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A Word about Warning Signs of Abuse

A Word From Dr. Harold Duncan

A Word about Warning Signs of Abuse

I recently posted a “Word” about healthy relationships.

We all know that perfect relationships do not exist–any more than perfect people exist. It is true, however, that some relationships (and people) function better than others for a wide variety of reasons.

You may be in a relationship (or know of one) in which “something is just not right.”

You may have some ideas about what is wrong, or maybe you just can’t put your finger on it, but you know that this is not working the way it was meant to be.

Clearly, there are “degrees of difficulty” in all relationships. There are also times when problems are more difficult, more deeply ingrained and potentially, more destructive and threatening.

Often, these problems have to do with power, trust, respect and physical and emotional safety.

Warning Signs

So, what do you do when you find yourself in a relationship in which you feel “unsafe?”

The following list may be of some help. If your partner displays any or a combination of these behaviors, then you may be involved with a potential batterer. Pay very close attention to the following:

(You may also find this list appropriate to share with someone about whose safety you are concerned.)

  • A Push for Quick Involvement: The other party comes on very strong, claiming, “I’ve never felt loved like this ever, by anyone.” “I’ve never loved anyone like I do you.” “I don’t want you to see anyone else!” An abuser frequently pressures the other person for an exclusive commitment almost immediately.

(While at some level, this kind of dialog may sound comforting and even romantic; it is almost always an important “red flag.”)

  • Jealousy: The individual is excessively possessive, calls constantly or visits unexpectedly, prevents you from socializing or even going to work because you “might meet someone,” checks the mileage on your car.

(As mentioned above, this type of behavior may initially sound and feel “loving” or “protective” but is actually far from genuine love.)

  • Controlling: The individual interrogates you intensely (especially if you’re late) about a variety of issues: who you talked to and where you were. He keeps all the money and insists you ask for permission to go anywhere or do anything.
  • Unrealistic Expectations: He expects you to be the perfect woman and to meet his every need. 

(It is essential that you realize and remind yourself that these behaviors are fundamentally about his dysfunction and what he wants–or demands–you to do to please and satisfy him.

  • Isolation: He tries to cut you off from your family and friends; accuses people who are your supporters of “causing trouble.” In extreme cases, the abuser may deprive you of a phone or car or try to prevent you from holding a job.
  • Blames Others for Problems or Mistakes: It’s always someone else’s fault if anything goes wrong-the boss, his family, your family, you. The individual has great difficulty accepting responsibility for his own decisions and problems.
  • Makes Everyone Else Responsible for His Behaviors and/or Feelings: The abuser says, “You make me so angry,” or “You’re hurting me by not doing what I tell you.” “It’s your fault that I said or did those things that hurt you.”
  • Hypersensitivity: The individual is easily insulted, claiming that his feelings are hurt when he is really mad. He will rant about the injustice of things that are just part of life.

(He actually carries around a great deal of anger–which he may deny feeling–that probably has been a part of his life for a long time-even before you became a part of his life.)

  • Cruelty to Animals and Children: The abuser often kills or punishes animals brutally. Also, he may expect children to do things that are beyond their ability (he may spank a two-year-old for wetting a diaper) or may tease them until they cry.
  • “Playful” Use of Force During Sex: He often enjoys throwing you down or holding you down against your will during sex.
  • Verbal Abuse: He constantly criticizes you or says blatantly cruel, hurtful things; degrades, curses, or calls you ugly names. This may also involve sleep-deprivation, waking you up and keeping you up with relentless verbal abuse.
  • Rigid Sex Roles: He expects you to serve, obey, and remain at home.
  • Sudden Mood Swings: The abuser frequently switches from sweetly loving to explosively violent in a matter of minutes.
  • Past Battering: He admits hitting women in the past but says they made him do it or the situation brought it on.
  • Threats of Violence: He makes statements like, “I’ll break your neck,” or “I’ll kill you,” and then dismisses them with “Everybody talks that way,” or “I didn’t really mean it.”

The good news is that people and marriages can be  helped.  This kind of transformation, however, can only begin to take place when the parties involved are willing to acknowledge that there is a problem. Additionally, this type of transformation requires the involvement and guidance of others-especially professionals who are trained in dealing with these types of problems.

(Note: The perspective of the above warning signs is that the male is the abuser and the female is the victim. While that is the most common scenario, it is certainly not the only one. Female abusers are becoming more and more numerous. Whatever the nature of your relationship, if you can identify any combination of the above, it is time for you to get help! Please do not hesitate! Call someone who will be able to help you take the next necessary steps.)

One place to start is the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Web site: www.ndvh.org

Telephone: 1-800-799-7233

Harold D Duncan, PhD


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