. I have accepted that my husband will more then likely not change, even with help, and he continues to lie to me about the stupidest shit so I know that it is over. I am attempting to do things different this time and hope for a different outcome in the courts. I wanted to believe that this other guy was the one. Then I had this reminder of why I left him this morning and out of no where my mom told me neither guy is good enough for me and I need to hold out.
    I know this truth. I know I am good, great even, and that I deserve the best. My heart falls for people and I feel helpless to not do all I can to be with them and make it work. I am scared I will never fall for a guy who does not fit this pattern and maybe I am meant for a life of martyrdom. I know better in my head. But my heart still hopes and my heart leads me in life. I feel conflicted, confused, yet still hopeful for both of them, preferring neither. Just someone to be happy with. Why is it so hard to be happy with a man? What is wrong with them?!!

    • I know this comment is old, but how are you doing Jenny?

  3. Get counseling ASAP or ruin your entire life with men who will do this continuously.


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