Controlling, unhealthy, abusive relationships share the characteristics of destructive cults. They are sometimes called one-on-one cults, micro-cults, or cults of personality. Abusive people use tactics listed in the BITE Model to control and exploit others. Isolation from family and friends, secrecy, and estrangement are tell-tale signs. For this reason, it often takes the family of a victim a long time to realize that they are in a controlling relationship.
While an abuser can be anyone, often there is a power differential between the abuser and the abused. For example, the abuser may be a parent, teacher, therapist, boss, coach, or religious leader. Because of this, it can be difficult to extricate oneself from the controlling relationship. Abusers are also commonly older than their victims. However, controlling relationships can take many forms. Abusers and victims can be any sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, class, or age.