EARLY WARNING SIGN #1: COMMITMENT DRIVEN. This abuser claims to have fallen “heads over heels in love” with you, suggests it was “love at first site,” and believes you are soul mates. They will likely compare you to their ex’s, claiming that they have never felt so at comfortable, so “right,” or that they have never loved anyone as much as they love you. These individuals may propose marriage within the first 6 months, might pressure you into engaging in sex prematurely, and will fail to respect your boundaries and argue that your boundaries are unnecessary because you are obviously “made for each other.” Initially their professions of love are flattering, are intensely romantic, and seemingly mirror a childhood ‘fairytale love story.’ But in reality, these sentiments are only used so as to cloud your judgment, gain undo trust and confidence, and aides in the abuser’s ability to manipulate and control you in the future.
EARLY WARNING SIGN #2: DECEITFUL. Minor deceit, or the ‘telling of white lies’ frequently occurs in the beginning stages of a relationship. Even in healthy relationships, it is common for one to emphasis their positive qualities while also minimizing shortcomings so as to appear more “likable.” However, the abuser is blatantly deceptive in his portrayal of self and because it bears little resemblance to reality, great conscious efforts is expended in order to maintain their lies. The abuser is often superficial. He will be preoccupied with acquiring status symbols (car, boat, Rolex watch, et.); spends excessive time “perfecting” his image; craves attention, praise and reassurance; appears be overly-confident and gloats about his super-ambitious goals. Warning: the superficial abuser lacks empathy for others and experiences limited emotional responses. If you question his apathetic response, he will either blame his lack of expression on machismo, avoid expressing emotion by giving lavishly, expensive gifts in their place, or he may even demonstrate his talent for faking the desired response
EARLY WARNING SIGN #3: MINOR JEALOUSY.At first their jealous behavior doesn’t seem excessive, so there is no immediate ‘red flag warning’ indicating a prevalence for controlling or possessive behaviors. In fact, even though you notice he is uncomfortable with you talking to other men or even when you engage in activities without him, you likely perceive his response as “sweet,” or tangible proof of his devotion to you. Unfortunately, this minor display of jealousy is only the tip of the iceberg for an abuser; it will increase in intensity as the relationship progresses, and has the potential to manifest into a lethal attack. According to Stosny (2008), “jealousy becomes dangerous once it turns into obsession. The more we obsess about something, the more imagination takes over, distorting reality and rational thinking. Jealousy is the only naturally occurring emotion that can cause psychosis, which is the inability to tell what is really happening from what is in your head.” When their jealous behaviors are questioned, the abuser will claim that they are a direct result of his genuine love and concern for you. But, excessive jealousy is not a sign of love, rather it stems from his insecurities that suggest he must control or possess you, in order to keep you.
EARLY WARNING SIGN #4: VICTIMIZED. What do you know about his childhood? Did he experience abuse or neglect? If so, do these experiences continue to have a negative impact him? An abusive childhood in and of itself should not be considered a deal-breaker, however, if he uses his history of abuse as an excuse for his poor attitude or for feeling a general sense of resentment and entitlement; then this behavior should be on your radar.
Entitlement. Individuals with a sense of entitlement believe they should receive special treatment or considerations not afforded to others. They have an unjust sense of superiority and assume that their wants and needs are more important than those of others. Believing that everyone “owes” them preferential treatment; they often feel offended and/or disappointed when special considerations are not made, and as result then feel they should be compensated for their sub-par treatment. Stosny (2008) suggests, “After the glow of infatuation wears off, the entitled person will regard his feelings and desires as more important than yours. If you agree, you’ll get depressed. If you disagree, you’ll get abused.”
Resentment. Individuals who feel like they have been or are currently being unfairly treated are typically resentful of others. Although everyone experiences incidents of unfairness in their life, he contends that no one has helped them, or understood his needs, or taken his issues into consideration, nor have they been bestowed with appropriate levels of praise, recognition, or affection. Abusers tend to feel that they are not in control of their own lives, are incapable of rising above maltreatment alone, and blame their past mistreatment for all failures or areas of incompetence. Additionally, abusers are so focused on themselves that they are incapable of considering others’ needs. If you find yourself in a relationship with a resentful individual, you will spend considerable time reassuring, praising, and accommodating your partner; and in return your resentful partner will surely be insensitive to your needs, feelings or rights, and will leave you feel insignificant.
EARLY WARNING SIGN #5: LACKING CUPLABILITY. While presented as an early warning sign, generally “blaming others” is also a red flag behavior, whereas individuals who fail to take responsibility for their emotions, behaviors, and/or life outcomes should be avoided at all costs because of their destructive nature. It is likely that they also have endured an abusive childhood, therefore tend to label themselves as a victim and blame past abuses for current inappropriate acts or behaviors. There are two types of “blamers, those who shift responsibility for their problems and those blame others for their emotional response.
Blames Others for Problems. This individual appears to be attacked constantly, punished unjustly, prevented from success, and repeatedly victimized. They will almost never take responsibility for their problems, but are insistent that someone else is at fault. As the relationship progresses, he will eventually blame you as well for his mistakes, shortcomings and failures, although these claims are without merit.
Blames Others for Emotions. He seems defensive all the time and reactive to his perceived maltreatment. Clearly depressed or angry, he will claim that he was “fine” until someone treated him unfairly by his or her words, attitudes, or behaviors. As this relationship progresses, communication will decrease; you will find yourself “pussy-footing” around him, fearful to say or do things that will set him off; and you will spend considerable amounts of time trying to make him happy. The abuser will claim that you alone are responsible for maintaining his emotional well-being and happiness, and vise-versa will blame you when he feels angry or depressed.
EARLY WARNING SIGN #6: SUPERIORITY. This individual has an attitude of self-righteousness, truly believes that he is better than everyone else, and will have no qualms telling you this. According to Stosny (2008) “potential abusers tend to have hierarchical self-esteem, i.e. they need to feel better than someone else to feel okay about themselves. They need to point out ways in which they are smarter, more sensitive, or more talented than others. This, too, can be seductive in dating, as he will point out ways in which you are superior, too.” Predatory, hierarchical self-esteem has been considered the most abusive display of superiority, whereas the abuser will intentionally attack others’ self-esteem, seeking to make others feel bad about themselves, and does this solely to increase his self-esteem. Not surprisingly, he will maintain very rigid, stereotypical sex roles. Eventually, he will refer to you using derogatory female terms, insisting that ‘as a woman, you should know your place.’ He feels you are inferior, will expect that you stay at home and forgo any career aspirations. He will argue your ideals, insist that you assume traditional roles, and/or use guilt to get you to agree with his point-of-view. These behaviors are ALL highly predictive of an abusive personality.
EARLY WARNING SIGN #7: LONER. At first, it might appear that he really enjoys spending time alone with you, or that values solitary and is uncomfortable around others, or maybe it is just that he loves being one with nature; but eventually you will want to get out and do something. The abuser’s insistence to hang out alone only serves one purpose, he wants to isolate you from the outside world because he is vested in keeping you all for himself. This individual will either outright refuse or offered excuses as to why he cannot meet your family or friends, but similarly he has not introduced you to his friends either. He might question your motives for wanting to hang out with your family or friends, or suggest that those closest to you are immoral and potentially toxic to your relationship, and insists that you go everywhere together (after all, that’s what you would do if you were truly committed to him) but then rebuts all efforts to engage in outside social interaction. When you talk of the future, he shares that he would like to live a minimalistic lifestyle, in which: he would work, you will stay at home; own a small home out in the country, the closet neighbor being miles away; possess only the basic necessities, i.e. no phone, cable, internet, and survive with only one car. WARNING: His fantasy life would completely isolate you from the outside world, strip you of any resources, and place you squarely under his control.
EARLY WARNING SIGN #8: PETTINESS –or- HYPERSENSITIVITY. Abusers tend to have low self-esteem, thus they are easily upset or insulted. Also, he tends to make a big deal out of nothing, focus on insignificant details or comments, and assume that any difference of opinion is a direct personal attack on him. These abusers are highly inpatient, excessively critical of others, and lack the ability to forgive others. He often claims that you have ‘hurt’ him; even your smallest infractions cause him emotional pain. While his petty attitudes and outrageous emotional responses seem unfounded, you will eventually feel devalued and question your sensibilities; but of course, you will often find yourself apologizing for things you may have said or done, that he misinterpreted or blew out of proportion.
EARLY WARNING SIGN #9: CONTEMPTUOUS. He his always joking around, or so he claims; but his “jokes” are ripe with malicious sarcasm and condescending undertones. While his jokes, albeit poorly timed, seem genuinely innocently intended; other times his hostility is as unmistakably purposeful. When he is not poking ‘fun’ at others, his direct conversations will likely be condescending, cruel or rude in nature. Importantly, listen to the way he talks about his ex; does he become angry, call her names, or use insulting descriptions in an effort to blame her for the demise of the relationship? Considering these interactional patterns, understand that for now, these are directed at others; but as the relationship progresses, you must realize that the attacks will shift onto you.
EARLY WARNING SIGN #10: AGGRESIVENESS. The words ‘abuse’ and ‘relationship violence’ immediately conjures up mental images of physical fights, bruises, cuts, broken furniture, et. We really have been cued into the tangible aspects of relationship abuse, we recognize it when we see it; we can identify it, when we hear it directed at someone. However, aggressive individuals never end the first dating by punching her in the eye; instead these behaviors manifest over time. Clearly, acts of aggression toward animals or children or verbal assaults would be considered ‘red flag’ behaviors. However, the abuser may act out his aggressions in other ways that will indicate his abusive personality. Aggressive individuals often have little patience, can be triggered into violent rages by minor frustrations, have a tendency to throw, smash, or obliterate objects that irritate him. These aggressive behaviors will likely present in regards to issues of intimacy, i.e. he will pressure you to engage in acts that make you uncomfortable or use ‘playful force’ during sex. He thoroughly enjoys being in control and likes it when you play the helpless victim; unless all other areas of the relationship are in perfect balance, you are dealing with a potential abuser.
While extensive, this list is certainly not exhaustive. The single most important tool for identifying an abuser is YOU. You must listen to your inner voice that tells you “something’s not right,” trust your instincts, and then act upon them. Don’t look for alternative excuses or conjure up an argument for why he exhibits such bad behavior; the reality is that he does, and has been, and will continue to behave this way regardless of any alternative explanation you might offer. Require more of yourself and more of a potential partner; do not settle for someone that would cause you to be fearful, defensive, or diminished. Understand that ‘if’ these abusive personality traits present at the beginning of a relationship, they will be followed with dangerous levels of anger, hurt, and resentment that will eventually be centered solely on you. Don’t take a chance on the potential loser; Get Out, Get Safe, Get Strong!