The question of why a person exhibits abusive behaviour has been a topic of great research for a long time. And it’s an important one as it can help authorities as well as potential victims identify the behavioural traits of an aggressor and take measures to protect themselves as early as possible.

According to a vast number of studies a common thread of psychological traits and behaviours have been identified. Ultimately, domestic abuse can affect anyone, is centred around power and control and can include male and female abusers.

First, let’s have a look at some of the personality traits commonly exhibited and then dive a little deeper into what’s behind it. Abuse can take on many different shapes and forms – from physical and sexual abuse through to more subtle forms of emotional bullying or financial control, which can nonetheless be just as damaging to one’s sense of self-worth and greatly impact the victim’s wellbeing. According to the – an online platform aimed at supporting freedom from violence, there are 17 main behaviours an abuser can use. If a person exhibits at least three of these, there’s a significant chance of violence in the future:

  1. Jealousy (an abuser often hides their need for controlling the other person by rationalizing their jealousy as a sign of love)
  2. Controlling behaviour (it often hides behind the pretence of an aggressor being caring and ensuring the victim’s safety – be cautious, this has nothing to do with love or caring behaviour, instead – it’s a sign of possessiveness)
  3. Quick involvement (quick to jump into a relationship)
  4. Unrealistic expectations (an abuser usually expects the victim to meet all of their needs)
  5. Isolation (the aggressor often tries to cut the victim off from all their connections)
  6. Blames others for their problems
  7. Blames others for their feelings
  8. Hypersensitivity (an abusive person is easily insulted by average day to day occurrences such as being asked to help with a task or getting a speeding ticket)
  9. Cruelty to animals and/or children
  10. Use of force in sex
  11. Verbal abuse
  12. Rigid sex roles
  13. Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (complete switch in the person’s behaviour – from being nice one minute to being nasty the next)
  14. History of past abuse (the aggressor may admit to have abused a person in the past but they say the victim made them do it)
  15. Threats of violence
  16. Breaking or striking objects
  17. Using any force during an argument

So why does an abuser become an abuser?

It is estimated that a large number of people exhibiting abusive behaviour have a personality disorder – a type of mental illness where an individual differs significantly from an average person, in terms of how they think, perceive, feel or relate to others. Three personality disorders most commonly linked to abusive behaviour are – narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder. People who become abusers may have been abused themselves as children or may have seen their parents being abused. When these people grow up they simply shift the dynamic around and begin exhibiting controlling behaviours themselves.

The abuser believes that their feelings come as a priority and they use possessive behaviour to dismantle equality within the relationship. It’s important to remember that the behaviour of an aggressor has nothing to do with the victim and everything to do with maladaptive coping mechanisms developed by an abuser. No one ever deserves to be abused and it is never the victim’s fault.

 What can you do to help yourself if you suspect you’re being abused:

  • Tell friends you trust
  • Make safety arrangements
  • Telephone the National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 2000 247
  • Contact The Sharan Project 08445043231
  • If in immediate danger, call the Police 999 or ask to speak with the community safety unit on 101
  • Take notes detailing dates and times of all the abusive occurrences

And remember, if you feel the slightest inclination that you’re being abused, do not suffer in silence.

Guest blogger: Dasha Lukiniha, Phycology guest writer,