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Am I Being Abusive?

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Domestic violence does not discriminate. No one group or individual is immune from the possibility of being or becoming an abuser. Abusers come from all walks of life. They can be plumbers, bankers, doctors, mechanics, store clerks, teachers, lawyers, law enforcement officers, etc. Although they may differ in terms of race, ethnicity, level of education, religion or faith, occupation, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation, abusers generally share certain characteristics and/or background experiences that lead them to behave in violent and abusive ways.

Typically, abusers use physical violence in combination with other tactics to exercise coercive control over a partner. This combination of violence and control is terrorizing for victims. Once abusers demonstrate how much harm they can cause, their controlling actions alone become threatening enough to keep their victims in a state of constant fear. (See “What is Intimate Partner Violence?” for more.)

Could You Be An Abuser…

But have you ever wondered if you might be behaving in physically or emotionally harmful ways with your partner? See below for a list of characteristics and descriptors associated with different kinds of abuse.

These behaviors are red flags, so take them very seriously. Although it may be difficult for you to recognize or acknowledge any these actions, doing so will be your first step toward a healthier relationship. By owning up to your behavior, you demonstrate your ability to take steps toward the accountability you need for this pattern to change.

Information and assistance is available under “How Do I Get Help If I Am Being Abusive?

Quick Abuser Checklist

Do I...

  • use threats or intimidation to control my partner or to get my way?
  • use physical force or verbal attacks during arguments?
  • monitor my partner’s behavior constantly, trying to keep tabs on what she/he is doing and who she/he is with?
  • accuse my partner of being unfaithful?
  • control my partner’s finances?
  • humiliate and criticize my partner (especially in front of others) in order to diminish, undermine, and/or destroy her/his self-confidence and resistance?
  • get angry or insecure about my partner’s relationships with others?
  • restrict my partner from seeing family members and friends, or keep her/him from working or attending school?
  • blame my partner for my own feelings by saying things like “You hurt me when you don’t do as I say”?
  • have trouble communicating verbally with others?
  • try to cover up my feelings by turning to alcohol or drugs?
  • destroy my partner’s property or personal belongings?
  • use force during sex?
  • tend to be moody, unpredictable, and explosive?
  • get angry or insecure when I don’t have control?
  • have a fascination with weapons?

Am I…

  • excessively jealous or possessive of my partner?
  • controlling and manipulative?
  • abusive like members of my family when I was growing up?
  • cruel to children and/or animals?
  • hypersensitive and reactive when I feel like I’m being judged?

Again, it may be hard to say yes to these questions or to accept that there may be a problem. But if any sound even a little familiar, visit “How Do I Get Help If I Am Being Abusive?” to get assistance.

Special Note: Situational Couple Violence

It’s important to note that some of you might be experiencing a different pattern of abuse referred to as “situational couple violence.” This type of abuse occurs when both partners end up using physical force or violence when trying to resolve conflicts. The difference lies in the fact that neither one is focused on the need to exert control over their partner. However, situational couple violence can still be very serious in terms of potential injuries and harm. Assistance is also highly recommended in this case as well.

By Silvia Echevarria-Doan, PH.D. LMFT, LCSW
Founder & Therapist, The Alma Therapy Institute, LLC in Gainesville, FL
Associate Professor, Emeritus, Counselor Education, University of Florida


Characteristics of abusers. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Johnson, M. P. (2008). A typology of domestic violence: Intimate terrorism, violentresistance, and situational couple violence. Lebanon, NH: Northeastern University Press.

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