Warning Signs of an Abuser

Couple conflict on street Leaning On Wall

Over 15 years ago, the newspaper columnist “Dear Abby” printed a list of characteristics of men who were likely to be abusive in relationships.  I saved it and have given copies to many women and teenage girls.  Specifically, I gave it to those females who said they thought jealousy and controlling behavior were signs of love, whether in a marriage or in a dating relationship.

An example would be Steffi, whose husband slowly separated her from her friends and family, took her paycheck every week, checked the odometer in her car to see if she was telling the truth about where she went, and had jealous fits after any party they attended, sure that she was “making eyes” at the men she talked to.  Steffi is an executive in a Fortune 500 company and manages a multi-million dollar budget, but she cannot stand up for herself in her personal relationship.

I was reminded of Dear Abby’s list by a recent article in the New York Times called “When Abuse is Psychological” (https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/07/11/with-coercive-control-the-abuse-is-psychological/?_r=0 ).  As most people know, abuse is not always physical.  This article focuses on emotional abuse, or what Dr. Lisa Fontes, herself a victim of abuse, calls coercive control.  Coercive control is repetitive behavior designed to control or manipulate a partner.  It can include humiliation, isolation, financial control, stalking and other behaviors.  Nonphysical forms of control and mistreatment make up a large portion of what we call domestic abuse.  Although these nonphysical behaviors are now considered a criminal offense in England, American laws which deal with domestic violence still do not include psychological abuse, despite the fact that these behaviors often lead to physical violence.

Dear Abby may have been only an advice columnist when she created the list many years ago, but she was right on target in identifying the warning signs of an abuser.  Here is my adaptation of her list:

BLAMES OTHERS – It is always someone else’s fault when things go wrong.

VERY JEALOUS – He is extremely possessive, checks the odometer on your car, calls or texts constantly to see where you are and what you are doing, and interrogates you if you go anyplace without him because you might meet someone else.

CONTROLLING – He rigidly controls the finances, gets angry if you are five minutes late, and thinks you should get his go ahead before you make any plans, even if they are related to your work.

ISOLATES YOU – Over time he eliminates or minimizes the time you spend with family and friends, especially if he thinks they encourage your independence.  He may even try to keep you from taking a promotion, or a leadership position in a volunteer organization, because it will take time away from him.

HYPERSENSITIVE – He claims he is hurt when really he is angry, and is easily insulted or irritated.  He blames you or others for his mood, not taking responsibility for his feelings or his actions.

INSTANT INVOLVEMENT – He pressures you for an exclusive relationship before you are ready, ignoring your feelings, and may claim that he has never loved anyone the way he loves you.

WANTS PERFECTION – He wants the way you look and what you do to meet his standards of perfection, expecting you to be his perfect woman.  He expectations are unreasonable.  He also has a double standard:  he does not have to meet those same expectations in his own looks or behavior.

VERBALLY ABUSIVE – He can be overly critical, even cruel, in what he says and may put you down or call you names. ( See my previous Blog on verbal abuse : https://dralisonblock.com/verbal-abuse-in-a-relationship-know-the-signs/)

SUDDEN CHANGES IN MOOD – He may be kind and caring one moment and explosive the next, and you cannot tell why these changes occur.

THREATS OF VIOLENCE – He may jokingly say things like I’ll kill you if you do that” but claim that he was not serious and that everyone makes similar statements.  He may admit to having pushed or shoved a woman in a previous relationship but say that it was her fault. He may hold you down against your will during sex but claim that it was “playful.”

RIGID GENDER ROLES – He has rigid ideas about what a woman should do and what a man should not do.  He expects to be the boss and that you should obey without question.


If you think that you are in a verbally or psychologically abusive relationship, seek help. Know that you are worth more, and that you deserve a respectful, loving, nurturing relationship.


(The list was adapted from Dear Abby, January 19, 2000.)

All material contained on this blog is for information purposes only. This information is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional psychological advice. Always consult a qualified professional prior to utilizing any of the information provided in this post.