Are You in an Abusive Situation?

Abuse can involve obvious forms of physical violence, controlling behaviours or harassment. However, abusive behaviour can be difficult to recognize or is quickly dismissed. There are numerous types of abuse and some forms are not as obvious as others.

It may take some time to recognize that you are in an abusive or dangerous situation.

Abusive situations always involve non-consent. You may have had to obey certain commands or change your behaviour. You may have been intimidated, frightened, harassed or physically injured. These situations will have a serious effect on your health, self-confidence or social life.

If you are fully aware of the abuse it is common to feel confused, angry and unable to leave or report the situation.

It can also be difficult to find help or support.

Below are a number of questions that may help you to reflect on your own experience.

The questions are divided into different sections including:

1) Thoughts, Feelings, Behaviours & Health
2) What is important to you?
3) Leaving or taking steps to leave an abusive situation

1)  Thoughts, Feelings, Behaviours & Health

Please think about the following:


  • I have lost self-confidence since this situation began?
  • I doubt myself or my abilities more since being involved in this situation?
  • I have lost trust in other people because of this situation?
  • I feel hopeless or that there is no way out of the situation?
  • I hate myself since being involved in this situation?


  • I have felt scared more than once in this situation?
  • I have felt put down or disrespected more than once in this situation?
  • I feel alone or isolated in this situation?
  • I feel angry, confused or frustrated because of this situation?
  • I feel unable or not strong enough to leave / report the situation?
  • I feel "stuck" or have no control over the situation?


  • I have changed my behaviour or the way I do things because of this situation?
  • I avoid seeing or making friends because of the situation?
  • I get angry at or aggressive towards others because of this situation?
  • I have looked for help or support because of this situation?
  • I have physically hurt myself on purpose because of this situation?


  • My physical health has deteriorated or weakened since being involved in this situation?
  • I have recurring physical symptoms (headaches, stomach pain, sore throat etc.) since being involved in this situation?
  • My psychological or emotional well-being has changed since being involved in this situation?
  • I smoke, drink or use medication excessively because of this situation?
  • I have had physical injuries because of this situation?

2) What is Important to You?

Please think about the following:

What or who is more important to you?

  • Keeping the situation private or getting help for the situation?
  • Protecting the person(s) that are hurting / threatening me or telling others about the situation?
  • Protecting myself or the person / people that are hurting me?
  • Protecting those close to me (such as children) or protecting the person / people that are hurting me?

How do you feel about the person or people that are hurting you?

  • I love the person / people
  • I hate the person / people
  • I want to protect the person / people
  • I feel that I have to stay with the person / people
  • I am afraid of what the person / people will do if I leave or report the situation
  • The person / people are not bad but they need help
  • I am and feel protected when the person / people are near me
  • I have nobody else if I push the person / people away

What would you like to see happen?

  • I want to remain in this situation without the abuse / threatening behaviour
  • I want to leave or get help for this situation but don’t know how
  • I want to leave or get help for this situation but don’t feel strong enough
  • I want to leave or report the situation but am afraid what will happen

What is clear to you?

  • I am happy with this situation
  • I need help and support with this situation
  • This situation has had a negative impact on my life
  • I am clear about the risks of remaining in this situation
  • I am clear about what is important to me in life
  • There is help and support available to me if I need it
  • It is a good idea to stay in this situation
  • I know how to keep myself and others safe in this situation
  • I know where I would like to be in 5 years time

3) Leaving or taking steps to end an abusive situation.

Deciding to leave or end an abusive situation is difficult and may take months or even years.

There are a number of steps that you can take that may make the transition easier including:

Evaluating or reflecting

Repeatedly asking yourself if this situation is what you really want and thinking about alternatives can help you to be clear about your own thoughts and feelings. Keep a diary / logbook (somewhere safe) of your experiences. Answer questions (similar to the ones above) about the situation and think about your future.


Finding support (through trusted friends or professionals) is an important starting point. While you may feel isolated or alone there are people available that can help you through this initial phase.

Legal rights

Abusive and threatening behaviour is a criminal issue. Being aware of your rights can help to protect you, your assets and others close to you such as children.

Finances or living arrangements (if applicable)

If this behaviour is occurring at home, it may be helpful to save and hide some money before leaving. It is also important if you are living with your partner to arrange some alternative or temporary accommodation. Regardless of your situation it may be important to increase the security in and around where you live.

Personal well-being & protection

Leaving or taking steps to end an abusive situation can be a dangerous time. The perpetrator(s) may try to stop you from leaving or continue abusive and threatening behaviour after you have left / reported the situation. It may be helpful to develop a protection plan with the assistance of a trusted friend or professional.

It is important that you and those close to you remain safe. If you are worried about the situation, please seek professional help as soon as possible.

Contact details of support services in your area can be found here


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Are you worried about a friend or family member?

You may have a loved one such as a friend, child or parent who is involved in an abusive relationship or whose partner is displaying increasingly worrying behaviour.

You may be worried about a loved one who is the target of community violence, antisocial activity or harassment.

Many questions and frustrations arise when trying to help your loved one.

How a loved one has reacted to their own situation will impact upon the decisions they make as well as the options they feel are available to them. It is possible that your loved one is emotionally drained, scared, feeling humiliated, depressed or angry.

Denying that any problem exists or minimizing the seriousness of the situation is common.

Admitting that they need support or sharing details of their experience can be extremely difficult.

Common reactions to distressing incident(s) and situations include:

  • Extreme changes in appearance (Example: weight loss/gain)
  • Extreme changes in demeanour including self-confidence or levels of aggression
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Increased stress levels
  • Involvement in risky behaviour such as substance abuse and promiscuity
  • Decreased levels of concentration
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Avoiding others and socializing.
  • Lessened trust in others.

Regardless of the type of situation and emotions that a loved one is experiencing there are a number of ways that you can provide support.

Below are a few basic guidelines that may help you to support those close to you.

What you can do

  • Express your concerns by talking to them privately. Ask how they are and if there is something that you can do to help
  • Offer support regardless if they decide to remain in the relationship or refuse to report those who have or continue to hurt them
  • Listen to any fears or worries and try to understand their situation
  • Recommend that they begin a logbook or journal to document what they are experiencing and their own thoughts on the situation.
  • Recommend that they begin a protection plan and offer some assistance in its development.
  • Reassure them that they have a place to stay or someone to talk to when needed
  • Learn and understand the factors involved in abusive relationships, the consequences of experiencing threatening behaviour and the different types of abuse that people experience
  • Learn and understand the factors that may be affecting your loved ones partner (Example: mental health issues, substance abuse etc.)
  • Suggest that they talk to a professional for additional support.
  • Seek professional advice

What you should avoid

  • “Telling” or placing pressure on your loved one to leave the relationship or officially report others
  • Being public or telling others about what your loved one has told you about their situation or their feelings
  • Approach, threaten or ridicule the person(s) that has hurt or threatened your loved one
  • Belittling, ridiculing or judging your loved one for the abusive behaviour of others or their reactions to it
  • Accuse your loved one of lying.
  • Associate or compare the reported abusive behaviours to “normal” arguments and conflict
  • Blaming your loved one for the abuse by remaining in the relationship or refusing to report those that have or continue to hurt them
  • Waiting for your loved one to come to you or expressing your concerns
  • Convincing yourself that the person(s) that has or continues to hurt your loved one are too “nice” to have done any of the behaviours your loved one has told you of
  • Threaten to take away your support if they remain in the relationship or refuse to report those that are hurting them
  • Avoiding a loved one or treating them differently


Close & Intimate relationships

If your loved one is in an abusive or potentially dangerous relationship with an intimate partner or family member the strength or intensity of this bond can affect your attempts to help.

In an intimate relationship your loved one knows their partner well. They know the dynamics of the relationship better than anyone else.

It is often extremely difficult to confront an intimate partner about their behaviour. The decision to challenge a partner can make the situation or behaviours worse. It is important that your loved one feels supported and is aware that this support will remain available if they decide to end or make changes in the relationship.

Trying to help someone when abusive, violent or worrying behaviour is within the family can also be problematic. Like intimate relationships, strong emotional bonds have been formed and continue throughout the situation.

Your loved one may feel very protective over those that may be hurting them or displaying potentially dangerous behaviour. They may try to push you away during attempts to help. It is important that the situation is treated with sensitivity and understanding.

It is also important that you understand the situation and the many factors that are involved. Attempting to guess the outcome or consequences of a loved one’s situation particularly where there is a longstanding relationship is difficult. This can depend on many factors including:


Important factors may include:

  •  The length of time in the relationship
  •  The nature of the relationship
  •  The level of outside social support
  •  If dependent others such as children or elders are involved
  •  The level and extent of controlling and abusive behaviour
  •  The level and extent of destructive or worsening behaviour
  • The presence of mental health or substance abuse issues

Often it can be difficult to understand why people remain in abusive situations or refuse to report those that are hurting them. It is important to keep in mind a number of possible factors including:


Possible reasons may include:

  • They may not trust police
  • They may not feel strong enough to go through the criminal justice process
  • They may feel embarrassed
  • They may be afraid that their private life will become public
  • They may feel afraid that the person(s) hurting them will attempt suicide or believe death threats against them
  • They may feel that the behaviour of those that are or have hurt, threatened or frightened them is their own fault.
  • They may feel that the behaviour will stop
  • They may feel too isolated or feel unable to cope without the person(s)
  • They may feel sorry for the person(s)
  • They may that they don’t deserve any better
  • They may feel confused and insecure about their own decision making

Abusive relationships or situations vary considerably. If you wish to help a loved one it is important to consider all the factors involved in the situation. If you remain unsure how to support your loved one, please seek professional advice about your individual case.

Contact details of support services in your area can be found here

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Are you worried about your own behaviour?

Below are a number of questions that will help you to think about your own behaviour.

Using violent or abusive behaviour against another is a choice made by you. There are a number of steps that you can take to change your behaviour.

These questions are for you alone. Your answers will not be viewed by anyone else.

Please be as honest with yourself as possible.

Some of these behaviours, thoughts and feelings may not apply to you. This does not mean that your behaviour is not seriously affecting you and others close to you.

There is a short section at the end that may help to identify early warning signs or triggers that precede (happen before) the use of violent or abusive behaviour. 

Your Behaviour



  • Have I scared an individual(s) with my behaviour?
  • Have I taken advantage of or exploited the trust of another person(s)?
  • Have I repeatedly bullied or belittled an individual(s) either in private or in front of others?
  • Have I attempted to control the behaviours or social interactions of another person(s)?
  • Have I repeatedly monitored the behaviour or whereabouts of another person(s)?
  • Have I physically hurt another person(s)?
  • Have I controlled access to money or interrupted the employment/education of another person(s)?
  • Have I forced or attempted to force another person(s) into unwanted sexual contact?
  • Have I purposefully distracted other people’s attention away from my own behaviour?
  • Have I repeatedly broken promises to change my behaviour?


  • Do I think that I cannot control my own behaviour?
  • Do I deny or minimize the seriousness of my behaviour?
  • Do I think I have something positive to look forward to in the future?
  • Do I think that an individual(s) disrespects me when they don’t act the way that I want them to?
  • Do I think other people or substances (drugs, alcohol, medication etc.) are to blame for my own behaviour?
  • Do I think that hurting myself or others is the best/only course of action?
  • Do I think that having personally experienced violence or abuse that I can do the same to others or this excuses my behaviour?
  • Do I have very strict views on how people should act or behave?
  • Do I think that using anger, abusive or violent behaviour is the only way to really show that I am in control?


  • Do I feel more relaxed or get a “high” after I have been angry, abusive or violent?
  • Do I feel unable to cope with unpleasant thoughts or feelings?
  • Do I feel more in control after I have put an individual(s) down or physically hurt them?
  • Do I feel disrespected when an individual(s) does not do what I ask?
  • Do I feel excessively jealous when an individual(s) is speaking to or spending time with others?


Early warning signs and triggers

Using abusive or violent behaviour against another is never justified or acceptable. There may be a number of factors that precede the choice to act in a violent or abusive manner.

Identifying these triggers or early warning signs can help to decrease the likelihood that you will self-harm or hurt those close to you. 

It is important to be able to recognize the factors or triggers that increase the likelihood of destructive or abusive behaviour.

Triggers are person-specific. Different people will have different triggers. It is important that you think about the factors that impact on your choice to be violent or abusive. It is also important that you seek appropriate and professional help.

Warning signs

What are the main warning signs or triggers (For example: increased feelings of anger / frustration, changes in mood, relationship issues etc.)?


What can I do when these early warning signs arise? (For example: talking to someone, using positive coping strategies, avoiding those that I might hurt etc.)

Are there social settings / outside activities that can provide an immediate positive distraction when these warning signs are present?

Who are the people or professionals that I ask for help?

What is the contact details of people or professionals that will help me?

If you are worried about your own behaviour please seek professional advice and help as soon as possible.

Contact details of support services in your area can be found here

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Have you recently left an abusive situation?

Leaving or ending an abusive situation is incredibly difficult. It takes determination and courage.

Many people think that once they have left an abusive situation the hardest part is behind them. However, this period is often quite turbulent,  filled with confusion and possibly legal battles.

It can also be a particularly dangerous time in terms of personal safety.The perpetrator(s) may continue abusive and threatening behaviour after you have left or reported the situation.

Of primary concern is your well-being. Being involved in an abusive situation can have serious effects on your emotional or physical health as well as your social support network.

In order to increase your safety please think about the following:

  • Seeking legal advice (including child custody issues and protection orders)
  • Developing protection plans for you and those close to you (please see the Logbook, Protection & Help section)
  • Seeking support from professional services
  • Informing those close to you (including neighbours, employers, child minders etc.) of your new situation
  • If you must have continued contact with the perpetrator(s) consider arranging meetings at a neutral and safe location (i.e. not in your home /perpetrators home)

Having truly supportive people around you will also help during this transition. If you are socially isolated please contact support services for additional assistance. 

While people can feel relieved after leaving an abusive situation there may also be conflicting feelings towards the perpetrator(s) as well as the new situation.

Commonly reported feelings include:

  • Guilt - This may be tied to religious beliefs or loyalty to family / perpetrator (s)
  • Confusion - People often minimize the seriousness of the situation once it has ended. Forgetting or forgiving the behaviour can cause people to doubt their own decision to leave/report the situation. Strong positive feelings for the perpetrator(s) can also cause confusion
  • Embarrassment - This may be linked to complete dependency on the perpetrator(s). Once an abusive situation has ended people may not know how to deal with finances or feel confident in their own decision making. This can cause embarrassment and decreased self-confidence.
  • Sympathy - Many people feel sympathy for the perpetrator(s) and worry excessively about their well-being after they have left and abusive situation.
  • Depression - If there has been a long-standing relationship between a person and the perpetrator there can be a period of grieving. As with the breakdown of many relationships people can struggle with feelings of loneliness or depression.

The presence of these feelings can impact on how well a person will adjust without the perpetrator(s). It may also increase the likelihood that a person will return to the abusive situation.

If you are thinking of returning to a partner or a potentially abusive situation, please talk to a trusted friend or relative first. People often repeatedly leave and then return to an abusive situation. While this is common, it may prevent people from moving on with their lives. Please think carefully before making any decisions. 

Contact details of support services in your area can be found here

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Early Warning Signs

There are usually some important indicators (warning signs) before the onset of abusive behaviour particularly in intimate relationships.

The ability to identify early warning signs can decrease the likelihood of victimization and increase your safety as well as those close to you.

It can be difficult to spot abusive behaviour particularly in the early stages of any intimate relationship. Abuse typically begins with subtle (unnoticeable) behaviours that escalate in frequency and severity overtime.

Below are a few examples of common early warning signs. Many of these warning signs will co-occur

Time spent together.

Spending a lot of time together is quite natural during the early stages of an intimate relationship. However, if your partner is insistent on being with you all of the time this could be an indication of potentially controlling behaviour. Spending less time with friends and family could also result in isolation and the destruction of an important social support network.


Many people mistake jealousy and possessiveness early in the relationship as a sign of love. However, becoming excessively jealous over whom you speak to or spend time with may be an indication of future controlling behaviour.

Extremes of behaviour.

Being very loving and then extremely cold towards you without warning or for no apparent reason may represent a difficulty in coping with or accepting certain situations. Unpredictable behaviour particularly at extreme levels may prove problematic at a later stage especially if your partner has aggressive tendencies. Many abusers have "two faces". These people can be extremely outgoing, pleasant and seemingly supportive to friends, colleagues and members of the public while in private are very abusive.


Many people have quite conservative views on how others should or ought to behave. However, it is important that very strict or ridged "codes of conduct" are not forced onto you. Enforced ideals may result in you altering the way you dress or how you act in certain situations. It may also increase the risk of abusive behaviour if you don't adhere to your partners strict ideals.


If your partner has the tendency to be excessively critical of and aggressive towards others (particularly those close to them or you) this may reflect a common thought pattern. Similar criticisms or the use of violence may be directed at you at a later stage.

Drugs / alcohol or outside stress.

Drugs, alcohol or increased stress are not the causes of abusive or aggressive actions against a partner. Being abusive is a choice. If your partner regularly blames their behaviour on these or other factors they are not taking responsibility for their own actions. Failing to take responsibility or blaming others for their actions may be an indication that abusive behaviours directed at you at a later stage will be denied or the seriousness of the situation minimized.

Controlling and abusive behaviours will increase in severity and frequency overtime. You may be in the relationship for a while, have joint financial responsibilities or children with your partner before realizing that you are in a dangerous and serious situation.

The longer an abusive relationship lasts, the more difficult it is to leave.

Physical violence

Many people miss early warning signs of abuse as physical violence has either never been used or used infrequently.

Unfortunately, abuse is typically thought of as primarily involving physical violence. This is not always the case.

Many people are subjected to repeated emotionally abusive or controlling behaviours particularly during the early stages of a relationship. This may or may not be accompanied by physical assault.

Most people define domestic abuse in terms of injuries sustained and the severity of or regularity with which physical violence is used.

If physical violence is not a factor or has been used a few times during the early stages of the relationship it is likely that people will not recognize the early warning signs of abuse.

How regular physical violence is used can depend on a number of factors.

Important factors include:

  • People consciously or unconsciously change their behaviour in order to avoid future aggression or violence
  • People excuse any signs of aggression or violence
  • People minimize the seriousness of forceful or aggressive behaviour
  • People blame themselves or outside factors for the violent behaviour of others
  • People understate injuries sustained by viewing bruising or small cuts as minor in comparison to stereotypical images of "domestic violence"  
Importantly, most abusive relationships will involve physical assault at some point. If violence has been used during the early stages of a relationship it will be used again as the relationship develops.

If you remain unsure about your safety in an intimate relationship please see the contact details of support services in your area for further information here

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