Characteristics of the Abuser

By Mable C. Dunbar

There are a number of signs that could indicate an abusive personality. (For clarity, he/him/his is used to indicate an abuser and she/her is used to indicate a victim. But ANYONE can be an abuser or a victim.)

Quick Involvement

An abusive individual sometimes seeks commitment from a partner within a few weeks or days of meeting. He comes on strong and gives the impression that she is the only one who can help him; that he needs her; and that without her he is nothing. Because of her need to be needed and her desire to take care of someone, she finds his overtures appealing and makes the commitment, even against her better judgment and counsel from others. She might have experienced abuse in her past and now feels valued because here is someone who seems to really love her wants her to be with her. His intent is to get her in his grasp before she is able to really get to know him.


As the relationship progresses he takes up much of her time. He tells her that he wants to spend every spare moment with her because he can’t stop thinking about her and misses her. He convinces her that she does not need to be with other people because his love is enough. Slowly her support network diminishes for he is always there, dominating her time, energy, and activities. She is captivated by his lavish gifts and royal attention and begins to feel like a queen. Very soon she loses contact with her relatives and friends and becomes emotionally dependent on him. He tells her that she only needs him in her life and that other people do not understand how much she means to him. She believes him because she needs to for her own feeling of self-worth. She is not allowed to notice or speak to other males. She is eventually not allowed to go out alone or with friends. His intent is to keep others from influencing her from having a relationship with him.

Manipulation and Control

At the beginning of the relationship, the abuser shows some signs of control and possessiveness. Initially this is interpreted by her as his “jealousy” of others because he loves her so much. As the relationship deepens, she tries to make him feel secure by assuring him that he is the only man in her life. He begins to control where she goes, what she does, who she sees, what she wears, her make-up, hair style, friends, etc. He sometimes gets angry if she is late for an appointment with him. He accuses her of flirting, being unfaithful, or having affairs. He begins to make it difficult for her to continue regular activities such as going to school, church, parties, etc. He drops by her job unexpectedly or calls her frequently to make sure that she is where she said she would be. He does not value her point of view. His opinions, attitudes, beliefs and value system must always prevail. His intent is to control and manipulate her thinking, opinions, time and space so that her world view will be the same as his.

Manipulation and Control of Others

He is charming and convinces everyone outside the family that he is a good partner. He appears to be the ideal husband, father, or partner to most people. In many situations, the victim is seen as the problem in the relationship and others sympathize with him because of the “kind of woman” she is. Unsuspecting individuals are fooled by the abuser who manipulates them into believing that he is the one who has been victimized. The question then is if she is that “kind of woman” why does he stay in the relationship? His intent is to convince others that she is crazy so that the focus is on her inadequacies rather than on his abuse.

Unrealistic Expectations

He wants her to take care of all of his needs. He rationalizes that if she truly loves him, she’ll be able to anticipate his needs and fulfill them. She should always be willing to do what is right for him and by him. He makes her feel guilty if his life does not go the way he thinks it should and blames her whenever anything goes wrong. He expects her to sacrifice everything so that his dreams can come true. He establishes rules and regulations, but changes them to suit his fancy and expects her to abide by them at all times. His intent is to demean her and make her feel incompetent and inefficient.


Victims get confused about their abuser’s moodiness. At times he is very loving and compassionate. But at other times he is hateful, revengeful, and critical. Abusers often have wildly fluctuating moods, giving them a Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde personality. Some people may excuse this as mental illness. While it is apparent that the abuser has an emotional problem, he is not mentally ill because he is able to control his environment and others from seeing his abusive nature. Furthermore, the victim is frequently intimidated by her fear that he will fall into a bad mood so she tries to prevent him from feeling irritable. His intent is to keep her close to him by giving her what she most desires, his love and attention when he decides she is worthy of it.

Blaming and Shaming

He blames her and everyone else for his problems, if he admits that he has them. If confronted with this behavior, he gets angry, retaliates and justifies his hurt feelings by lashing out at her and others. If he makes a mistake he says it’s because of her or someone else. He also blames her for his feelings because if she “did it right” or “said it right”, he would not appear to be deficient. He shames her into believing that she is the cause of his mistakes and does not know how to treat a man. His intent is to make her and others responsible for his behavior. Therefore if he is abusive it’s “their fault.”

Sexually Abusive

He will force himself on her and tries to get his sexual needs met at any cost. He shows little or no concern for her satisfaction and might even resort to raping her. He demands sex when she is tired or sick. He encourages her to watch questionable movies against her will to “get her in the mood”. He even forces her to engage in sexual activities that she finds uncomfortable or disgusting. His intent is to make her fearful and to let her know that she is his property.

Rigid Role Expectations

He often has negative feelings towards women in general. He talks harshly about them and degrades them. Women fit into one role: dependent, submissive, compliant, while men fit into another: boss, decision-maker, dominant, and tough. Women should be the homemakers, while men should be the bread-winners. His intent is to keep her stuck into one mold.

Low Self-Esteem

He has a poor self- image and feels intimidated if his partner is more competent or better qualified than him at anything. He resorts to put downs, name calling, and other forms of abuse directed at her. He feels that he is not good enough therefore if he is able to place himself above others, this will give him more self-worth and feelings of value. His intent is to put others down so that he’ll feel better about himself.

Home Life/History of Abuse

He has experienced violence or witnessed abusive situations as a child. He learned that he can get what he wants if he uses control tactics or violence. He may have witnessed his father abusing his mother, or he was abused by parents or siblings, relatives, etc . If he abused someone in the past and was not held accountable, it is likely that he’ll do it again. Because his behavior is not challenged, he believes that it is normal. His intent is to continue a way of life that appears normal and gives him his desired results because he is fearful that if he changes he’ll lose power and control.

Cruelty and Destruction of Property

He tends to be very cruel to animals and punishes them brutally or is insensitive to their pain and suffering. This cruelty can also be demonstrated when he expects others to be capable of doing things beyond their ability. For example, he might whip a one year old child for wetting his diaper. He will destroy property belonging to the victim and gets irritated with her sentimentalism. His intent is to get rid of anything that will take away attention from his authority.


He gets easily insulted and thinks that everyone is “out to get him.” The slightest setback is seen as a personal attack. He rants and raves about the injustice of things that have happened to him, things that are really just a part of living, such as having to work over time, getting a traffic ticket, having to repeat a task, etc. His intent is to be seen as perfect, or having it all together in order to hide the lack of control he has over his own life and emotions.


He exhibits gestures that can lead to physical violence such as hitting walls, throwing objects, name calling. A victim tells the story of how her abuser intimidated her and their children so that they would obey him. She reports that he never hit her, but found out that she was planning on leaving him. So one day, he called her and their three children and asked them to stand in front of him. Then he took her pet dog, broke its neck and told her that if she ever left him that’s what he would do to her and the children. She was so intimidated by his behavior that it took her years to get out of the relationship. His intent is to never lose.

Displaced Aggression

Consciously or unconsciously he finds fault with something that is not related to his present problems. Rather than look at his own needs and issues, he focuses on other things such as something that happened at work. He begins to rationalize that it was not right what his boss said about him. He begins to build resentment and rather than confront his boss, he abuses his partner. His intent is to take out his anger on those in his control, rather than risk getting punished from those he believes has control over him.

It is important to note once again that women are also abusive in about a quarter of reported cases to law enforcement. Women who abuse often manifest the same behaviors as a male abusers, while male victims may exhibit the characteristics of a female victim. Remember anyone can be an abuser or a victim.