Warning Signs And Potential Causes Of Domestic Violence

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 3, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of power and control exerted by one person against another in a relationship using 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 without a physical altercation, it is not uncommon for other forms of abuse to occur with physical violence. 

Those experiencing domestic violence often feel there is no way out, while friends and loved ones may feel despair because they don't know how to help. Additionally, some people acting abusively may not realize their behavior constitutes domestic violence. Recognizing warning signs and risk factors for domestic violence can help all people involved potentially break the cycle and move forward.

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. However, other indicators may be less apparent.

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

  • Altered Sleep Patterns: The affected person may experience nightmares or insomnia.
  • Depression: Someone experiencing domestic violence may notice a noticeable mood change due to depression. For example, someone who was once outgoing and enjoyed participating in social events may suddenly become withdrawn. 
  • Changes In Appetite: Individuals experiencing domestic violence may be deprived of food as a form of punishment. They might also experience a loss of appetite due to stress or binge eating as a coping mechanism. 

In addition to recognizing the physical and emotional signs of domestic violence, knowing what behavior constitutes abuse and violence can also be beneficial. If your spouse, intimate partner, or parent does any of the following, you might be experiencing 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 or coerces you to have unwanted sex
  • Restricts your communication with friends or family
  • Completely cuts off your relationships with others
  • Tells you your experiences of abuse are false
  • "Love bombs" you after acting abusive or when you try to leave 

Domestic violence and abuse resources 

If you've been affected by domestic violence, consider reaching out to the following resources:

  • 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 abuse survivors. StrongHearts Native Helpline's number is 1−844-762-8483. 
  • If you are experiencing sexual abuse or have experienced assault, note that the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) has a hotline dedicated to supporting individuals experiencing sexual assault, harassment, or intimate partner violence. You can contact them anytime by calling 800-656-HOPE (4673) or using the online chat.
  • If you're a teen or child experiencing or witnessing abuse of any kind from a family or caregiver, reach out to the Child Help Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 or use the online chat feature.

Risk factors for domestic violence

While it may not be possible to predict who will act abusively, 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 may be a link between low self-esteem and the risk of domestic violence perpetration. People acting abusively 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 wants 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 challenging to break. Individuals who have experienced physical or emotional abuse in childhood may be more likely to act abusively. 

Cultural beliefs or traditional viewpoints around gender norms

In cultures with deep-rooted beliefs around gender inequality or where aggression is normalized, some may resort to domestic violence to gain control of their spouse or children. Anyone of any gender and sexual orientation can perpetrate or experience domestic violence.

Mental illness

There may be a link between certain traits of mental illnesses and abusive behaviors if someone is not receiving treatment. However, stigmas against specific mental illnesses can be harmful. 

Heavy substance use

People who engage in heavy substance use may be more likely to perpetrate abuse. 

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.

Healing from abuse can be painful, but help is available

Counseling options 

Often, leaving an abusive relationship can be challenging and may take a few attempts. However, a therapist may be a beneficial resource if you're ready to leave or looking for support. In addition to the vital resources mentioned above, you may consider a discreet care option, such as online therapy. Online counseling is available from any smart device with an internet connection in any location, allowing you control over where you receive support. You can also partake in chat sessions if you cannot speak aloud during therapy. 

With online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp, you can match with one of over 30,000 licensed professionals. If traveling to an appointment is difficult, online platforms can offer worksheets, therapy sessions, and messaging within one app or website. 

Research also demonstrates the effectiveness of online therapy for a range of concerns, including domestic violence. One such study explored the effectiveness of internet-delivered cognitive-behavioral therapy (I-CBT) for survivors of intimate partner violence. It found that the treatment had "large and statistically significant" effects on several measures of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. 


If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence or you are a survivor of domestic abuse, contact a helpline. If you're looking for long-term support for abuse or domestic violence, you might also consider contacting a therapist for further guidance.
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