One of the things that seems common when it comes to relationships is that once you’ve been in an abusive one (boyfriend / girlfriend / parents / caregiver), sometimes it gets difficult to tell a good one from a bad one. No one leaves an unhealthy relationship saying “oh, that was fun. Let me try that again” but it can be very, very easy for some people to fall back into these types of relationships without understanding how on earth it happened and while there are a lot of theories out there to try to help explain the many “why’s”, that is often best left to counselors and therapists and support staff and the like.
Since this can be such a big deal for a lot of people, we thought it might be useful if we talk about some of the personality traits that seem to be commonly found in people who have the potential to be abusive. It should be noted that not everyone with one or more of these traits is automatically abusive but the more of these traits a person has, the higher the chances they could be an abusive partner towards you. It should also be noted we originally got this list from somewhere on the internet but there was no author to the posting so we don’t know who to give credit to!
An abusive person will say that jealousy is a sign of love (it isn’t!). They may want to know who you’ve talked to or seen, may accuse you of flirting or be upset about the time you spend with family, friends or hobbies. They may call you often during the time you’re apart, check the gas mileage on the car or even ask friends to keep an eye on you. They may put pressure on you to not work or go to school in case you were to meet someone else. (“It’s not you baby – it’s them. They’re the problem”)
Concern for someone you love is normal. When someone uses that concern to try to control your every move, that’s not normal. They may say they’re just concerned for your safety, your health, your feelings or your ability to make decisions. Everything you do and the decisions you make may be questioned or ‘wrong’. Eventually you may not be allowed to make personal decisions about your home, your clothes, how you spend your time or money (or you might get in trouble for making wrong decisions).
Many abusive people are easily insulted or upset. They may think regular comments are personal attacks against them. They may think every day struggles (like getting a ticket) are personal injustices. If you like something different than them, they may see it as criticism against what they like and therefore see it as criticism against them. They may truly believe others are out to get them or put them down.
An abusive person may try to keep you from being with other people. They may prevent you from spending time with family or friends or insist you can only go together as a couple. You may be accused of not being committed to the relationship or that friends and family are trying to ‘put a wedge’ between you.
Many abuse victims dated or knew their abuser for less than 6 months prior to being engaged or living together. They may claim love at first sight, ‘you are the only one they can really talk to’, ‘only you understand’, or they’ve never loved anyone like this before. They need someone desperately and may put pressure on you to commit to the relationship before you’re ready.
Someone who is abusive usually won’t take responsibility for any problems or feelings. They lost their job, dropped out of school, have no contact with their family because of someone else. In fact, they may think people are out to get them. You may get blamed for upsetting them or preventing them from getting what they want. All feelings are your fault. “I wouldn’t have done that if YOU hadn’t made me angry”. “You make me happy” also means that you’re the one who makes them unhappy. The person’s emotional stability becomes your fault and your responsibility.
Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde
Abusive people often portray a normal, pleasant person to everyone else. Some abusers can seem kind and considerate when they want to. This can be very confusing, especially when the abusive person shows sudden changes in mood and switches from nice to enraged or hurtful in an instant. An abusive person can show great care and concern for things like hurt baby animals but still be abusive when they’re in a private setting.
“If you speak to him again, I’ll kill you / him”. “If you leave me, I’ll kill myself.” Threats are meant to manipulate and they can be direct or subtle or implied. Most people don’t threaten their partners but someone who is abusive might and then blame you for being ‘overly sensitive’.
An abusive person may break something of yours that you like, might bang their fists on a table or chair or throw something past you. Breaking things is often a punishment for some imagined slight or misdeed. They may say you don’t need the items anymore or that it’s your fault for getting them so upset. Most people don’t break or beat on things in order to intimidate or threaten others.
It’s important to remember that put downs, degrading comments, insults, calling you stupid, saying you can’t manage without him / her are all warning signs of an abusive person. They may keep you up all night to ‘sort things out’ or even wake you up at night to say hurtful things. None of this is okay behaviour in a relationship and none of it is your fault.
For more information, please contact your local women’s shelter or call the Assaulted Women’s Helpline 1-866-863-0511 or go to www.awhl.org .