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 perhaps because we are far too giving and understanding in the first instance, and because being understanding and tolerant does not change an abuser’s 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 which are evident very early on. If the man you are interested in displays any of the following traits or behaviours, it could be time to press the snooze button on the relationship before momentum takes over.

For what it’s worth, here is my list of potential ‘red flags’ to watch out for when sizing up any potential new partner:

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. Quick to criticize. You’ve only been seeing this person for a short time 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. This sort of person is really very insecure and the only way they can feel bigger is to make you feel small.
  4. 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 wary.
  5. 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.
  6. 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. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

 

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D.I.V.O.R.C.E (November, 2012)

Got my divorce papers the other day, actually, I was served them. Like in the movies, they had to be handed to me personally and I had to sign to say I accepted them.

Which I was happy to do, happy to put an end to a phase of my life that was now firmly in the past. All but the official final piece of paper that said, divorced. All ties cut.

While I know this is a good thing, and God knows even though I am sometimes unsatisfied with the way my life has turned out, anything is better than the hell my marriage had become. The feeling is still bittersweet. But, to be honest, I am proud of the way I did what had to be done to get myself out of a sticky situation…although, perhaps there were other ways I could have handled things. I could have called on the help of family and friends, could have gotten the police and relevant authorities involved but I didn’t want to burden my family and I also didn’t want to have my personal dirty laundry, my failure in a sense, aired and examined for all the world to see. I just. Wanted. Out.

They say living in an abusive relationship is psychologically akin to living in a hostage situation. Today, I marvel at the military precision employed in what I could have named, Operation Freedom at the time. It took six months of planning, but basically one day I was there, the next I was gone and all he had was a letter of explanation and a list of demands for my possible return.

It may seem harsh to some, but when you live with a person who is violent and unpredictable, honest communication is a luxury you just cannot afford. I would have loved to be able to say, Hey I am thinking of leaving you because of your behaviour which is killing the love I had for you and if you don’t do something about it soon, I will leave. Sorry about that. How do you say that to someone who has exploded in violent anger over the smallest issue, punched holes in walls because he lost an online poker game, lashed out in frustrated anger at you just for saying, What about trying it this way? (While he was attempting to repair a bike, you make the stupidly, unthinkable mistake of trying to help.)

You get to a point where you just don’t say anything. You just smile and try and stay out of their way as much as possible. Anything to keep the peace… all the while inside there is an indignant, unholy pit of anger and self loathing, despair and fury growing and growing. It gets to the point where you are afraid of what you will do. We all have our limits…

In the end I did what I had to do and I am truly happier for it today. Lessons learned, hard though they were, have made me a stronger person and have fuelled within me a desire to get to the bottom of things and to maybe help other women who somehow find themselves in a similar situation. Who like me, are not victims, but survivors. Battle weary, yes, but alive and free.

Divorce. People say it’s a pity, but in some situations, divorce is a Godsend.

 

If you or anyone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please contact the domestic violence line: http://www.domesticviolence.nsw.gov.au/