How to spot a potential abuser
This post first appeared in The Truth Joy Beauty Manifesto. I have updated it and made some corrections here.
In response to Rosie Batty’s recent article, These are the “red flags” that signal an abusive relationship – I’d like to point out that sometimes there are warning signs that point to a potentially abusive mindset or predisposition, before a relationship develops. If as women, we can get better at spotting some of these behaviours in potential partners then it could very well save a lot of women a lot of pain and trouble, not to mention lives. So while the “red flags” mentioned in the Mamamia article are worth noting, they are aimed at spotting the signs displayed by the women involved in an abusive relationship.
Wouldn’t be better if we could avoid getting involved with abuse altogether?
At the end of the day, these behaviours escalate not because as partners we are at fault in some way, the problem behaviour lies squarely with the abuser, however because we are far too giving and understanding in the first instance, and because being understanding and tolerant does not change their behaviour for the better, quite the contrary as evidence shows, it sometimes seems to make things worse.
The reality is most abusers don’t start off that way on the first date. If that were the case, most of us would run a mile! No, they are very often charming, attentive, affectionate at first. However, there are warning signs, red flags if you will, that signal if not abusive tendencies but certainly cause for concern.
For what it’s worth, here is my list of potential ‘red flags’ to watch out for when sizing up any potential new partner:
- Low tolerance for stress or stressful situations. They get easily and visibly stressed at things which you or most people for that matter would just brush off as a part of life. Annoying, yet nothing to get overly bothered about. If you find yourself having to talk them down just because they missed the early train or raging at other drivers ‘cutting them off’ who are clearly not, that’s early warning no. 1
- Quick to anger or unreasonable anger. If small things trigger big responses, especially angry responses, then take a mental note and be on high alert with this person, even if at first their rage is not directed at you.
- Quick to criticize. You’ve only been seeing this person for a month or two and already they are making personal, sideways comments such as, “That dress is a bit short isn’t it?” or “Do you have to jump to attention every time your mother calls?” If they start criticizing your friends or family whom they barely know, don’t be fooled. They have an agenda and that agenda is to control and contain. These sort of person is really very insecure and the only way they can feel bigger is to make you feel small.
- Unable to take criticism. You may be surprised, (or not) to find that this same person who is so critical and acts so superior to you and your friends in so many ways, may act like the biggest baby at the slightest criticism. Leaving you feeling guilty and eager to make it up to them. Even if your critique is justified, i.e. they show up 2 hours late for a date or they “forget” to call you when they said they would and you are understandably put out, they will somehow find a way to make you feel like your mild reproach was the most cutting blow they have ever been dealt. Once again, don’t be fooled, be en guard.
- Jealous and possessive. Once again, don’t be flattered or fooled by this game playing master manipulator. If he is jealous for no good reason, then don’t think it’s because he ‘loves you so much’ or that he is ‘so into you’. He doesn’t want any man to be involved too closely with your relationship because the one thing these abusive men are underneath all their bravado and aggression is cowardly. If he ‘disapproves’ of you being friends with exes or any long term male friend then take that as a serious warning. He doesn’t want the competition. Not in a romantic sense, but in terms of influence.
- Excessive futurizing. Even though you’ve only been dating a few weeks this man has already declared his ‘undying love’ for you. He has cultivated an us against them vibe and you are feeling the pull of a whirlwind romance and almost delirious with excitement and passion. He has told you how beautiful, special and wonderful you are and how “different” you are from anyone else he has ever met. He may already be acting like you have been dating for years. Calling every day, planning your weekend on the Monday or talking about going on holidays at Christmas and it’s only February. DANGER. DANGER. Tread very carefully and don’t let your vagina do the thinking for you. Real relationships take time to develop, and it takes more than a few weeks or months even to truly know a person.
- Childish and sullen when things don’t go his way. Once again, you barely know this guy, really, so you had a life before he came along of course. He plans something for the weekend, but you already had a plan and so have to let him down. No matter how gently you put it, or how much you explain the situation, he leaves you feeling guilty and like you have somehow done something terribly wrong. He sulks and accuses you of not being sincere or serious about him or his intentions and basically throws a tantrum.
- Generally aggressive. Here’s one that may seem obvious to those of us that have experienced abuse in relationships, but no so obvious to those who haven’t. A lot of abusive men are aggressive in other ways, so why are we surprised when their aggression turns on us? Aggression is a form of survival and it is a basic human instinct, especially in men, but it has no place in romantic relationships. Aggressive behaviour, or any behaviour which leaves you feeling threatened or unsafe is definitely a red flag. It’s unfortunately only a matter of time before you become a victim of his aggressive, controlling ways. This may have been a useful characteristic in prehistoric days but it has no place in modern society.
These are just some of the red flags, which may not necessarily mean that you are in the arms of an abuser, but at the very least they indicate a lack of emotional intelligence and maturity which would make a relationship with this person an uphill battle.
Tread carefully, by all means keep your heart open, but don’t close your eyes as well.