Are you dating an abuser?

By Samantha Debono (Counsellor - Harley Street) for

Fast Attachment: 
Normally, healthy relationships take time to grow, they are organic. Both people learn about each other over time.  We can become infatuated quickly, but normally, we don’t commit to a person at an early stage.  The Future Abuser moves much faster than that.  The Abuser hasn’t got time to mess about getting to know you, because in fact, he/she isn’t that bothered.  What bothers them is that if they wait too long, you might get to know him/her, so The Abuser needs to move quickly.  He/she says “I love you” very soon into the relationship, when they couldn’t possibly know you well enough to know they love you.  The Abuser talks of marriage or wants to move in with you as soon as possible, you are “the best thing that’s ever happened to me”, “I’ve never felt like this about anyone before”  - and all this is likely to be stated in about 4 weeks or less.

Bad Stories:
The Abuser will talk disrespectfully about previous partners or others. He/she might tell you that the previous partner falsely accused them of abuse. People often let you know about their personality by the stories they tell about themselves. Normally people tell us stories that inform us of how they see themselves, what they think is interesting, and what they think will impress you. A humorous individual will tell funny stories of himself. An Abuser tells stories of being insensitive to others, violence, aggression, rejecting others, etc. They may tell you about past relationships and in every case, they will tell you that they were treated horribly despite how wonderful they were to that person. They brag about their temper and outbursts because they don't see anything wrong with violence and actually take pride in the "I don't take nothing from nobody" attitude. Listen to these stories - they tell you how you will eventually be treated and what's coming your way.

Mr Angry
The Abuser blows up and gets angry easily over what appears to be nothing, he/she can take anything as a criticism and their anger will be out of proportion to what’s happened.  For example; you say “I can’t remember if you said you like bike riding or not” and The Abuser flies off the handle – “why don’t you listen to me? If you cared about me you would have REMEMBERED what I said, what is WRONG with you? You must be STUPID” – you are left feeling totally shocked and confused about what just happened.  The Abuser may throw things, or act aggressively, punch a wall or kick something or drive too fast.  He/she may get into fights or you hear about fights they have had with others.  At first, you will just witness this, but not far down the line, it will be turned on you.

Confidence Killer:
First of all you might not notice that The Abuser is putting you down or criticising you.  For example you get dressed up to go out and he/she says “are you wearing that?” this will make you question whether you look alright and you’ll then be accused of being too sensitive or trying to twist his/her words, or that you are trying to start an argument.  The Abuser may make fun of you in a way that hurts your feelings and makes you feel insecure and then will say it was a joke, or that you have no sense of humour.  The Abuser will make comments about your weight, looks, dress sense, intellect and ability to do anything.  Eventually, this persistent chipping away at your confidence, will make you believe he/she is right, that you aren’t good looking enough, intelligent enough or able to do anything.  The Abuser invariably cheats which adds to your belief that you aren’t good enough.

Covering all exits:
When you first meet The Abuser, it is easy to mistake control for devotion.  They say things like “don’t go out with your friends tonight, stay in with me, I miss you when you’re gone”.  He/she might be crafty and book tickets for something, then claim he/she forgot you had an evening planned with friends. It’s not uncommon for The Abuser to claim that your best friend made a pass at him/her, this makes you feel unsure of your friend and begins to break down the friendship.  The Abuser will tell you that your friends don’t like him/her and that they make him/her feel uncomfortable, when in fact he/she will make friends and family feel so uncomfortable that they stop visiting.  Before you know it, your circle of friends has diminished; you don’t go out without The Abuser and seeing friends or family just isn’t worth the interrogation and/or aggravation it causes.

The Detective:
The Abuser asks a lot of questions, wants to know the ins and outs of your life from early on. This, at first, can be taken as genuine interest in you, but watch, when you least expect it, he will use something against you. A client of mine (she has given me permission to share this) was born with a squint which could not be operated on her until she was 15.  She was bullied at school about her “wonky eye” and, as a result, became very introverted and shy and was still very self conscious even after her operation, which was a great success (she now has no sign of a squint).  Ten years later she met “the man of her dreams”, a sensitive, caring, attentive man, who showered her with love and devotion.  My client felt safe and secure enough with this wonderful man, to share her childhood torment and her secret.  After all, he loved her so much that she could trust him with this delicate information and it would be held in a safe place - Nope!  It only took him 2 weeks to humiliate her with it. Sitting in a restaurant with friends, he said “are you tired or something? Because your eye looks weird” and then invited the friends to scrutinize her face to see if they too noticed her “weird eye”.  My client said she was immediately transported back to her childhood; she felt embarrassed, hurt and wanted to hide away.  On the way home she asked her ‘wonderfully caring’ boyfriend why he had put her through such an excruciating time.  His answer.... “oh for f*** sake, grow up and stop being so ultra sensitive...”.  What makes this story worse is the fact that she ended up apologising to him for being “too sensitive”.
 If you share something with a person, and they use it to hurt you – the writing is on the wall!

Sweet & Sour Cycle:
Remember at the beginning of this I talked about how The Abuser showers you with talk of love, devotion, attention and gifts? Well this is where the cycle starts, then when you are hooked and all loved-up, the next stage begins, hurtful remarks, bullying behaviour, scary temper tantrums, blaming you for everything that goes wrong in the relationship, you’re cursed at, shouted at, threatened and left utterly shocked, hurt, confused and alone.  Then just as you are starting to wonder what the hell just happened and what you’re going to do about it, you’ll get the Sweet part back – The Abuser will do all those little things he/she did when you started dating. You feel relieved that your loved one is back again and believe that it was just a bit of a wobble, but it’s all ok again now.  But it’s not, true to form, The Abuser comes round for his fix of control and abuse leaving you hoping each Sour Cycle is the last one. The other purpose of the Sour Cycle is to allow The Abuser to say very nasty things about you or those you care about, again chipping away at your self-esteem and self-confidence. Of course there’s every chance he/she will apologise, but if he/she was truly sorry, it wouldn’t keep happening and besides, the damage to your self-esteem is already done - exactly as planned.
It's Always Your Fault:

An Abuser blames you for all their bad behaviour. YOU make him/her angry, YOU push his/her buttons, YOU wind him/her up.   When they cheat on you, shout at you, treat you badly, damage your property, or embarrass you in public - it's somehow your fault. You should love them more, or you should not have questioned their behaviour. An abuser never takes responsibility for their behaviour - it's always someone else’s fault. If they drive recklessly and attempt to pull an innocent driver off the road to assault them - it's actually the fault of the other driver (not his/hers) that “idiot” was driving too slowly or didn’t use their indicator, what do they expect the Abuser to do, just let it go? Ha! No way, forgiveness, easy going natures, laid back and kindness is for wimps!  Anyone who makes the Abuser angry (and it’s not difficult) deserve what they get!
Rough Treatment:An Abuser will hurt you on purpose. Initially he/she will start by punching a wall or banging a fist on the table, holding your arm or hand too tightly or pushing you to one side to move you out of the way.  When you mention this behaviour, the Abuser will say that he/she didn’t mean to be rough, it was your fault for standing in the way, or you shouldn’t have tried to pull your hand away, or tried to walk away and therefore his/her rough treatment was justified. Male abusers often begin with behaviours that move you physically or they hit a door or a wall. Female abusers are more likely to slap, kick and even punch their partners when upset. Controlling females often hit themselves in a “look what you’re making me do” gesture.

Break-up Panic:

You have no right to break up the relationship!! The relationship breaks up when The Abuser says so! An Abuser often breaks down and cries, they plead, they promise to change, and they offer marriage/trips/gifts when you threaten ending the relationship. Both male and female abusers may threaten suicide, threaten to return to old sweethearts (who are actually glad they're gone!), or threaten to quit their job and leave the area – this of course will be ALL your doing! See what you’ve made the poor unfortunate Abuser do? You’ve MADE him/her move to a completely different area with no job.  I’ve even heard that the Abuser will turn up at your house wearing clothes 2 sizes too big and tell you how much weight YOU’VE made them lose! You see, it’s STILL all your fault!  The Abusive partners  offers all sorts of “deals" and halfway measures, like "Let's just date one more month, then if it doesn’t work, you can walk away" but of course you won’t be able to walk away that easily because The Abusers plan is to make that even more unlikely by holding on even tighter. Tying you up with financial commitments, like going half on a big purchase such as a going half on buying a car or moving home. Whatever they need to do to make sure you can’t leave, they will do!

It's Never Enough:

An Abuser convinces you that you are never quite good enough. You don't say "I love you" enough, you don't stand close enough, you don't do enough for them after all their sacrifices, and your behaviour always falls short of what is expected. This is another method of destroying your self-esteem and confidence. After months of this technique, they begin telling you how lucky you are to have them - somebody who tolerates someone so inadequate and worthless as you.

If you have indentified these signs in your relationship, be vigilant. There is help to make sense of your findings. With everything, think before you act, seek advice and do not seclude yourself.
Samantha Debono is a qualified Integrative Counsellor and Mediation Practitioner. She offers a confidential service to individuals and couples.

For more information on Samantha's counselling services and how to contact her, please visit . 
For help on Domestic Violence and a list of resources for practical help, click here now
The Fall

I opened the carefully sealed box to reveal a simple but beautiful creation: a necklace formed of leaves, painted in gold and ivory. As I fastened the clasp I wondered to myself: "What meaning could this necklace have in my life?"

Last year this task was so apparent: as soon as I got the piece of jewellery from my Big Sister I knew exactly what it meant to me, but this time... there was nothing. I wore it a little longer and looked at it in the mirror and wondered if I was touched by the small sacrifice of my current Big Sister for parting with one of her possessions... Yes I was. But that wasn't it. Did I think that it was more beautiful on my neck than off..? Yes I did. But that wasn't it either.

It was only when I wore it a little longer and went about doing my daily tasks, that this song came to me and His Message was so clear:

"And even when the trees have just surrendered
To the harvest time
Forfeiting their leaves in late September
And sending us inside
Still I notice You when change begins
And I am braced for colder winds
I will offer thanks for what has been and what’s to come
You are autumn"

As the leaves stop producing chlorophyll, waste accumulates and their once enviable colour is unmasked into a deep, rusty brown. After some time, the leaf becomes weak, it struggles and eventually it is severed from the branch and falls to the ground. To compensate for this loss and to protect itself from fungal infections and insects, the branch seals itself off.

As I looked at my necklace, I wondered why a tree would go through such a difficult and tedious process to shed its once so efficient counterpart...only to find out that not all trees have to.

There are two types of leaf: those that are tender and vulnerable and those that are strong and tough. In the summer both stand brilliantly in the sunshine and both work efficiently to supply energy. However, when the seasons change and the dark of the night draws nearer, trees with fragile leaves have to shed them, as they are just too weak to survive the impending winter and feeding those leaves would drain all the trees’ resources. As circumstances change, the weak leaves’ true colours are revealed and their purpose becomes dormant. The waste that they have accumulated is exposed but they hold onto the branch, until they are cut off completely. However, trees with leaves that have ‘toughened up’ and adapted themselves to unfavourable circumstances remain. They are a beacon of splendour throughout some of the harshest winters and bitterness of the cold – resisting to be damaged by external elements.

Isn't this comparable to people that were once part of the Body of Christ?

Some were even efficient, productive and bearing much fruit but as seasons changed and time passed by, they fell – just like the leaves of a withering tree in autumn. They fell like they never existed; as though they never had a purpose. They fell because their existence was more toxic than useful. They fell to protect the whole Body from dying.

How many times have we been productive for a season but unveiled ugliness in moments of tribulation?

How many times have we allowed bitterness to build up when there seemed to be more darkness than light?

As soon as we lose the ability to absorb God’s Light (His Word) - in all conditions - coupled with our God given gift of faith, we also become like the weak leaves of a tree: dry, dull and sometimes so full of waste that we have to be cut off. Appearance may be a camouflage for a season and weakness may be hidden by circumstances but they can never stand the test of time and trial.

As I looked at the necklace through the eyes of this Message, I knew that God had left me a clear example through his creation. I wondered what type of leaf I was.

What type of leaf have you been? Weak or strong?

And if you have fallen already there is always a new season with God: a rebirth. Your spring is just round the corner. :-)

Jeremiah 17:7,8 But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit."

The video for the rest of the song is here: Every Season
Ssshhh! Don't Tell Anyone!
By Gemma Leon for (March 2010)

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones…

In the UK alone domestic violence kills (on average) two women a week. From my makeup artist to my colleague at work, they all have a story to tell about abuse. It's the words that make you feel so small that you can't even look at yourself in the mirror; or the "innocent" slap that is closely followed by a remorseful apology. Abuse takes many forms: it can be sexual, physical, emotional or verbal.

"I was once in a harmful relationship where a person I knew and loved was continuously threatening to me. Every insult carved a chunk out of me and when the relationship ended (after four years) I had lost my identity. I didn't dare tell my parents about his humiliation or his pushes or hitting - because I loved him..."

Battered self confidence is one thing but what happens when it becomes physical? Katie* suffered daily abuse for years: "He would kick me, slap me, push me, trip me over, throw things at me, stand on my feet, yell abuse and call me names… but I learnt to cope with it by trying to make him happy. I believed that it was my fault or something that the children had done wrong, so I worked tirelessly to make home life as stress free as possible."

Katie only left when her partner started to lash out at their children. She contacted a women's centre that helped her get an injunction; regain all the relationships she had cut off and began to rebuild her life again. Since then she has had counselling and says that she affirms herself positively every day to get her self esteem back on track.

The Mind Games Break You

Marilyn* was with a control freak for 12 years before she left. "He never hit me but he wanted to control everything I did. I had to be home before he was and if I was late he would turn out all the lights and refuse to speak to me. One day he made so much fun of my driving skills that I got out and said "You take over then!" He drove away leaving me on the sidewalk at 10pm at night, in the middle of nowhere... I couldn't believe it. I had to walk home in the dark and got back at 3am."

Jessica* recalls the same kind of experience: "I wasn't allowed to walk in front of him at anytime, or he would accuse me of disrespecting him. I wasn’t allowed to choose the dates we went on (if I tried to we would stay home). I couldn’t speak to other men – married or single, at work or socially - or he would accuse me of cheating. I lived in constant fear of losing that relationship and worked so hard to meet his criteria.

In the end he was the one cheating! It destroyed me. I had invested so much time and effort trying to be the perfect partner: to like what he liked and sacrificing myself constantly; only for him to go and find someone else. I felt used."

Although six years have passed, for Diane* the scars of her abuse are still a struggle. "I battle everyday with who I am; telling myself that I am worth it and that next time will be better." (She cries as she speaks to me, which makes me emotional even as I write).

She speaks about the horrific years of being forced to sleep with a man that she once loved. "I think that I hated him in the end and it has taken my every bit of willpower to stop reliving the nightmare, day after day..."

She tells me, between sobs, that she was forced to commit lewd acts in parks and even on public toilet floors, or she would be insulted or beaten.  Her scars aren’t apparent – apart from the emotional ones that rip through her heart – because she was beaten with soft objects that wouldn’t leave a trace.

"I felt ashamed" she says. "Today, my fight is to believe that that man was bad and there are good men out there. My perception of love and sexual intimacy has been ruined by a man that wasn't good. Not all men are like that...?" She says looking to me with doubt shadowing her face.

I Know What Love Isn't...

Sandra* met her husband at church, so she ignored the red flags and married him anyway. "The first time he was abusive was during our engagement. He slapped me across the face because he had a stressful day at work.” He apologized and that was the last of it…until they actually got married.

"The slap turned into violence and after six months the honeymoon was well and truly over. I wanted a divorce. He told me that he would kill me and my parents if I ever left him." Out of fear for their lives, I stayed, hoping that things would get better. They didn't." After some time Sandra became a prisoner in her own home: he cut off visits from friends and family and even stopped her from going to church. "I had to get home from work within 15 minutes or he would accuse me of cheating and the torture would start."

Everything changed when she saw a true movie about a woman in a similar situation. She had killed her husband to be free from him but Sandra didn't have the guts to do that. However, it gave her the strength to fight back. "That night when he hit me, I hit back. Then he spat in my face and I spat back. I stood my ground - expecting the beating - but courageous anyway. I was tired of being a victim. He didn't lash out at me! Instead he called the police and told them that he was a victim of domestic violence!" Thankfully the police didn't believe him and she later won her case against him in family court.

Silence is a Killer

The thing that all of these women have in common is that abuse hurt them. Don’t let silence kill you. You are not alone. In any one year, there are 13 million separate incidents of physical violence or threats of violence against women from partners or former partners. That is a huge statistic. For many the scars are so deep that they will struggle with them forever. Don’t allow the fear of being humiliated, or feelings of failure rob you of your right to freedom…and happiness.  Get help for you and for the abuser by bringing it to light. This is one secret that you should tell.

Self Love

Healthy relationships involve respect, trust and consideration. Self love is knowing your value and appreciating your life, regardless of your flaws and mistakes. It is knowing that you deserve to love and be loved.

No one has the right to hit, slap, ridicule or belittle you. We are the very essence of God's Being - His own personal work of art; and no one has the right to damage us.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…”
Genesis 1:26

This means that we have the right to think for ourselves, keep healthy friendships, be part of a family and be free to be everything that God intended us to be. No one should suppress that. Loving a person that abuses you is not enough to make it stop. Love yourself. Believe that you are strong enough; understand that you deserve better and reach out to people who can help you.

I asked all of these women why they stayed and for most the answer was the same: “I don't know.”

So now you know better, do better.

Helpful Numbers:
Removing All Hurt And Abuse (RAHAB) - Women who help women struggling with abuse. Call Now: 020 7686 6000
24 Hr Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247

*Names changed