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.

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