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Signs of physical abuse

Signs of physical abuse

bruises, black eyes, welts, lacerations, and rope marks

broken bones

open wounds, cuts, punctures, untreated injuries in various stages of healing

broken eyeglasses/frames, or any physical signs of being punished or restrained

laboratory findings of either an overdose or under dose medications

individual's report being hit, slapped, kicked, or mistreated

vulnerable adult's sudden change in behavior

the caregiver's refusal to allow visitors to see a vulnerable adult alone

Signs of sexual abuse

bruises around the breasts or genital area

unexplained venereal disease or genital infections

unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding

torn, stained, or bloody underclothing

an individual's report of being sexually assaulted or raped

Signs of mental mistreatment/emotional abuse

being emotionally upset or agitated

being extremely withdrawn and non communicative or non responsive

unusual behavior usually attributed to dementia (e.g., sucking, biting, rocking)

nervousness around certain people

an individual's report of being verbally or mentally mistreated

Signs of neglect

dehydration, malnutrition, untreated bed sores and poor personal hygiene

unattended or untreated health problems

hazardous or unsafe living condition (e.g., improper wiring, no heat or running water)

unsanitary and unclean living conditions (e.g., dirt, fleas, lice on person, soiled bedding, fecal/urine smell, inadequate clothing)

an individual's report of being mistreated

Signs of self-neglect

dehydration, malnutrition, untreated or improperly attended medical conditions, and poor personal hygiene

hazardous or unsafe living conditions

unsanitary or unclean living quarters (e.g., animal/insect infestation, no functioning toilet, fecal or urine smell)

inappropriate and/or inadequate clothing, lack of the necessary medical aids

grossly inadequate housing or homelessness

inadequate medical care, not taking prescribed medications properly

Signs of exploitation

sudden changes in bank account or banking practice, including an unexplained withdrawal of large sums of money

adding additional names on bank signature cards

unauthorized withdrawal of funds using an ATM card

abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents

unexplained disappearance of funds or valuable possessions

bills unpaid despite the money being available to pay them

forging a signature on financial transactions or for the titles of possessions

sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming rights to a vulnerable adult’s possessions

unexplained sudden transfer of assets to a family member or someone outside the family

providing services that are not necessary

individual's report of exploitation

Signs of abandonment

deserting a vulnerable adult in a public place

deserting a vulnerable adult in his/her own home or living space

individual's report of being abandoned

How do people act when they are abused?

Having unexplained physical injuries. Being more moody (angry, depressed, sad) than normal. Being preoccupied with sex. Engaging in harmful behaviors (this could include self-harm, drug use, and risky or unhealthy sexual behavior)

Recognize the early warning signs of emotional abuse to help a loved one now.

By recognizing signs of emotional abuse, you may be able to help someone begin on the recovery journey—before their pain and distress get any worse. Emotional abuse may be harder to see than other kinds of abuse, but it is no less serious, and real mental health damage can result.

Why Is It Hard to Spot Emotional Abuse?

Why do we minimize or dismiss emotional abuse more readily than we do physical abuse? Adrian spent 14 years in an abusive marriage, and the negative effects on her well-being were tremendous. Her husband never hit her, yet she has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, and insomnia due to his psychological and emotional abuses.

Adrian has always been very close with her mother, and she would share the stories of how her husband was controlling her daily life and her friendships, how he would cover up his own activities but invade her privacy, how he would threaten to hurt her or the kids. But her mother would typically ask, “Well, has he hit you?” And because the answer was “No,” her mother would appear unconcerned. At times, she would even blame Adrian for provoking this treatment and for making too much of it. Her mother made it clear that she didn’t want to talk about this kind of thing, and Adrian felt even more isolated than she already had.

She began to question her concerns and her convictions about the treatment she deserves. But, meanwhile, her stress and pain and fear were building to enormous proportions. And those mental burdens were with her at all times of the day—even when she wasn’t in the presence of her husband. It wasn’t until 14 years had passed that Adrian finally got help for her devastating distress. And she separated herself and her children from the dangerous relationship with her husband. She was even able to participate in therapy along with her mother to solve the conflicts and injuries sustained there. If someone had been able to recognize the early warning signs of emotional abuse in Adrian’s life, she might have had access to compassionate professional care and healing treatments much sooner—rather than suffer through those horrible abuses alone.

What Are the Early Warning Signs of Emotional Abuse to Look for?

When emotional abuse is taking place, it may be obvious to those on the outside, or it may be very difficult to detect. It may even have been going on for years, but the attitudes and indications of those involved have become normal and familiar. Still, there are signs you can look for that a person is being abused verbally,

The abused person may:

Feel insecure and have low self-esteem

Appear depressed or anxious

Be withdrawn even in the presence of others

Withhold their real feelings to avoid the other person’s volatile feelings

Talk about the other person’s negative traits

Talk about the other person’s positive traits—as if to cancel out problematic actions or things they say Frequently check with the other for approval, for direction, or to report what they are doing

Stop to ask permission before agreeing to participate in a social activity

The abuser may:

Belittle or humiliate the other person

Make decisions for the other person or pressure them to do or not do certain things

Betray the other’s privacy by sharing personal details

Be emotionally distant

Be resistant to open communication

Exclude the other person from activities and conversations

Blame the other for things that happen

Call or text often to check up on them

The earlier you can recognize this situation and extend your support, the better the chances for resolution and recovery before the abuse escalates to a level even more serious.

The motivations for abuse could be resentment, insecurity, or any other reasons. But it doesn’t matter what the abuser’s intentions are for the abuse to be real and wrong. If you suspect that abuse might be taking place—even when there is no sign of physical injury—you can take steps to discreetly offer your support to the person in distress. Don’t wait for the person to come to you.

No longer go out and socialize as they used to

Miss work or other events and responsibilities

Be preoccupied with pleasing the abuser or not upsetting them


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