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What Are The Main Behavioral Indicators Of Abuse?

* I generally write using the pronouns he/him when referring to narcissists, but females are just as likely to be narcissists or exhibit narcissistic traits. So please don't think just because article uses the word him or he that it could not be a woman in that same role.

When we talk about the topic of abuse, there are obviously many different forms that can happen to people – and the indicators can be different depending on the age and gender of the individual. 

What Are The Main Behavioral Indicators Of Abuse

But what exactly are the main behavioral indicators of abuse, and how do we spot them? 

Changes To Behavior

One of the less obvious indicators of abuse is the change in someone’s behavior.

This is something that can go unnoticed by even the closest of family and friends, and depends entirely on the outward behavior of the abused individual. 

However, there are certain things to look out for that could be pivotal in rescuing someone from an abusive situation, and in the worst case scenario, maybe even saving their life. 

Sudden Changes

This is perhaps the most noticeable indicator, and if a person you know and love suddenly changes their behavior overnight, then there may be cause for concern. 

This could manifest itself in numerous ways, for example, a previously bubbly, an outgoing person could turn introverted and withdrawn from social situations.

Similarly, previously quiet and mild-mannered people could suddenly begin acting strangely, behaving erratically, or acting out in a number of ways – such as abusing alcohol and other substances. 


If you notice something is obviously wrong, and you approach the person about it, they might 

deny anything is wrong, even when it is clear that there is.

While denial isn’t always a sign that the person is being abused, it can often be an indicator that something is wrong, and can usually be traced from a feeling of fear or shame regarding a specific issue. 

This might be paired with an inability to properly explain injuries or ailments, as well as inconsistency in their explanations regarding your suspicions. 


If the person begins to distance themselves from close family and friends or refuses to allow them entry to their home or property, then there might well be cause for concern. 

Even if this change in their behavior is not linked to abuse in any way, it might be an indicator of a period of intense depression or anxiety, and should similarly be treated with concern, conscientiousness, and kindness. 

Financial Changes

While on face value this might not sound like a behavioral indicator, changes in how they handle their finances could signal abuse. 

This could be in frequent transfers of money to a partner, or it could be through erratic changes made to wills, property ownership, or insurance policies. 

This could indicate that the person is being controlled or manipulated into giving money and financial benefits to their abusive partner, or at the very least that they are not behaving in their usual manner. 


If the person was a conscientious, orderly person, and they now fail to pay their bills or maintain their home, then this could be a sign that something is wrong – particularly if their partner doesn’t share their apparent state. 

This could be a sign of depression, or the side effects of abuse suffered from their significant other. 

Lack Of Self Care

If someone appears to injure themselves, or receives injuries from an unknown source – and then refuses or fails to seek medical attention – then this could be a sign that they are being abused or controlled by a partner. 

Some people can just be reckless, but if this behavior appears uncharacteristic of the person in question, then it should be cause for concern. 

Physical Indicators Of Abuse

Of course, physical indicators of abuse are much easier to recognize and act upon. Even so, these can manifest themselves in different ways, some easier to recognize than others. 

What Are The Main Behavioral Indicators Of Abuse (1)

Some of these differ depending on the age of the person, but generally speaking, notable signs of physical abuse can include: 

  • Burns. 
  • Bilateral bruises caused by shaking. 
  • Clustered bruises from repeated striking. 
  • Bruises from an object. 
  • Repeat injuries. 
  • Bone fractures. 
  • Lacerations. 
  • Welts. 
  • Black eyes. 
  • Bed sores. 
  • Unhealed injuries. 
  • dirty, ill fitting clothing. 
  • Deterioration of appearance. 
  • Bruising on wrists and ankles. 
  • Body odor, lice, or fleas. 
  • Malnutrition. 
  • Dehydration. 
  • Decayed or broken teeth. 
  • Swollen red eyes. 
  • Swelling of joints. 
  • Sudden weight loss/gain. 
  • Overmedication. 
  • Thin hair from pulling. 

Environmental Indicators Of Abuse

Usually coinciding with these indicators can be environmental signs of abuse.

This is generally a side effect of depression or personality changes and could indicate something more serious. 

Environmental indicators of abuse could include: 

  • Poor wiring. 
  • Rot and mold. 
  • Roof leaks. 
  • Unvented gas. 
  • Broken glass and fixtures.
  • fecal/urine smell. 
  • Evidence of restraints. 
  • Lack of food. 
  • Spoiled food. 
  • Empty alcohol bottles. 
  • Lack of electricity, heat, and water. 
  • Vermin infested. 
  • Clutter or signs of hoarding. 
  • Missing personal belongings.

What To Do If You Suspect Abuse? 

While it is never right to jump to conclusions, if the person in question is displaying uncharacteristic behavior, or worrying you in any way, then the best course of action is to raise your concerns with them. 


Begin by acknowledging to yourself or someone close to you that you think abuse might be occurring.

This is the first step to approaching the problem, and if you can confide in someone else then all the better. 

They might have noticed something too, and then you can approach the situation with renewed confidence, which will be pivotal when it comes to approaching the person involved. 


This is the most delicate part of the process for a number of reasons. 

Firstly, you should never just turn up at their house, especially while the person’s partner (who you assume is the abuser) is home, as this could make things worse.

Secondly, you should be prepared for the person to meet your accusation with shock, anger, or emotion – especially if the accusation is true and they are experiencing some degree of shame, fear, or denial about the gravity of their situation. 

The important thing is to show your support, offer your help and solidarity, and approach the subject with kindness, tact, and understanding.

This is the best way to make them feel seen, cared for, and supported – most importantly, it is the best way to show them that they are not alone or trapped within their abuser’s clutches. 

Report It

If you have confirmation or deep suspicions that something is terribly wrong with someone you care about, then the best thing you can do is to report it to the authorities. 

This could be the police, or it could be through domestic violence hotlines and similar organizations designed to reach out and help the victim in question.

They usually have resources in place to provide assistance (like safe places to stay etc) and could be able to suggest the best steps for proceeding. 

Final Thoughts

And there we have it, everything you need to know to recognize the signs of abuse, and the best steps to providing help and support to a suspected victim. 

If you yourself are experiencing abuse, or suspect someone you know is, then always begin by approaching the person, seeking advice from other people, and contacting the proper authorities.

Emergency Numbers

Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) is the nation’s largest organization fighting sexual violence: (800) 656-HOPE / (800) 810-7440 (TTY)

988 Mental Health Emergency Hotline: Calling 988 will connect you to a crisis counselor regardless of where you are in the United States.

911 Emergency

The National Runaway Safeline: 800-RUNAWAY (800-786-2929)

Self Abuse Finally Ends (S.A.F.E)

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Trauma & Child Abuse Resource Center

Domestic Violence Shelters & Resources

Futures Without Violence

National Center for Victims of Crime

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

National Network to End Domestic Violence

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

Prevent Child Abuse America

Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC)

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI, or text “HELPLINE” to 62640. Both services are available between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET, Monday–Friday

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255); www.suicidepreventionlifeline.orgOr, just dial 988

Suicide Prevention, Awareness, and Support: www.suicide.org

Crisis Text Line: Text REASON to 741741 (free, confidential and 24/7). In English and Spanish

Self-Harm Hotline: 1-800-DONT CUT (1-800-366-8288)

Family Violence Helpline: 1-800-996-6228

American Association of Poison Control Centers: 1-800-222-1222

National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependency: 1-800-622-2255

LGBTQ Hotline: 1-888-843-4564

National Maternal Mental Health Hotline: 1-833-TLC-MAMA (1-833-852-6262)

The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678678. Standard text messaging rates apply. Available 24/7/365. (Provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning—LGBTQ—young people under 25.)

The SAGE LGBT Elder Hotline connects LGBT older people and caretakers with friendly responders. 1-877-360-LGBT (5428)

The Trans Lifeline is staffed by transgender people for transgender people:
1-877-565-8860 (United States)
1-877-330-6366 (Canada)

Veterans Crisis Line: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net

International Suicide Prevention Directory: findahelpline.com

The StrongHearts Native Helpline is a confidential and anonymous culturally appropriate domestic violence and dating violence helpline for Native Americans, available every day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CT. Call 1-844-762-8483.

‘Find a Therapist’ Online Directories


UK & Republic of Ireland

  • Emergency: 112 or 999
  • Hotline: +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90 (UK – local rate)
  • Hotline: +44 (0) 8457 90 91 92 (UK minicom)
  • Hotline: 1850 60 90 90 (ROI – local rate)
  • Hotline: 1850 60 90 91 (ROI minicom)
  • YourLifeCounts.org: https://yourlifecounts.org/find-help/

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