Warning Signs you’re in an Abusive Relationship


Warning Signs

Domestic Violence is a pattern of abuse that a partner uses to establish power and control over another. Not all abusive relationships involve physical violence, however emotional abuse almost always precedes physical violence in a relationship. Emotional abuse has long-term psychological effects and can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and PTSD. Take your time dating a new partner and maintain healthy boundaries. Try to spot these signs early on.

Does your partner

Love bomb’ you and rush your relationship. Did they shower you in romance or pressure you to move in together quickly? Obviously romance is not a sign of abuse on its own, however an abusive partner needs you to trust and love them because then its much easier to control you.

Use religious or spiritual beliefs to pressure you into a relationship fast. Do they use terms such as “twin flame” or “it’s part of God’s plan” to rush through the dating phase straight into the committed phase? These terms can make you feel obliged and guilty to your abuser. Do they tell you they’ve been in love with you for years or months before you started dating? A healthy relationship takes time to build and these sentiments can be used to keep you feeling sorry for them and not leaving the relationship when you first start spotting early red flags.

  Make decisions for you without consulting you? This is a sign of things to come.

Uphold sexist ideas.They may have a very traditional and conservative view of gender or sometimes joke about you their being property. Notice how they talk about women in their life. Do they speak about their ex-girlfriends, mother or other women in their life with disdain and barely disguised venom?  (Note- I’ve written this section as if the abuser is male but abuse happens to same sex couples and to men as well.)


Tell you what to wear and what to do? Or do they constantly check up on you and your whereabouts? Exhibit possessiveness and jealousy but masquerade these as love?

Make fun of you, put down your accomplishments, tease you in a belittling way? They may insult you publicly in front of others with the effect of you becoming a shadow of your former vivacious self. Have they made nasty remarks about your body? By reducing your self esteem they will have more control over you.


Overreact or make a huge deal out of very small things? As the relationship progresses youll feel reduced and diminished for every tiny mistake and youll start feeling like you cant ever do anything right.

Gaslight you to erode faith in your own memory and sanity? You feel confused and off balance and later helpless


Isolate you? Maybe they try to stop you seeing your friends or family or stop them coming to visit. They could also prevent you going to work or school or doing other activities. 


Use finances to control you? They keep you in the dark about finances or wont pay their share.


Use intimidation and anger to make you comply with their wishes? Hits walls, slams fists on objects, shoves you, grabs, stands over you, destroys your possessions, drive dangerously or do other things to scare you. This will inevitably escalate and should be taken very seriously.


Ignore you by cutting you off, refusing to communicate or using silent treatment? These are passive techniques to establish rules about when and what can be contested. This could include withholding sex as punishment.


Pressure you sexually before youre ready to engage in unsafe or unwanted sexual behavior? Do they refuse to wear a condom? Dictate what birth control methods you use? Pressure you to get pregnant before youre ready? Do you only have sex when they want to never when you want to?


Threaten to commit suicide if you want to leave the relationship. Or minimize their abuse; It wasnt that bad. Its not like I beat you up.


If you have recognized even one or two of these warning signs then I urge you to leave your relationship or prepare a getting-out-safely plan. Its not your fault if your partner abuses you. Your partner chooses to abuse. Abusers rarely change. Control  and isolation is not love. You may need help through counseling to build up your self-esteem before you have enough strength to leave.

Book a session with me if you’re worried you’re in an unhealthy relationship.


Cat O Dowd

Shame game

Here’s my column for Ciao Magazine from October 2015..


Miranda Devine shamed and stigmatised female survivors of domestic violence in her last article titled ‘Demonising men won’t stop domestic violence’. There’s already enough blame heaped on victims by our society and by the perpetrators themselves. The main feeling that victims of DV describe is shame.

Shame damages self esteem, creates hurdles to seeking help and keeps women suffering in silence – overwhelmed by powerlessness. Shame can be a symptom of post-traumatic stress and victims can feel embarrassed. Perpetrators can use shame to disempower and keep control over their victims.


If your culture places great emphasis on finding a companion and starting a family then the shame of enduring intimate partner violence is heightened. Victims can see themselves as failures in not upholding the thing that they strive for: the family unit.

When counselling clients that have survived domestic violence I am mindful of the effects of shame. We need to understand victims of domestic violence not shame them.


We need to understand that victims can feel trapped and isolated in their own home. Often they can’t leave because of economic reasons, possible homelessness, cuts to women’s shelters, protecting their children or the fear of reprisal.

Miranda shows staggering ignorance towards the complexities of leaving a DV relationship. It isn’t simple. A third of women will continue to experience violence even once they have ended the relationship.

Leaving can be the most dangerous time for a woman. It can be the time when a woman is most often killed.

DV affects all economic levels, incomes, race and employment statuses. Miranda said that domestic violence was a crime of poverty and quoted the lower rates of reported domestic violence in more affluent areas of Sydney compared to remote communities. Yes there are higher reported rates of DV in remote communities than in metropolitan areas of all classes, however it’s intentionally misleading not to explain the complexities of under-reporting domestic violence.



We know DV does occurs more frequently than reported than in the affluent suburbs of Sydney and across all our cities.

Research shows that middle class victims are less likely to seek refuges or report violence. Some can afford to leave without contacting the authorities for help because they have greater economic means. The prospect of losing everything and having one’s high status torn down keeps some victims suffering in silence.

Less than half of all victims of domestic violence actually report it to the police.

Married victims, older victims and those with less serious injuries are less likely to report incidences. Others possibly grew up in a home witnessing domestic violence and are repeating unconscious generational patterns. We will never know the actual stats of how many women are DV victims because of the culture of blame, shame and secrecy that obscures this horrific crime.



For violence against women to end and for the under reporting to stop, society has to completely renounce it. Victims, perpetrators, workers in the police and legal system need to hear loud and clear that violence against women is a crime and it won’t be tolerated.

If you have experienced domestic violence and would like to seek help you can contact me here for confidential counselling.