October is Domestic Abuse Awareness Month. I’ve already posted about the sometimes ignored victims of domestic abuse, but today I want to talk about the red flags that often foreshadow abusive behavior.
I’ve heard so many variations of the following: “He/she was never like this when we were dating!” That’s because most abusers know that, while dating, they don’t have that much control over their victim. If they show their true colors in the beginning the victim will be more likely to leave because they already have a place to go.
Generally, in the beginning of a relationship an abuser is a textbook example of a perfect partner; they’re loving, attentive and caring. They will shower you with gifts and praise and make you believe they are sent to you from the heavens. It isn’t until you take the relationship further that they strike.
This means that, very often, the victim won’t know they’re with an abuser until they’ve already merged their lives together. It’s important to know what the signs are so that you can spot them before it’s too late.
Outbursts of Anger
Here I will use my parents as an example. When they were dating and my mom still lived at home, my father was an angel to her. However, there were signs of trouble that she didn’t heed. Whenever something didn’t go his way, he would have uncontrollable bouts of anger; throwing things, yelling, blacking out, etc. But because they weren’t directed at her specifically, she didn’t think much of it. If anything, she thought that if she loved him enough (I’ve heard that one pretty often, too) that he would get better and lose his anger. Spoiler: he didn’t. They weren’t married for a year before the abuse started.
Just because the anger isn’t directed at you right now doesn’t mean that it won’t be later. If the person can’t control themselves to the point that they black out, you will become collateral damage of their rage. It won’t take long for you to do something to anger them or for them to lash out at you for something you didn’t even do, resulting in either verbal or physical abuse.
You cannot love the rage out of them.
They’re Always Right
It doesn’t matter what the situation is, you are always in the wrong in their eyes. They will become defensive and turn everything back on you, even if it is obvious that they are at fault. They will twist things around and convince you that they are right and you are wrong.
They will make you feel small and stupid and convince you that they are smarter, more capable, etc. Generally this is subtle at first and they will do it in such a way that you don’t notice, but over time this will become the norm and it will lower your opinion of yourself and heighten your opinion of them.
In the beginning of every relationship, the couple tends to spend more time together than apart. This is when they are getting to know each other and the excitement of the relationship is still fresh and new. To borrow a term from an old movie, they are twitterpated. However, there is a line and an abuser will cross it.
They will become angry or hurt if you decide to go out with friends – even if you’ve spent every day with them for the last month – instead of being with them. They will become angry if they see someone looking at you or if they find you talking to someone of the opposite sex. Like the anger, they won’t take it out on you at first. They’ll say things like, “I just care about you so much” or “That person was trying to hit on you!” or other variations.
Some people find this flattering because they believe that it is all about love, but it’s not. It’s about control; they see you as belonging to them and the idea that you might leave or find someone better enrages them. It isn’t cute and it isn’t love.
Nothing Is Good Enough
No matter what you do, it’s not enough. You cleaned the kitchen? Oh, well you missed all of this. You got a promotion at work? Oh, well you’re still not making enough money. Slowly but surely they will break you down with criticism and belittling every move you make.
They will say things like, “I just know you have more potential” or “I just know that you don’t want to look stupid” but what they are really trying to do is to get you to doubt yourself so that you put all of your trust in them. This way, if ever you do start to become suspicious of their intentions, you won’t act on it because you’ve been convinced that they know more than you do and therefore you just don’t understand them.
All of those lead to this: you’ve become dependent on them. They say things like, “I just love you so much, move in with me.” Or, “It’s crazy that we have separate bank accounts when we’re spending money on the same things, let’s just get a joint account!” (Of course, there is nothing wrong with either of those things if both partners are on board or have been together for an extended period of time, but if you’ve only been dating a short while or you are at all uncomfortable with the idea, don’t do it.)
They’ll convince you to leave your job to have kids and/or stay at home. They will make it seem like all they want is for you to be happy and to not have to work so hard, but slowly they are taking away your independence, meaning that you have nowhere to go.
They are working to isolate you from friends and family. They will find something wrong with everyone you know and make it to where you’d rather just not go out or spend time with that person to avoid a lecture or argument.
After they’ve made you dependent on them they will then go back to belittling you and making you feel like nothing you do will ever be good enough. They will make you think that no one else could ever love you because you’re ugly, fat, lazy, etc. They do this in a “loving” way that makes you feel like they’re just looking out for you, but they aren’t.
Listen to your gut. If your new partner says or does something that makes you uncomfortable, don’t ignore it. Don’t mistake possessiveness for love or affection.
Don’t assume that it can’t happen to you. No one goes into a relationship thinking they will be abused, yet so many relationships become abusive. Domestic abusers are master manipulators and they know exactly what to say and do to make you take your guard down. Then, like the frog in the boiling water, they slowly but surely tear you down until one day you wake up and realize that it has happened to you and you feel powerless to do anything about it.
If you’re in a relationship that makes you feel lesser, stupid or somehow lowers your self-esteem, do everything in your power to get out. A healthy relationship is one that lifts you up, not breaks you down.
I know first hand how difficult it is to leave an abuser, especially once they’ve taken any ounce of independence you once had, but it is worth the fight to get out. You can look into non-profits in your area or contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.7233