Grooming & Abuse: 6 Dangerous Signs to Be Aware of

By Georgia


Last Updated: August 13, 2021

It's hard to talk about abuse. It's traumatic, enraging, confusing, and can mean emotional issues for an entire lifetime. But what makes abuse so sneaky is that many times, people don't know when they're being abused; and likewise some people don't know when they're being abusive.

Physical abuse can be more clear, as it often leaves outward evidence of wrongdoing. But emotional, spiritual, and other kinds of abuse don't show as easily on the outside. Those who are more finely tuned to abusive treatment may recognize it far before others - but everyone needs to know the ins and outs of abusive behavior.

Let's look at the different types of abuse

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is any kind of mistreatment that involves violating someone's body, personal space, freedom of movement, or in some cases threats to do so.

Signs of physical abuse includes:

  • battery (Punching, slapping, biting, choking)
  • kidnapping
  • imprisonment (Trapping you, or preventing you from leaving) 
  • restraint (Preventing you from reaching out for help, or from taking prescribed medication)
  • physical blocking
  • physical intimidation
  • poisoning
  • neglect 

Sexual Abuse 

The American Psychological Association defines sexual abuse as unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent.

Signs of sexual abuse includes: 

  • sexual touching or sexual activity without consent
  • continued sexual contact after being asked to stop
  • forcefully making someone commit unsafe or humiliating sexual acts

Psychological/Emotional/Verbal Abuse

Psychological, emotional and verbal abuse is any kind of mistreatment that has a mental or emotional basis.

Psychological abuse involves the regular and deliberate use of a range of words and non-physical actions used with the purpose to manipulate, hurt, weaken or frighten a person mentally and emotionally; and/or distort, confuse or influence a person’s thoughts and actions within their everyday lives, changing their sense of self and harming their wellbeing -

Signs of psychological, emotional and verbal abuse include:

  • aggression without physical contact or threats
  • controlling behavior
  • manipulation
  • coercion
  • gaslighting
  • lies and omissions
  • betrayal
  • sharing others' secrets (such as outing someone)
  • forcing others to keep secrets
  • extreme entitlement
  • extortion

Guilt and shame are typical tools of the abusive trade and are frequently used by abusers to achieve their goals. Psychological abuse also includes spiritual or religious abuse (using faith to control or harm someone) and educational neglect (refusing appropriate educational avenues for a dependent).

Financial abuse (misusing another's money or forcing financial dependence upon another) lies somewhere in between physical and psychological abuse and has elements of both.

Violence isn't just physical.

There are almost endless means for an abuser to psychologically torment their victim. And it is much easier to get away with psychological abuse as it often flies under the radar, and can even be excused as acts of kindness or caring.

But without direct physical evidence, all of the onus is on the survivor and their support system to call out this abuse when they see it and interfere when they notice grooming. While just about all forms of physical abuse are against the law (at least in the Western Hemisphere), very few forms of psychological abuse break any laws, with a notable exception for educational neglect.

 Read this next: What Gaslighting in Relationships Means and How to Deal With it


Working Together

While psychological abuse doesn't always escalate into physical abuse, it often begins with and continuously uses psychological abuse. They work in tandem. This is because it is far easier to hide psychological abuse from the survivor themselves, at least in the beginning, and their support system.

It is also easier to control someone's mind than their body. Without the mental aspect, most victims of physical abuse will escape or seek help. In order to keep this from happening abusers must have a grip on their victims mind; leading them to choose to stay and refuse to ask for and accept help, or even defend the abuser or the abuse.

 According to the Government of Canada, intimate partner abuse almost always gets worse over time. 



Abuse starts with grooming. Grooming is the process of preparing someone for mistreatment. It tests and stretches a person's boundaries, changing their perception of themselves, the abuser, and the world to get them to accept the outright abuse when it starts.

“Grooming is the slow, methodical, and intentional process of manipulating a person to a point where they can be victimized. After [the perpetrators] find their targets, they then gain trust and move in from there.” - Eric Marlowe Garrison, sex counselor and author, interviewed by Allure magazine

Part of the reason grooming is so sinister is because it can happen to anyone, and it often starts innocently, quickly turning into friendship and then a 'deeper' relationship. Secrets play a big role in this process, with the groomer trying to gain control over their target. Common signs can also be that they try to separate their target from family and loved ones, to remove their influence and concern. 


6 Signs That Someone is Being Groomed for Abuse

1. They Don't Want You to Think for Yourself

Abusers often aim to erode their victim's sense of self and trust in their own emotions. They do not want their victim to follow their own instincts, believe in themselves, or commit to self-preservation. Abusers need their target to defer to their opinions of them, over time making suggestions and comments undermining their trust in themselves.

They then question, lose faith in, and ultimately reject their own values, beliefs and understanding of themselves, their abuser, the relationship, and the world.

2. They Think You're Untrustworthy

Abusers can display an unreasonable and unwarranted lack of trust in their target, insisting on having complete access to private information and passwords, especially early on in the relationship.

3. They Want to Isolate You 

An abuser usually needs to isolate their victim from their support system, like friends, family, and observant bystanders who will report their misconduct.

Isolation can be emotional, physical or financial. In extreme cases the abuser may make plans to move to a location where their victim will have little or no rights, resources, or ability to return at their discretion.

The victim may also be coerced or convinced to convert to a religion, culture or lifestyle that subjugates people of their gender, race, class, social status, religion, or background.

4. They Don't Want You to Have Financial Freedom

Abusers like to make their target's financially dependent on them, discouraging or forbidding them from paid work outside the home, or somehow convincing them to give over  their entire paycheck.

5. They Want to be a Family - Fast 

Abusers tend to insist on moving very quickly in a relationship. Instant cohabitation, melding of funds, marriage, and children creates legal and financial ties that are not easily, quickly or cheaply severed. So the target cannot just leave at will when things go wrong.

6. They Have Major Double Standards

Abusers typically have rigid, bigoted beliefs that put them above their target. Their loads-of-phobic, all-kinds-of-ist beliefs are casually exposed to their target, testing their response. Once they know their comments will be tolerated, they escalate in variety and correctness, pushing down their target and suppressing their support system.


Be Vigilant When it Comes to Seeing the Signs of Abuse

Abuse is easier to spot when you know the signs before it happens. This means recognizing what abuse looks like early on and having the confidence and bravery to speak out. You may not be heard, you may be accused of just making accusations.

But let it be known the way someone is being talked to or treated is toxic, disrespectful, and worrying. They don't deserve it, should not expect it, it is not okay, and it is not normal. Help recognize and stop abuse before someone's physical safety is in jeopardy or irreparable damage has been done to their life.

If you or someone you know feels like they are in danger - CALL 911. 

If you or someone you know identifies with any form of abuse, or you feel like you need help and support, there are many groups that offer services to help: 

In Canada, contact Ending Violence Association of Canada

In the USA, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

In the UK, contact

In Australia, contact

For other areas in the world, contact the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender Based Violence.


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