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Early warning signs and the beginnings of an abusive relationship

Bancroft, Lundy. (2002). Why does he do that? : inside the mind of angry and controlling men. New York (NY) Penguin Group. Pages: 114-121.

Early beginnings

An idyllic opening is part of almost every abusive relationship.

  • There are many ways in which the glowing beginning of a relationship with an abusive man can serve to entrap the woman.
  • Like any love-struck person, she tells her friends and family what a terrific man he is. After talking so highly of him, she feels embarrassed to reveal his mistreatment when it begins-so she keeps it to herself for a long time.
  • She assumes his behavior comes from something that has gone wrong inside of him-what else is she to conclude, given how wonderful he was at first? So she pours herself into figuring out what happened.
  • She has a hard time letting go of her own dream; she thought she had found a wonderful man.
  • She can’t help wondering if she did something wrong or has some great personal deficit that ended the idyllic beginning. So she tries to find the key problem inside of herself.

Many ask the question: Does an abusive man deliberately plan to become abusive when beginning a relationship?

The differences between a woman falling in love and an abusive man falling in love are as follows:

She is looking for an equal partner to love and be loved by.

He is dreaming of having a woman that meets all of his needs, is beautiful at all times of day and night, has no needs of her own and is in awe of his brilliance and charm. He desires a woman who will cater to him and never complain about anything he does or darken his day with frustrations or unhappiness about her own life. Although abuse of a woman is not the goal, control certainly is. He then finds himself using abuse to gain the control he feels he has the right to.

An abuser is a human being, not an evil monster, but he has a profoundly complex and destructive problem that should not be underestimated.

An abuser’s behavior is primarily conscious-he acts deliberately rather than by accident or by losing control of himself but the underlying thinking that drives his behavior is largely not conscious.

An abuser learns manipulative and controlling behavior from several sources, including key male role models, peers, and pervasive cultural messages. By the time he reaches adulthood, he has a integrated manipulative behavior to such a deep level that he acts largely on automatic. He knows what he is doing but not necessarily why.

How can I tell if a man I’m seeing will become abusive? Early Warning Signs:

He speak disrespectfully about his former partners

A certain amount of anger and resentment toward an ex-partner is normal, but beware of the man who is very focused on his bitterness or who tells you about it inappropriately early on in your dating. Be especially cautious of the man who talks bout women from his past in degrading or condescending ways or who characterizes himself as a victim of abuse by women. Be alert if he says that his previous wife or girlfriend falsely accused him of being abusive-try to get her side of the story. Be cautious of a man who says that you are nothing like the other women he has been involved with, that you are the first partner to treat him well, or that earlier women in his life have not understood him.

He is disrespectful towards you

Disrespect is the soil in which abuse grows. If a man puts you down or sneers at your opinions, if he is rude to you in front of others, if he is cutting or sarcastic, he is communicating a lack of respect.

He does favors that you don’t want or puts on such a show of generosity that it makes you uncomfortable

These can be signs of a man who is attempting to create a sense of indebtedness.

He is possessive and jealous

Jealous behavior is one of the surest signs that abuse is down the road. Possessiveness masquerades as love. Jealous feelings are not the same as behaviours. A man with insecurities may naturally feel anxious about your associations with other men, especially ex-partners, and might want some reassurance. But if he indicates that he expects you to give up your freedom to accommodate his jealousy, control is creeping up. Possessiveness shows that he doesn’t love you as an independent human being but rather as a guarded treasure. After a while you will feel suffocated by his constant vigilance.

He is self-centered

Watch out for a man that does most of the talking, listens poorly when you speak, chronically switches the topic of conversation back to himself. Self-Centeredness is a personality characteristic that is highly resistant to change, as it has deep roots in profound entitlement or to severe emotional injuries (in non abusers) or both (in narcissistic abusers)

Nothing is ever his fault

He blames something or someone for anything that goes wrong. As time goes by, his target of blame increasingly becomes you. He may make promises he can’t keep, coming up with a stream of excuses for disappointing you or behaving irresponsibly, and perhaps taking serious economic advantage of you in the process.

He gets too serious too quickly about the relationship

Watch out if he jumps too soon into planning your future together without taking enough time to get to know you and grow close, because it can mean he’s trying to wrap you up tightly into a package that he can own. If he won’t respect your wishes to slow things down, there is probably trouble ahead.

He abuses drugs or alcohol

Although substances do not cause partner abuse, they often go hand in hand.

He pressures you for sex

Not respecting your wishes or feelings regarding sex speaks of exploitativeness, which in turn goes with abuse. It also is a sign of seeing women as sex objects rather than human beings. If he says you need to have sex with him to prove that you truly love and care for him, this is a sure sign of abusiveness.

He intimidates you when he is angry

Intimidation, even if it appears unintentional, is a sure sign that emotional abuse is on the way-or has already begun-and is a warning flag that physical violence may eventually follow.

Intimidation includes:
  • Getting too close to you when he is angry, putting a finger in your face, poking you, pushing you, blocking your way or restraining you.
  • He tells you that he is “just trying to make you listen.”
  • He raises a fist, towers over you, shouts at you, or behaves in any way that makes you flinch or feel afraid.
  • He makes vaguely threatening comments, such as, “you don’t want to see me mad” or “you don’t know who you’re messing with.”
  • He drives recklessly or speeds up when he is angry.
  • He punches walls or kicks doors.
  • He throws things around, even if they don’t hit you.

He has double standards

Beware of a man who has a different set of rules for his behavior than for yours.

He has negative attitudes toward women

Stereotyped beliefs about women’s sex roles also contribute to the risk of abuse. His conviction that women should take care of the home, or that a man’s career is more important than woman’s, can become a serious problem, because he may punish you when you start refusing to live in his box. Women sometimes find it challenging to meet men who don’t have restrictive beliefs about women’s roles, particularly within certain cultural or national groups, but the effort to meet such men is an important one.

He treats you differently around other people

Adult abusers tend to put on a show of treating their partners like gold when everyone is watching, reserving most of their abuse for times when no one else will see. In teenage abusers, the opposite is often true. He may be rude and cold with her in front of other people to impress his friends with how “in control” and “cool” he is but be somewhat nicer when they are alone together.

He appears to be attracted to vulnerability

Some abusive men are attracted to women much younger and/or at different developmental and maturity levels than them, or they may be attracted to women that have had a recent traumatic experience. He is attracted to the power imbalance in this type of relationship.
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