The Signs of Controlling Behaviour – Red Flags and How to Spot Them, by @JumpMag

Cross-posted from: Salt & Caramel

If we were able to teach young people to recognise the signs of controlling behaviour, the ‘red flags’, would we be able to protect them from abusive relationships?

If we were to teach children in schools how to spot a controlling person, would be help save them from misery and self-doubt?

If we talk openly with friends about the ‘red flags’ would they recognise their own relationships and find the strength to walk away?

I hope so.

For this reason, I am writing two blog posts today. One for adults, here on this blog, and one for pre-teens on Jump! Mag for Girls. When writing for pre-teens, I am very concious of the fact that not all parents will have had The Talk with their young girls, and some of our readers are just seven or eight years old. For this reason, sex is a taboo topic on Jump! Mag, but I believe that the foundation for healthy relationship building is laid before children hit puberty.

Young girls are very susceptible to controlling behaviour – when pre-teens and young teens, more likely from other girls but as time passes also from boys. And sadly from ‘men’ – I hardly like to call them men.

It is important that young people are taught how to recognise a controlling person – whether it is a peer, and adult or a family member.


This blog post is written from the perspective of a woman, and advises how to recognise a controlling man. This doesn’t mean that I don’t accept that men are abused too, or that women cannot be controlling or manipulative. In the majority of abusive relationships, the man is the aggressor. For this reason, and because it reads easier than using he/she, I have used the pronoun ‘he’.

The Red Flags 

We talk about the ‘Red Flags’ of controlling and abusive behaviour. I interviewed several women, and hosted guest blog posts, for the Mumsnet We Believe You Campaign. Women who were raped, women who had been abused, many of them over a long period of time. Often these women are asked, ‘Why did you not leave?’ and they find it difficult to explain even to themselves.

The answer is that their self-esteem had been slowly but methodically eroded until they were no longer able to make a rational decision. Women who had been strong, independent and happy became timid and fearful. They tiptoed around the house and the moods of their partner. They sought to do everything right, and blamed themselves when they did something ‘wrong’.

What happened between the time that they met their partner and the moment when they realised it was time to get out? And why did they not notice that their partner was abusive?

The gradual escalation of abuse is often very difficult to spot, if you are living in the middle of if. Here are the signs to look out for. If you are seeing a man, and you recognise these signs, take a step back and assess the situation.

Initial Infatuation Period

He is extremely attentive, phones, emails or texts constantly

He gets serious fast. Talks about the love of his life, or moving in together.

He is jealous – which might flatter you at first. ‘It is only because I love you so much’

In this period, he will bring flowers and gifts, treat you like a ‘princess’, be loving and caring. You might feel uneasy about the speed of the relationship but  don’t want to rock the boat because he is so different from the guys who want to play the field.

First Doubts

He blames others eg for his failed marriage or relationship. ‘My ex is a real bitch, I am so glad that I have found you’.

He tries to change you. Your hair, make up, clothes. In a subtle way,  eg. by bringing you presents very different to the clothes you would normally wear.

He tries to stop you seeing your friends. ‘I just want to be with you, I want to spend time with you’.

He doesn’t take notice of your feelings, ‘Don’t be silly…’

In this period, you might have moments of misgiving, but then he backs off and is the loving attentive man you first fell for.

Sowing The Seeds of Self-Doubt

He puts you down, at first when you are alone but later in front of others, often disguised as a joke.

He makes comments about your appearance, making you feel less attractive.

His digs are subtle, and when you call him on them, he is offended and upset that you ‘didn’t get his joke’.

He insults your friends, and tries to stop you seeing them.

He is moody and unpredictable, but blames his bad moods on you so you start adapting your behaviour to keep him happy.

He accuses you of being unfaithful, or of flirting with other men.

He ignores you, if you do something that displeases him, and ‘rewards’ you with his attention and affection when he is pleased with you.

By now, you are already doubting yourself, and beginning to refer to him for minor and major decision making.

Escalation of Abuse

He stops you doing what you want, or seeing who you want.

He isolates you financially, making you dependent on him.

He blames you for anything that goes wrong.

He becomes more abusive, both verbally and physically

He becomes upset if you talk of leaving him, and threatens to do himself harm

By this point, you are cowed. You are frightened and isolated. You barely say anything, for fear of saying the wrong thing.

One woman I interviewed for the Mumsnet We Believe You Campaign talked of the red flags, and how she could see in retrospect many of the signs of abusive behaviour. She was one of the lucky ones.

“I always remember the boiling frog anecdote. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. That describes a woman in an abusive relationship perfectly”.

Two women a week die at the hands of their partner. MP Stella Creasy is supporting the One Billion Women Rising UK campaign, to end violence against women and girls.

The campaign culminates on 14th February 2013 when around the globe women will rise, and dance.


See also the Guest Blog of Amber Rudd Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye on Mumsnet

Great blog post from Eliza Do Lots here is getting lots of attention  and deserves a read. 


If you recognise your partner or your situation in the above description, you can find advice on how to get help from Women’s Aid or Refuge.

Talk to a trusted friend or relative. They may already be worried about you or have felt unable to speak to you about your partner.

These websites all have information on escaping from Domestic Violence – if you share a computer with your partner, have a look at this section on covering your tracks online first.

Women’s Aid – national support network for domestic violence services

Women’s Aid (Ireland) – Republic of Ireland’s domestic abuse support network

Women’s Aid (Scotland) – support for people suffering domestic violence in Scotland

Rape Crisis – specialist rape support services in England and Wales

Refuge – national support for women and children experiencing domestic violence

Broken Rainbow – support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people experiencing domestic violence across the UK

Directgov – government information for victims of domestic violence

The Hideout – information for young people and children about domestic violence

Men’s Advice Line – advice for men in abusive relationships

National Domestic Violence Helpline – national helpline for those affected by domestic violence

NHS: Live Well – basic advice on support options for victims of domestic abuse

Respect – runs a phoneline for people experiencing domestic abuse across the UK

Rights of Women – legal information for women experiencing domestic violence

Lynn Schreiber can also be found on twitter: @LynnCSchreiber Lynn is also the editor and founder of Jump!Mag 

More articles on Mumsnet:

“It’s only 9 months to save a life” by @Herbeatitude 

Feminism and Motherhood: On Choice, Criticism and Self-Confidence by @LynnCSchreiber

Right, Listen up everybody by @TheSamDavis

“Deeply Romantic”: Hemingway, Domestic Violence and Romance by @LeStewpot

The Signs of Controlling Behaviour: Red Flags and How to Spot them by @LynnCSchreiber

How Mumsnet put some fire in my belly and why I hope my boys embrace feminism by @mummytolittlee

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