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It is an unfortunate reality that the law of nature (or perhaps more aptly named, prideful, stupid rebellion) dictates that we each must learn our own way in the world. I cannot learn my lessons from your life experiences and you cannot learn from mine. And that’s cool. Hey- that’s life! And often the lessons we learn along the way are what make our lives so interesting and rich and fun.

But this isn’t about the fun stuff. This is about domestic violence. This is about abusive relationships. And an abusive relationship isn’t just a “lesson” to be learned. It’s a life-changing, body, heart, and soul damaging battle. So I implore all of you who don’t yet know–about this type of man [1] about the sheer hell that they take you to in the name of love — to please, please take a minute to read this, to take the time to listen, really listen, to learn a little about the mentality of these people, and the warning signs that they exhibit as early as the dating phase of the relationship so that you never have to feel the terror that so many others have felt, fearing that they were going to die, despairing that their children may have to grow up to face this world without them.

The first thing you need to know about this guy is that he is insecure and self-loathing beyond anything the normal, average person can imagine. He often cloaks these feelings beneath a mask of charm and bravado. The dirty little secret that he has in common with other abusers—and which he feels must be protected at all costs– is the absolute self-hatred and worthlessness that he feels. He fears that his intimate partner– you– will get close enough to see and possibly expose these insecurities. At the same time, however, he needs you. Your presence keeps him from carrying the full weight of these feelings of self-hatred—the more of this burden he is able to project onto you, the less he has to absorb. It is through this paradox that you become the enemy, because it makes him vulnerable. He feels that you have the upper hand and therefore does whatever necessary to make you believe that HE has the upper hand. There is, in his mind, no such thing as a partnership. This one-sided mental one-upmanship becomes the prevailing dynamic of the relationship.

The second thing that you need to understand is that he has a mailcious, destructive sense of entitlement. To your person, to your committment and loyalty, to every single thing about you and all that you have to offer him.

His desperate need to gain and maintain the upper hand in the relationship, along with this sense of entitlement, permeates his every thought, every word, and every action. Therefore, nothing about him is real. The name of his game is manipulation. He holds you tenderly and whispers sweet promises of happily-ever-after to you? Sorry—it’s not real. He tells you you’re the only one who could ever understand him? Bullshit. He tells you you’re beautiful? YAWN. He calls you a worthless whore, a zero, admonishes you for dressing like a slut? Take heart, he doesn’t mean it. He doesn’t mean anything he says. You’ll spend years trying desperately to change him back into the sweet man he was at the beginning of the relationship. You’ll twist and contort yourself into something that is completely unrecognizable because he will convince you that you are the one to blame for his “change”. Bullshit. He didn’t change, he just let down the sweet facade that hooked you in the first place.

Remember—he is going to dump all of his crap right onto your shoulders. And if you are already stuck in a relationship with an abusive asshole, remember my words. Not only do you not need to believe his put-down words of abuse, he doesn’t believe it either! On the contrary, he thinks very highly of you! (Just don’t forget that he hates you for it!!)

These people do not change. Okay? HE WILL NOT CHANGE. Repeat this to yourself instead of counting sheep at night, write it in a notebook a thousand times, write it across your forehead as a vital reminder every time you look at yourself in the mirror…..just let it get through. There is nothing you can ever say or do to change him. Ever. Period.By the very nature of his relationship with you, you are the enemy whom he seeks to destroy. You cannot love him out of this mentality. Doesn’t matter that he treated you so well at first. IT WAS A LIE. The whole relationship has been orchestrated from the beginning to result in your dependence on him.

Below are some red flags that might pop up at the beginning of the relationship. We are always on our best behavior when we’re just getting to know someone. But we all drop little clues about who we really are here and there—the trick is knowing which ones need to be picked up and examined more closely, and which ones can safely stay put where they fall. Some men are masters at manipulation, and are able to fool even the most cautious among us. But it doesn’t hurt to have a bit of a guideline. And one or two of these alone may be harmless. But the more you see, the faster you need to run, my friend.

Immediate Attachment– If he tries to get way too close way too fast, tells you all of his secrets, or pushes for a commitment too quickly, run. The only indication that this may not be a red flag is his willingness to respect your boundaries. If you make it clear to him that he’s moving too quickly and he backs off, you may be okay, but proceed with caution regardless. If he constantly pressures you for more than he knows you’re ready to give, you’re probably standing at the doorway to hell. Don’t knock on it, and for God’s sake, don’t open it. RUN FAR AND RUN FAST.

Jealousy/Possessiveness– Instead of trying to hide this characteristic in the beginning, he may manipulate you into believing that he is this way because he loves you. He’s just trying to protect you. He’s looking out for your best interests. This one will progressively get worse. At first it will seem flattering to you that he cares so much. But there is nothing flattering about having the mileage checked on your car every time you go to the store.

Isolation- This is one area that is ripe with means for manipulation. He can and will, very early on, find ways to break up your closest relationships with other people. At first he might go out of his way to fit in with and impress the people in your life in an attempt to break down their defenses and to get them on his side. He does this because from the very beginning, he wants to manipulate those around you so that you look like the crazy one, if and when it becomes beneficial to him for you appear that way (such as when you try to break it off with him or begin to talk to others about his abusive behavior).

Remember that he also wants to cut you off from everyone who loves you in order to nullify their influence over you. Again, his methods of doing so will be subtle. He’s probably not going to say right off the bat, “you’re my posession and I don’t want to share you, so I am going to deliberately destroy your relationships with everyone who loves you.” If he wants you to quit your job, he will find a reason that sounds well…..reasonable. If he wants to destroy your relationship with your sister or your mom or your best friend, he will chip away at the weak spots until he convinces you to cut them from your life. Allowing his voice to be the only one in your ear breaks down your defenses that much quicker, because the voices of reason are no longer there to counter-balance the negative impact of his abusive behavior.

Disrespect for your boundaries– This is, in my opinion, the number one indicator of his character. Showing up on your doorstep unexpectedly after you’d told him you wanted to be alone, calling you over and over again when he KNOWS that you are enjoying a night out with the girls, pressuring you to have sex when he knows that you don’t feel well, attempting to discipline your children early in the relationship instead of respecting your role as the parent….these all show total disregard for your opinions, thoughts, feelings, for your boundaries. Even when his actions seem harmless, such as insisting on holding your hand even though he knows you hate hand-holding (I once dated a guy who insisted on holding my hand every time we were in public. Not only did it drive me insane, but it was indeed a sign of things to come), there is nothing harmless about a man who doesn’t care about your boundaries. Period. When I started dating after my divorce, I couldn’t believe the number of men who openly showed total disregard for what I said I wanted. There were constant attempts to change my mind about something that I had made my feelings clear on or to convince me that I didn’t really feel the way I said I did. I couldn’t believe it, and I sure as hell didn’t give them the time of day. If a man disrespects your boundaries, he’s no good. Double that if he tries to guilt trip you for them. He is a grown man. If he can’t handle hurt feelings because you assert your boundaries, then fuck him.

Sexism/Objectification of women– At first he’s probably going to refrain from calling you names like “whore” and “cunt”, and he’s probably not going to tell you (at first) that you, lowly woman, are there to cater to his every whim. But run if you hear him make derogatory comments about other women. If he feels this way about women in general, it is illogical to believe that he doesn’t feel this way about you. No matter how many times he calls you the exception. You won’t be the exception for long.

Blaming you for his actions– In the beginning, he’s probably not going to knock you down and blame you for it. But he may, for instance, act as though he has the right to reach out and grab parts of your body whenever he wants and then tell you that it’s because you’re so beautiful/gorgeous/hot that he just can’t help himself. This is not a compliment. It is a potential warning sign that when he puts his hands on you in anger later in the relationship, you will be blamed for it. Also, listen to what he says when he talks about himself. If he seems to always blame others for the bad stuff in his life, you may at some point be shouldering more responsibility than you ever bargained for.

Constant Nitpicking– Having something negative to say about everything you do or don’t do, etc. He may claim that he is being hard on you because he cares about you and simply wants to help you improve yourself. Not true, my friend. This is nothing but a tearing-down tactic. It is a very manipulative and effective way to erode your self esteem. In time this will lead to outright verbal attacks–calling you stupid, worthless, zero, etc.

A sense of entitlement— He acts as though everything he does or says is justified and he rarely, if ever, apologizes for his actions. Again, at first you will see this in his interactions with others. In time you will be the target.

Deflection–Any attempt to discuss something he did to you or how his treatment makes you feel is turned around back on you. What about the things you’ve done? You will quickly notice that he does it on the regular. He is not a fan of criticism unless he’s the one doling it out.

Secrecy about his past girlfriends or excessive bad-mouthing about all of them–When he talks about how past relationships ended, watch to see if he accepts part of the blame for any of them. If he doesn’t, that’s not good. If he refuses to even talk about them, that’s really not good. What about kids? If he has them, does he have a good relationship with their mother? If he doesn’t, that’s a red flag.

Ditto with the weirdness about YOUR past— If he won’t hear about your past or tries to put you down for any part of it, dump him. Sound like too benign a thing to dump someone over? Then don’t get mad when I say I told you so. This is not a good thing. Don’t ever let someone make you feel uncomfortable in any way about your past. Period. Also a very, very bad sign: if he takes the things that you tell him in confidence and throws them in your face later.

He tells you that you are the only one who can understand him– Bullshit. No you aren’t. But the poor guy does want you to pity him, and if you think that no one else in his life cares enough about him to make the effort to “get” him, then he’s pretty much golden on that one. Sympathy for the abuser is an exceedingly difficult thing to get past once you’ve been sucked into his world. It can and will prevent you from getting away from him.

There’s no foolproof way of guaranteeing that you will never end up in a relationship with an abusive person. Some of them are masters at fooling even the most discerning among us. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try. And hey, don’t just sit passively by and wait to see if these behaviors ever manifest themselves- test him! Ask him about his ex-girlfriends, and then pay close attention to what he says about them. Call him up one night and tell him about your weekend plans to hang out with a male buddy of yours. Observe his reaction. Tell him about your past– if he can’t handle it, tough shit! Make it clear to him that you’re seeing other people, because you’re not ready to settle down. Ask him how he feels about his co-workers. Does he talk bad about any of them? If so, observe his use of language. Does he use dehumanizing language in his descriptions about them (or his exes or anyone else, for that matter)?

Anyway– the point is, test him. Do it with abandon and without remorse. You deserve to be happy. When the right one comes along he won’t set off warning bells that you have to rationalize away, and he’ll wait patiently for you to decide that he’s a keeper.

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[1] contrary to increasingly popular narrative, domestic violence is very much a gendered issue, which is why this post is directed at women. I understand and acknowledge that the roles are sometimes reversed (I myself have had the displeasure of having known one or two abusive women in my lifetime), but for the sake of brevity and clarity, and as a nod to the reality of the problem, I have identified the abuser as male.

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