How to Recognize Social Abuse

Updated on March 7, 2019
Mary Stuart profile image

Mary is passionate about helping people stuck in abusive relationships.

Social abuse is an emotionally scarring experience, and it's important to learn how to identify the signs.
Social abuse is an emotionally scarring experience, and it's important to learn how to identify the signs. | Source

Abuse is like a thief in the night seeking to destroy, plunder, and devastate its victims. It causes intense emotional, mental, and physical damage. Some abuse happens behind closed doors, while other forms are carried out in public. Social abuse is just one form of abuse that is effective only when an audience is present.

What Is Social Abuse?

Like most other forms of abuse, social abuse includes cruel treatment such as public humiliation, threats, intimidation, and gossip. It may also include joking at your expense, constant heckling or teasing in public to provoke your anger, and tickling, touching, kissing, or other forms of physical acts that you have asked your partner to refrain from in public. It may also include any behavior designed to upset you in front of others.

Signs of Social Abuse

You might be in a socially abusive relationship if your partner:

  • Encourages friends who are abusive
  • Gossips or spread rumors about you
  • Monitors your social activities
  • Treats you disrespectfully in front of others
  • Tells secrets or embarrassing stories about you
  • Refuses to socialize with your family or friends
  • Refuses to let you work outside the home
  • Demands that you account for all your time with social contacts
  • Controls who you can visit and when
  • Alienates you from your family and friends
  • Demands you move away from friends and a supportive environment

Take careful note of all of these signs of social abuse. If you find that several of these indicators are consistently practiced by your partner, then you are likely in a socially abusive relationship. However, if one of these problems occurs as an isolated incident, then that moment does not indicate abuse.

Abuse Is Hard to Identify

Social abuse is one of the most nebulous forms of abuse. It is difficult to define and is easy to excuse or brush aside. You must consider each instance of abuse not in isolation, but rather as part of a bigger picture.

If your partner controls who you can keep in contact with and prevents you from seeing you family and friends, you may be in a socially abusive relationship.
If your partner controls who you can keep in contact with and prevents you from seeing you family and friends, you may be in a socially abusive relationship. | Source

"Joking" Can Be Abuse Too

Kate described an evening with her partner as an exercise in personal misery. He delighted in telling cruel and humiliating stories concerning their sex life and her inadequate parenting skills. As if that was not enough, he regaled the party with tales of burnt dinners and dishes in the sink. The abuser sometimes ended his tirade with the words, "I was just kidding," or he elicited the sympathies and aid of the older women present. Kate now smirks that after her abuser spun his crazy tales, the older women would seek a private audience with her to counsel her on "taking care of her husband's needs." She was told that she should allow him to rest in the evenings and spare him from doing her work. The older women meant well and how no idea how they were being used.

Abusers Control Your Relationships With Other People

Char related her partner's penchant for setting her up in public with women she dubbed "proxy abusers." Her abuser insisted that she dress in rather outdated clothes and denied her access to stylish hair care. He would then plant her in the company of women all too eager humiliate her and reinforce her abuser's taunts that she is undesirable and a public embarrassment. Char wanted to develop a social life away from her proxy abusers, but her abuser deftly manipulated her limited social life and largely denied her access to positive relationships.

Abuse Can Even Happen When You're Not Around

The disclosure of confidential information or embarrassing events to co-workers and friends is also socially abusive behavior. Gossiping, spreading rumors, and playing mind games are effective means of controlling others.

Maggie described her abuser's brilliant tactics when it came to spreading gossip and embarrassing innuendos through their social circle. He was a master at tearing up and looking ever-so-sincere before disclosing embarrassing tidbits about her in the form of "sharing concerns" and "prayer requests." By the time she finally left her abuser, her church was concerned for her nonexistent diabetes, menopause, and numerous affairs. She did not bother defending herself. She knew it was time to make her life on her own terms and not waste time outwitting her abuser.

Leaving Abuse Is Difficult, But It's Worth It

Socially abusive behavior is often difficult to detect. It can be quite subtle, and the abuser often denies their behavior. He or she may spread their web of destruction masterfully, leaving the victim without recourse—unless he or she wants to enter the fray of gossip. When they finally leave their abuser, they must make a fresh start to find new friends who aren't under the abuser's control. Only then can they be accepted for who they are and be free from the image their abuser has created of them.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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    • profile image


      5 months ago

      My wife's children threaten to not allow her to spend time with her grandchildren if I show up to events. So my wife goes even though I am not aloowed to attend. I have told her how much it hurts and what it does to me, but she doesn't care. So I spend Christmases, New Year's, the time between, Thanksgivings, and about another month or two alone every year.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I have been in such a relationship and although I escaped. It has taken years of therapy just to function. I have serious trust issues and find it difficult to believe that anyone could love me. My children have also suffered through lack of Love from my ex and my mental state. My advice to anyone out there who is putting up with things in the hope that it will improve. It won't it will only get worse get out as quickly as u can.

    • Mary Stuart profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Washington

      Mea culpa! Mea culpa! Mea maxima culpa. Perhaps it was a Freudian slip of sorts since it is particularly grievous. Thanks for noticing.

    • profile image

      Phoebe Pike 

      8 years ago

      "Monitors your social activities" this is on your list twice, is that because it is a particularly important sign or a mistake?

    • Mary Stuart profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Washington

      It is so true that many women step into this awful situation completely unaware of the danger lurking. I think abuse often comes upon a woman in much the same way that a frog might be slowly boiled to death. If the frog is placed in hot water he will immediately hop out; it is uncomfortable. A woman, likewise, will decline a second date if her future abuser shows his colors on the first dates. On the other hand, if you place a frog in a cool pan of water and slowly turn up the heat he will likely boil to death. The frog does not notice the gradual increase in heat. A woman, likewise, is charmed by the abusers sweet behavior on the first dates. he turns up the heat of abuse only after she has been drawn into his evil web of abuse.

    • Mary Stuart profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Washington

      It is really frightening to leave the abuser. I applaud women who do manage to get out. The price is high. Most women lose all of their support group and their friends. Very few women are able to stay in their home church or community groups and keep old relationships. The path can be very, very lonely after leaving your abuser. The joy of waking up in peace and nurturing atmosphere, however, proves to be worth the cost. It has been just under 10 years since I left my abuser. I still marvel at the joy of no more nightmares, migraine headaches, anxiety, depression, and general mental and physical discomfort. I have created a new life for myself that is filled with peace and safety. The price is very high but the price of staying is higher. Your sister needs your love and support. Send her a hug from me, too, please.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      8 years ago from Minnesota

      Really informative hub and I like how you use examples from women to explain the abuse. My sister left a man that did this not only socially but at home as well. I thank God everyday that she had the courage to leave him.

    • Mary Stuart profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Washington

      Isn't that nasty? I hear women speak like that from time to time. I think that men and women engage in domestic abuse tactics in different ways. Either way it is an ugly beast!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Your examples showed just how awful people can be. I used to know a woman who constantly complained about her "idiot" husband. She didn't get sympathy from any of us. She seemed obsessed with telling everyone what a jerk he was to the point that we felt sorry for him - and who wants that? We didn't feel sorry for him that he was a jerk, but that he was married to such a nasty woman.

    • Mary Stuart profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Washington

      I am afraid that way too many women can say that. Abuse is a funny thing. It hurts like nothing else and clouds the victim's mind in such a way that she will put up with it. She will leave only when her fear of staying exceeds her fear of leaving. She needs help to clear her mind to see her situation clearly and then must find enough strength to create a new life.

    • Mary Stuart profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Washington

      I have never witnessed anyone feigning innocence quite like a skillful abuser. You can catch him with his hand in the cookie jar and crumbs all over his lips and he will deny, deny, deny. the funny thing is that he denies so well that even his victim believes him! I have noticed that the abuser has an uncanny ability to elicit support and sympathy for his abuse. Not all people fall for his feigned innocence but enough do to lend adequate encouragement and support for him to continue wreaking havoc!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      That's what I needed. Emotionally, socially, and physically abused. All without knowing it. How many people can say that?!

    • sofs profile image


      8 years ago

      Mary, enlightening and informative hub. The abuser is almost always very skillful in the art of destruction while feigning innocence is what I understand from your descriptions. I do believe many women/men don't even know that this is what is being done to systematically discredit them of all goodness. Thought provoking.. Thanks for sharing. Voting up and useful!


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