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  • Writer's pictureJulie Lee

Breaking the Silence - The Warning Signs of an Abuser

Updated: Jun 25

domestic abuse, domestic violence, red flags
The Warning Signs of an Abuser

Ever been in a room where everything goes silent the moment someone mentions domestic abuse? Yeah, it's like dropping a bomb. People get uncomfortable, they avoid eye contact, and it's almost as if they hope ignoring the issue will make it disappear. But that’s exactly why we need to talk about it.

Survivors need their voices heard. Those trapped in abusive relationships often feel like fear controls their lives. Abuse can be emotional, physical, financial, sexual, or spiritual, each type draining the victim and empowering the abuser. It's all about power and control.

domestic abuse, power and control
Domestic Abuse - Duluth Power & Control Wheel

Did you know? According to the National Centre for Domestic Violence, nearly 1 in 5 adults experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.

This story I’m about to share is fictional, with a male abuser, but it's important to remember that abusers can be any gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or religion. There's no "typical" abuser, just a common thread of choosing to abuse and the methods they use.

While this story might resonate with some survivors, it’s not a one-size-fits-all depiction. Everyone’s experience is unique, and there's no single right way to escape an abusive relationship. Also, even though the story describes certain behaviours in order, real-life abuse doesn’t follow a neat pattern. Abusers often cycle between being loving and violent, known as "The Cycle of Abuse," but over time, the abuse usually escalates.

In the following story, we’ll explore different aspects of domestic abuse, from the initial bliss to the painful recovery. Let's break down the phases of an abusive relationship and discuss how how it works!

Talking about domestic violence is uncomfortable, I get it. But this discomfort is nothing compared to the terror that victims live with every day.

The Start: Too Good to Be True

Abusive partners don’t start off as monsters. If they did, no one would ever go on a second date! They lure their prey by appearing wonderful. Just like any healthy relationship, an abusive one starts off with charm. He takes her on dates, brings flowers, and tells her how beautiful she is. It feels perfect, almost too good to be true. But this happiness is temporary. The future abuser has no intention of keeping up this act. He's just gaining her trust. At this stage, there are no red flags – nothing that screams danger. He’s the perfect partner.

Yellow Flags: Subtle Signs

Imagine you're thriving at 15: good grades, part-time job, active in sports, supported by family. You can't imagine someone being abusive because it feels like something that only happens to others.

Then, an older guy at school shows interest. He makes you feel special and understood. You fall in love with him – or at least the version of him he's showing you. Early signs of abuse are subtle. It starts with wanting to spend all your time together. If you make other plans, he reacts negatively. It's his way of isolating you. It feels like he just wants to be close, but he's actually conditioning you to prioritise him above everything else.

He’ll ask where you are, what you’re doing, and who you’re with, under the guise of interest. But really, he’s collecting data to control you. You think he’s being genuine because he hasn’t given you a reason to doubt him.

Orange Flags: The Real Him Emerges

As the relationship progresses, those early, subtle signs of control start to intensify. He’s built your trust, so now he shows glimpses of his true self. You're distracted by the 'love-bombing' – the constant affection, gifts, and attention. Then, out of nowhere, he makes a hurtful comment or yells at you. You’re confused but write it off as stress related or a one-time thing. He’ll start testing your boundaries with phrases like, "If you love me, you’ll…” You comply because you love him. He isolates you further, making you doubt your friends and family. You start believing he knows what's best for you.

Red Flags: Trapped

Contrary to popular belief, red flags aren’t always obvious. By now, he’s introduced you to his abusive ways bit by bit, so you’ve adjusted to his behaviour. When you fight, it’s nasty. He might hit you, hold you down, or threaten you. He tells you you're worthless and that no one else will want you. If you resist, it gets worse. He makes you apologise, never taking responsibility himself.

But then, he flips back to being loving and remorseful. He didn’t mean it, he says. He promises it won’t happen again. You want to believe him because you yearn for the person you first met. You start thinking his abuse is your fault and try to be better for him.

This phase includes gaslighting – making you doubt your reality. He says it’s raining when it’s sunny, and you start feeling the raindrops. Your friends and family notice, and the more they speak up, the more he tightens his grip, making you feel responsible for his actions.

Leaving: The Hardest Step

Deciding to leave an abusive partner is incredibly tough and can be one of the most empowering choices you’ll ever make. But it’s also extremely dangerous – the risk of homicide spikes when a victim tries to leave. Safety has to be your top priority.

There are many reasons that make staying seem like the easier option. You might still love him, wonder where you’ll live, worry about the children, or fear you won’t cope financially. The abuser will exploit these fears, using emotional manipulation and physical threats to keep you from leaving.

That’s why it’s crucial to seek support from appropriate agencies. They can help you create a safety plan and provide the resources you need to leave safely. Backing down will only make the abuse worse.

No matter how daunting it feels, your life will be better without him. It might feel backward at first, but choosing yourself is always the right choice. Asking for help is often the hardest step, but it’s the most important one.


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