What is abuse?

When things get ugly, it’s called “abuse” – when someone does things to control, bully, or hurt someone else. It’s not just physical violence – in fact, it might not be physical at all.

Abuse can be emotional, like hurting you emotionally, putting you down, or manipulating or blackmailing you.

What is abuse? image from The Red Flag campaign

It can also be ‘social’ – when someone tries to control your social life and tells you who you can or can’t see, or follows you around and checks up on you.

It can be sexual, such as demanding or forcing you to do sexual things.

All forms of abuse hurt. Some of them like physical violence, sexual assault, or stalking can be criminal offences.

Abuse is when someone…

Uses jealousy and possessiveness as an excuse to make unreasonable demands

I was never allowed to have male friends because he constantly accused me of cheating.

See Amy’s story

He got mad if I’d talk to my friends or … to any guys.

See Krissy’s story

Uses guilt-trips to manipulate you

When I tried to leave him, he told me that he had a gun and was going to commit suicide.

See Ann’s story

Tries to control you by telling you what to do or who you can talk to

He used to say things about my parents, he’d put them down…And he didn’t like me going out with friends. He’d crack it with me and get in a fight for no reason.

See Poppy’s story

I was told by him how to wear my hair and clothes, who I could and couldn’t be friends with and what I could and couldn’t say.

See Irene’s story

Hurts your feelings on purpose and makes you feel bad about yourself

He called me fat…and said I was stupid and would constantly build himself up by putting me down.

See Amy’s story
Red Flag 2: We broke up six months ago. Why can he leave me alone?

Keeps tabs on you and checks up on you

He would want to see any communications I had [with friends]…he even read my email.

See Fiona’s story

Hurts you or scares you with violence or threats

He shoved me against the car screaming, and his exact words were ‘LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO.’

See Tainted’s story

It also includes hurting pets or your children or other people.

Controls your money

He checks the supermarket receipts to make sure I have only bought things that he approves of.

Pressures, tricks or forces you into sex

He would always talk me into having sex with him and said that was the only way to show him that I loved him.

See Katie’s story
It also includes encouraging you to drink a lot and then having sex or being sexual with you, when you’re not able to say yes to it. This is a crime.
Red flag: he said if I really loved him, I'd have sex with him.

Tries to cut you off from your friends or family

He would flip whenever I chose to spend time with my best friend or my family instead of him.

See Rose’s story

If you have kids, it can include making your kids think badly about you, like telling them you are a ‘bad mother’ or undermining your authority as a parent.

Controls your body or decisions about pregnancy

This includes being manipulating or pressuring you about decisions regarding pregnancy, like saying, “if you loved me you’d have my baby’, or pressuring you to have a child together because they want to trap you in the relationship.

After just a few weeks I accidentally fell pregnant to him. I was not ready for this but he talked me round with logic and charm.

See Fiona’s story

Refusing to use condoms or messing around with other forms of birth control, for example, hiding your contraceptive pills.

What an abusive relationship feels like

  • You feel confused about whether it’s really abuse because sometimes the other person is nice and fun to be with, or because the abuse isn’t always obvious.
  • You find yourself ‘walking on eggshells’, being careful that you don’t upset them.
  • The abusive person’s needs and opinions dominate, and you feel controlled by them.
  • See How do I feel?

Related links

Images from Red Flag Campaign posters.

We like sharing! This text is copyrighted under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, unless stated otherwise.

We'd love to hear how you use it - please tell us.


17 Responses to “What is abuse?”

  1. I had a boyfriend of 3 years he was sweet and charming at first and everything was perfect but then he completely changed in just a couple of months. He became obssesed with he and was over my house everyday and didn’t like me hanging out with my guy friends and he thought I had feelings for them ..which of course I didn’t …I was 16 and a virgin and he always talked about sex to me ..I told him I wasn’t ready but he kept talking about it anyways ..and he even told me about all his sexual details with all the girls he had with that made me feel sick and I didn’t want to hear it but he said I had to cause I’m his girlfriend and that he loved me ..one time he bought condoms and I told him I wasn’t ready but he kept insisting so I said yes so that he would stop bothering me about sexual stuff but I didn’t know that once I did that things would get much worse …he made me do crazy things that I didn’t want to do but he threatened to leave me if I didn’t and that if he left me I would be all alone cause nobody else would want me …and after 3 years of torture and being miserable and crying all the time I finally had the courage to break up with him and now I have a new boyfriend that respects me and treats me right

  2. I have a boyfriend, and he’s always telling me what to do, he never lets go out with my friends or even go outside, but he does all those things. i don’t know what to do anymore he’s always telling me what to wear and not wear, what to do with my hair and what not to do with my hair. what should i do.? i am 15 years old and he its me.

  3. To Lisa-
    My dear, you deserve better. You know what he does is not right, which is why you sought help from others on this forum. I understand how you feel, I am in a similar situation. It’s very hard and it hurts, but you have to fight for yourself, or eventually you will lose yourself. I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but there’s strength in knowing that others care and that you are not alone. Make the right choice and break free from him. Please take care of yourself, you’re worth it.

  4. To Lisa ,
    i Agree 100% with Laura , NO WOMAN or GiRL , should face beeing abused , mentally or physicaly , just because girls are weaker than guys doesnt mean girls cant fight back . i’ve dealt with abusive relatuionships . im 14 . i get the whole i love you thing but abusing isnt love .

  5. im going to sound dumb… because i already know im not being treated right. ive been with him for almost 2 years.. and as always, he was the kind of guy evry girlwanted.. and whn he chose me i felt like i was so amazing. he still finds ways to makeme feel wonderful. but, he has shoved me, and smacked my hands, hes thrown things and ran away from me.. hes cheated “online” and we went on a break for 2 weeks.. he made me keep snding goodmornings and call him my baby. this isnt the wrst.. ive tod him several times i wnt tostop hving sex. but whn we snuggle he shoves my head dwn an guilts me into oral sex. i do wtch thngs isay or do,for arguements sake. hisparnts tret him wrng an hesay im theonly one he has… tht is honstly th only reason i cnt leave him.

  6. I have been married for 10 years I always thought I couldnt have met such a loving person like my husband he is 10 years older than me but that has never been a problem with us. I had been married before for 12 yrs of which I had 3 children whom unfortunately my ex husband got custody of after he found out I was dating my husband anyways my children are older now my son is 20 my daughter is 22 and my other son is 14 they are all from my first marriage and I had 2 children with him, he is a wonderful dad but lately he has been really mean with my 22 yr old daughter ever since I left her babysitting her 2 younger siblings because we left out of town well he found out that she brought over her boyfriend and that he spend the night and slept in our bed he got so furious when he found out and called her up telling her that she had no respect towards us and asked her to come pickup my grandson and told her he didnt want to see her at my house anymore that if I wanted to see her for me to go to her apartment I feel that he really over did it well she still came over when he wasnt here and we have seen her so I thought he had gotten over it so yesterday she stayed alittle later and when he got home from work he immediately showed that he was mad my daughter had gone out to the store when he got here but my 2 grandkids were here anyways he went in the room and slammed the door so I asked “why are you mad” I kinda had a feeling he thought I was babysittin so I told him she had just left but that wasnt it he just didnt want her here we are in the process of buying a house and he said to forget about it he told me to put my conditions because he was tired that I wouldnt respect his desisions. To top it off got even more mad when he found out I had reported one of our credit cards lost since that was the 2nd card that I had lost .this mornin he woke up late for work the alarm didnt sound cause I turned off the volume so he was really furious I stil got up to make him his coffe and make his lunch of which he didnt take as he walked out the door he told me “decide if you are going to live with your daughter or if Im going to have to look for a place to stay”I just cant believe he is taking it so serious Ive told him several times not to make me choose because He puts me in a bind I accept my daughter Has done several bad things she is married and her husband got deported to mexico 3 yrs ago she used to come and go but lately she has said she is going to leave him she has been going out with other guys and to clubs ever since he was sent to mexico and now she is pregnant again from another guy, she got caught steeling and was put in jail, she had me babysittin for 3 months makin me think she was goin to work and she had already quit workin so yes I accept she has done bad things but I dont think that he has any right for him not to want her to come over I dont know Im feeling so down right now I dont want to tell my daughter not to come anymore please give me your opinion about this matter

  7. I think what you’ve done here is illustrate really well how complex and confusing abusive relationships can be. Relationship violence is about power and control, and from what you said, it is clear that this is what you’re experiencing. It also sounds like you have a good grasp on what’s ok and what’s not. Forcing you to perform sex acts is sexual assault, and not only is that not ok, it’s a criminal offence. I’d encourage you to watch out for excuses that allow him to absolve himself of responsibility for his abuse, for example ‘he had a rough upbringing’ or ‘it’s all your fault’. Look out for tactics of manipulation like ‘you’re the only one there for me’ or ‘I don’t have any other support’. Trust your instincts. Get support if you need it. Stay strong.

  8. I’ve been in a relationship for more than 15 years, we have 2 boys, about 6 years ago he started non stop complaining he tells my boys that I don’t love them and I’m only using them for a free ride in life, he never buys food or house hold items says he pays the bills, I was a stay at home mom for 14 years now, a few months ago he told me to get a job, so I did get a job and I really liked it, this past sat. he told me I couldn’t use any of his cars any more, I had to quit my new job to far to walk and no bus, he yells and screams at me and my boys every day, the next he is singing, I am so hurt I let him treat me like dirt for years so my boys could have their dad.

  9. you girls are all strong. No MAN would hurt you they say its love but whatever love IS NOT abuse i dont care what they say. I know its hard to just walk away from the relaionship but sometimes its for the best!….get treated with respect not like your worthless——>besides if they really loved you, they wouldnt even put that thought in their heads!—->wish you the best -Nika!

  10. girls the only thing left to do after the relationship is put it behind you. some guys are just abusive others arent. be strong. akin

  11. You girls are way too young to be going through this. I really wish I could help you girls…

  12. I was in an abusive relationship before. I was the first time it ever happened to me. I didn’t know what to do or who to tell. He used all kinds of excuses such as I’m all he’s got and his family treats him wrong and dosen’t care about him, and he’s never had anyone to care about him the way I did. Once my family found out, they tried to do everything they could to get me away from him. Yes, he begged, he pleaded, and threaten to kill hisself if I left him. Yes, I blamed myself and thought it was my fault, which is why I stayed with him. Until I realized myself that he was not the type of person to have in my life. I finally got up the courage to leave him and I haven’t looked back since. I would just like to say that there is help, even if you think you don’t want it, there is a way, even when you think there isn’t, you yourself can get out of the situation if you feel or are being abused and neglected. All of you are in my prayers.

  13. Thank you all. I’m working up the courage to leave someone who has been blaming me for the verbal abuse he puts me through… very often it works. This is just the kind of reassurance I needed – this site as well as the suppotive commenters here. I’m not sure if I’m ready quite yet, but now I don’t feel nearly as alone as I did before. So again, thank you – even if you’re just reading this and wishing me luck or having me in your thoughts, it all means something.

  14. I dated my boyfriend for around a year and a half and every time he saw me he insisted we had sex. I, of course gave in because I was in love with him and thought it was just to get closer. So, one night we went to the fair and I have major anxiety and motion sickness so I don’t really ride any of the scary, high rides. He wanted to go on some ride called ‘Speed’ and I was like okay, go ahead. So we started to walk towards the ride, but instead he got almost basically angry and pretended he was sick so we could leave. I was confused cause he was just okay a minute ago, but I went with it and he took me home. As I was kissing him goodbye he suddenly felt ‘better’ and wanted to have sex. I gave in, and he dropped me off and left. The next day he dumped me. We were apart for a month and he came back to me. I knew he would, he was all loving and stuff and I bought it. He wanted to have sex every time he saw me and didn’t text or talk to me basically at all. He would treat me like crap when we weren’t together. I was fed up with all of it but he was going into basic training so I thought he would get better. The day before he went into basic training he told me ‘I can write ANY girl I want and if you’re gonna be with me. DEAL WITH IT.’ (He was wanting to write this girl that he had some type of connection with) I was just like, whatever. I’ll deal with it. So, he went into basic training and was writing me. He never called. He NEVER said ‘ I love you or I miss you’ in any of his letters. He didn’t want me to send pictures or go to his basic graduation like we planned. I was crushed, this guy was breaking my heart from miles away. He was only keeping me probably to have sex when he got back. So I dumped him, and I think I’m doing alright.

  15. Im in a really bad relatinship now and he does the samethings to me he hurts my feelings and control’s my money and hits on me and it hurts I tryed to help hem and I even thought it was my fult but now am getting better and I have people supporting me now and it feels great to have my life back.Good luck girls

  16. Im 17 i have been with my boyfriend for a year, i live with him and his family. I love him so much i want us to work out But i dont like the way he treats me sometimes he takes his anger out on me. He has hit me punched me pinches me smacks me in the back over and over. Kicks me pushes me. I dont feel welcome here and i just dont know what to do. He wag amazing in the beginning and i just want that back :( i dont deserve to be treated like this but im not strong enough to just leave i dont want to have to pack all my stuff move out with a family member un pack im so stressed and i feel like im nothing. I do so much for him clean cook, try to make him happy all the time. He is very verbablly abusive aswell. I feel so alone:( and i dont want to tell anyone close to me about this. I feel so stuck.


  1. Checking up? Constant calls or texts | Love: the good, the bad and the ugly - November 23, 2011

    [...] you should listen and back off. But if they don’t listen and keep hassling you, it could be a sign of abuse. 1 in 4 young people in a relationship say they have been called names, harassed or put down by [...]