Warning Signs And Risk Factors For Domestic Violence

Updated January 4, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of power and control exerted by one person against another in a relationship through the use of physical, emotional, sexual, economic, or psychological abuse. Any form of physical or sexual abuse and emotional control or manipulation can be categorized as domestic violence. While some types of domestic violence may occur absent a physical altercation, it is not uncommon that other forms of abuse are coupled with physical violence. 

Those who are experiencing domestic violence often feel there is no way out, while friends and loved ones may feel despair because they don't know what to do to help. Additionally, some abusers may not realize their behavior constitutes domestic violence. Therefore, recognizing warning signs and risk factors for domestic violence can be important for breaking the cycle. 

Healing From Abuse Can Be Painful, But Help Is Available

Warning Signs Of Domestic Violence

Signs that someone is experiencing domestic violence can sometimes be visible, such as a black eye, busted lip, bruises, or broken bones, but there are other indicators that may be less apparent.

Emotional symptoms may initially be less apparent than physical signs of domestic violence, but they may linger long after the physical injury has healed. The responses may be especially heightened in the presence of the abuser. Some examples of emotional responses include:

  • Altered Sleep Patterns. The affected person may experience nightmares or insomnia.

  • Depression. Someone experiencing domestic violence may exhibit a noticeable change in mood as a result of depression. For example, someone who was once very outgoing and enjoyed participating in social events may suddenly become withdrawn. 

  • Sudden, Unexplained Changes In Weight And/or Eating Patterns. Persons experiencing domestic violence may be deprived of food as a form of punishment. Also, they may experience a loss of appetite due to the stress of the situation. Both of these instances can result in weight loss.

In addition to recognizing some of the physical and emotional signs of domestic violence, knowing what behavior constitutes abuse and violence is also important. If your spouse, intimate partner, or parent does any of the following, these could be indications of domestic violence:

  • Threatens to harm you or kill you

  • Deprives you of clothes, food, or medical care

  • Abandons you in a place you are not familiar with

  • Attacks you with weapons

  • Punches, pushes, kicks or bites you, or pulls your hair

  • Forces you to have unwanted sex

  • Restricts your communication with friends or family

  • Completely cuts off your relationships with others.

If you are experiencing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available to help. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or Text "START" to 88788. You can also use the NDVH online chat system. Hotline advocates are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. They provide crisis intervention information, safety planning, and referral services. 

In addition, if you've been affected by domestic violence, there are also other resources available:

  • National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women helps address the needs of people experiencing domestic violence who have been charged with a crime related to the abuse they have experienced. The phone number is 1-800-903-0111 ext. 3.

  • StrongHearts Native Helpline is a culturally appropriate, service dedicated to helping Native American survivors of domestic violence. StrongHearts connects callers at no cost to advocates who provide immediate support to survivors of abuse. StrongHearts Native Helpline's number is 1−844-762-8483. 

Risk Factors For Domestic Violence

While it may not be possible to predict who may become an abuser, there are some risk factors that may be linked to an increased likelihood of domestic violence perpetration. 

Common risk factors related to domestic violence include:

  • Low Self-Esteem: There seems to be a link between low self-esteem and the risk of domestic violence perpetration. Abusers may attempt to deal with their low self-esteem by degrading others. 

  • Desire For Power Or Control: Domestic violence often occurs in relationships where one person has a desire to control another. The abuser may try to control the other person’s social life, travel, and money.

  • Previous History Of Being Abused:  Without intervention, the cycle of abuse can often be difficult to break. Individuals who have experienced physical or emotional abuse in childhood may be more likely to be abusive themselves.

  • Cultural Beliefs Or Traditional Viewpoints Around Gender Norms: In cultures with deep-rooted beliefs around gender inequality (e.g., that men are superior to women), or where aggression is normalized, some may resort to domestic violence to gain control of their spouse or children. That said, anyone of anyone gender and sexual orientation can perpetrate or experience domestic violence.

  • Mental Illness: There may be a link between certain traits of mental illnesses such as borderline personality disorder and abuse. This can be especially true if the individual is not receiving effective treatment.

  • Heavy Substance Use: People who engage in heavy use of drugs or alcohol may be more likely to perpetrate abuse. 

Healing From Abuse Can Be Painful, But Help Is Available

Help Is Available

Often, leaving an abusive relationship can be incredibly difficult. But when you are ready, help is available in many forms. In addition to the vital resources mentioned above such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline, you may also consider adding in other resources to help you on your path to recovery, such as online therapy. 

With online therapy through BetterHelp, you can have a session anywhere you feel safe and comfortable with a safe internet connection. You don’t need to go into an office if you’re worried about being seen there, or if traveling to meet a counselor or therapist in person is difficult.

There is strong research demonstrating the effectiveness of online therapy for a range of concerns, including for survivors of domestic violence. For instance, one such study explored the effectiveness of internet-delivered cognitive-behavioral therapy (ICBT) for survivors of intimate partner violence. It found that the treatment had “large and statistically significant” effects on several measures of PTSD and depression. 

For more information on how online counseling may benefit you or a loved one, see some reviews of BetterHelp counselors below.

Counselor Reviews

"Sharon Valentino has helped me through so much! Since we started working together, just a few months ago, I already feel like I have more power and control over my life. I have let go of some very painful things, I have moved away from abusive relationships and really gaining skills and tools I need to keep myself safe and happy. She has taught me that I have the power to control my thoughts, my anxiety, and most of all my company. I really like how direct she is, it helps me get grounded and connect to myself. I can't wait to see where I am after working with her a year!!!"

"Dr. Thiem is extremely caring and knowledgeable. She has helped me work through my trauma with such patience. Dr. Thiem uses a variety of therapy techniques and is truly supportive. I didn't think that I would ever feel okay again until I started working with her. I'm grateful for her kindness and skill. She's wonderful!"


If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence or you are a survivor of domestic abuse, contact one of the resources listed in this article for support. Help is available, and you can move forward. For additional support in recovery from abuse, you may consider online therapy. Take the first step.

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