Many women who come to Genesis for support end up asking the question “How can I learn to spot an abusive man at the beginning of a potential relationship?” The truth is, a perpetrator of domestic violence doesn’t always look like a scary monster. It’s rarely obvious that someone is abusive in the early stages of a relationship. For some victims, their abusers are decorated police officers, elected officials, prominent attorneys, church leaders or prestigious community members. In public, abusers often appear charismatic, friendly, kind and even compassionate, while behind closed doors they are terrifying, unpredictable and calculating—think Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. Most abusers work very hard to keep up a positive image outside of their home. thus making it extremely difficult for their victims to seek help. Women often realize that their partner’s “out of control” behaviors are not so out of control when the abuser is suddenly able to calm down when the police arrive or when his friends or family suddenly walk into the room.

Although no one has come up with a perfect formula for spotting an abuser, there are some common red flags to look out for.

For ease, in this list we refer to the abuser as “he,” but we also know that abuse can also happen in same-sex relationships.

  • He comes in like a hero or “knight and shining armor” wanting to rescue you
  • He is focused only on you
  • He wants to always know where you are and whom you are with
  • He is on the defense and does not like criticism
  • He displays jealousy, even of your women friends
  • He’s charismatic, charming and fun
  • He is uncomfortable with feelings
  • He does not like authority figures
  • He threatens to use your secrets against you
  • He makes fun of you or embarrasses you in front of others
  • He wants all of your attention
  • He displays cruelty toward animals
  • You feel controlled
  • He displays grandiose behavior
  • He is sexually controlling
  • He is arrogant
  • He has a “dual personality”
  • He displays antisocial behaviors:
    • He does not take responsibility for his behavior
    • He lacks empathy
    • His promises and apologies are empty.

There are a lot of factors that go into the creation of an abuser, with the abuser’s attitudes and beliefs playing a large role in his behavior. Abusers believe that they are entitled to privileges that do not apply to their partner. An abuser learns manipulative and controlling behavior from several sources, including key male role models, peers and pervasive cultural messages. By the time abusers reach adulthood, their manipulative behaviors have been integrated on such a deep level that the abuser may largely act automatically, but that does not mean that his behaviors are not intentional. It is important to note that abuse is a choice made by the abuser. Abusers also gain many rewards for their behaviors such as free labor, being center of attention, financial control, public status and approval of friends.

That being said, there are also some common myths about abusers:

  • Abuser had a bad childhood
  • Abuser has a mental health issue
  • Abuser is overly sensitive
  • Abuser has anger management issues
  • Abuser is afraid of intimacy
  • Abuser has low self esteem
  • Abuser person loses control
  • Abuser abuses those he loves the most

While the abuser may have experienced some of these, there are many people who experience victimization or other issues and do not choose to abuse others. Abuse is a choice made by the perpetrator. Domestic violence is a deliberate pattern of abusive tactics used to obtain and maintain power and control over the victim. Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive behavior that robs the victims of safety and independence.

If you or someone you love is experiencing this pattern of abuse and control or need more guidance in understanding what exactly may be happening, please reach out for help. Here at Genesis, we are experts in the patterns of abuse and help women navigate their journey in the midst of the confusing and scary abuse tactics that they are experiencing.

-Written by Amber Nealy, women’s and children’s therapist at Genesis Women’s Shelter