Today the feather I pull out of the featherbed as I look at abusers and their many faces. This diary is not about lies conservatives tell, although I must admit that in my personal experience abusers are more apt to spew conservative talking points than not. This is a universal problem that knows no particular demographic, not in terms of income, ethnic background, education, religion, or sexual orientation. All demographics have this challenge. One, in particular, financial abuse, is rarely discussed.
One thing we do not do enough, and we need to do routinely, is discuss the warning signs of an abuser.
When I was a speaker for Planned Parenthood, I spoke at battered women’s shelters. This also meant I listened. Before I could speak there, I underwent training from Planned Parenthood. Their training was excellent, and I have been very aware of the warning signs since, I needed a refresher to do this diary. I will be sharing from sites I found last night throughout this diary.
There is no big A on the forehead, no telltale ugliness in the eyes or countenance. As stated in Hidden Hurt:Domestic Abuse Information, from which I have pulled much of today’s information (although there are many sites, some of which I list later)
In actual fact one of the main problems encountered by victims, friends, family and various agencies dealing with the consequences of an abusive relationship, is how ‘normal’ the abuser seemed, how unlike the image so frequently portrayed by the media. We may expect an abuser to be male, big, working-class, prone to being drunk, un-shaven, heterosexual, … (fill in the blanks!). However, an abuser is just as likely to be gay, a white-collar worker, a religious leader or clean-shaven. Sometimes the abuser is also a woman.
In other words, he OR she could be the nice neighbor next door who shovels your walk or brings you homemade cookies, your coworker, or your cousin. The same could be said about the abused. When you meet someone new, it is hard to recognize this person could be one who would wind up trying to abuse you. Here, from the same website along with commentary from my own observations and other resources, is what to look for:
Jealousy This manifests in the abuser getting abnormally angry or annoyed when the victim speaks to anybody of the opposite sex (or same sex in the case of gay abusers, that will be understood through the rest of this diary), or even looks at them. The abuser also gets upset when the victim is noticed by somebody of the opposite sex either by speaking or just looking (often the abuser will say someone is looking when they actually may not be). The abuser will check cell phone messages, car mileage, look at the clothes in the closet to ensure the victim is not dressing outside of the abuser’s boundaries when the abuser is not there. The abuser will try to control what the victim wears to discourage any interest. He/she makes accusations based on the flimsiest of evidence, such as a casual remark or a glance from a stranger. The abuser justifies this behavior by saying, “I just can’t help it, I love you so much that the thought of you with anybody else makes me crazy.” The abuser can become jealous of friends and family, trying to limit interactions with them. This ties in with the Isolation behavior.
Controlling Behavior This manifests with the abuser telling the victim what to do, when to do it, how to do it. As mentioned before, it includes control over what the victim wears, eats, drinks, where they go to dine, where and when to shop (even for groceries). While most of the abuse situations I have seen involve an abusive man with a woman victim, this is an area that goes both ways. The abuser creates a set of rules for the victim to follow, but does not have to follow him/her self. He/she also sets up a set of definitions and expects the victim to adhere to them. For example, in last night’s diary, the abuser defined “respect” in a very restrictive way and then complained about the lack of respect. Nobody could enforce this definition of respect on a stranger, but the victim is expected to enforce it anyway.
Controlling behavior can extend to the financial area, where the victim is supposed to turn over the paycheck to the abuser and then seek permission to buy anything, even though the victim is contributing to the total household income. Often the abuser will not allow the victim to see bills, but the victim is on all the credit lines and shares equal responsibility. It can even extend to tax returns. The result is the victim is left in financial ruin when the relationship ends.
Quick Involvement When the abuser finds his victim, he/she wants to get into the relationship right away. He/she does not want the victim to have time to think about what is happening. This is a reliance on the early “love rush,” trying to circumvent the rational questions that come when a relationship is given time to mature. The abuser uses the feelings of romantic involvement against the victim.
Unrealistic Expectations In this behavior, the abuser wants the perfect romantic partner, with perfect sex, perfect home cleanliness, perfectly timed emotional support. In one case I heard about, the man beat the wife because she burned his toast one morning. In spite of having two children to watch as she cooked, she was supposed to watch the toaster and pull it out at the exact right time. Other times she was beat because the eggs were too dry, the dinner was not on the table when he got home, the newspapers had not been put out, or the children were crying.
Isolation Here the abuser does not want the partner to see anybody but him or her self. Family visits are either restricted or eliminated, calls to family are on a timer. The victim cannot visit friends, go for “girl’s night out” or “boy’s night out,” or sometimes even take the children on a play date. Interestingly, the abuser gets to do all these things. The abuser uses the phrase, “I am all you need, you shouldn’t need anybody else if you really love me.”
Blame-Shifting For ProblemsThe abuser says, “It is your fault I got laid off. If I hadn’t had to come home to dinner, they would have kept me.” “It is your fault I hit you. Paying for your upkeep has me under too much stress.” Whatever goes wrong in the abuser’s life is the fault of the partner or some outside entity. The government is to blame, the boss is to blame, the neighbor is to blame, and on and on. If the children misbehave, it isn’t that they are children, the victim (or the school, or the caregiver) is too strict, too lenient, too lazy, etc.
Blame-Shifting For Feelings Here is where the words, “You made me so mad I couldn’t help myself” come in. “I have told you many times that I want … and you didn’t do it!” “You just want to annoy me and I will teach you not to.” The victim becomes responsible for the very emotional state and feelings of the abuser.
Hypersensitivity The abuser is able to take a simple, meaningless statement and read into it something that he/she feels is an affront. This not only happens in marriage or partnerships but also between children and parents. “You gave me that look” may be legitimate, but it may also be an example of hypersensitivity. (I have had people ask me about a look I gave them when I was trying, through my nearsightedness, to see their faces. These were not abusers, but if they were, they would have reacted more.)
Cruelty To AnimalsThis speaks for itself. Someone willing to harm a helpless animal will probably not stop there. Research is still ongoing about this relationship, but there appears to be a correlation.
Cruelty To ChildrenAn abuser often has expectations of behavior in children that don’t make sense. They will expect a three year old to act like a perfect lady or gentleman. They are prepared to take out their frustration on the children because the children are weaker and helpless against the abuser.
‘Playful’ Use Of Force In Sex Abusers often have fantasies in which they have absolute control. In many cases, they feel that they have no control outside the home so they try to enforce control in the bedroom. The opposite has also been known to be true, in which someone who is always in control in the office (an upper level manager, for example) feels a need to be in control when he/she comes home. This type of abuse can be manifested in painful “rough” sex, or in demeaning sex. There is a need to be careful here, because not all who engage in rough sex are abusers, but if the other person is reluctant and needs convincing or coercion, there is apt to be a problem. Forced sex is always a sign of an abuser (in addition to being rape).
Rigid Gender Roles This is an almost universal trait. Men will expect to be in total control of the household with the woman serving him hand and foot. She may be “allowed” to work outside the home, but he controls the right to work and the job she can have, as well as the hours. Whether she works or not, she is to maintain an immaculate house, have dinner ready when he wants it, have it hot and perfect. She is in total charge of raising the children, including bathing, dressing, feeding. Often she will have to serve them separately from him. In the case of women, she will expect him to provide for her every material need, calling him “not a real man” and a wimp if he cannot earn enough to satisfy her wants. In addition, she may make him keep house or hire a housekeeper and deal with the children while she does whatever she does.
Verbal Abuse Again a nearly universal abuser trait, the abuser will begin to eat away at the victim’s self esteem with hateful words. This is often a form of grooming for more violent abuse. Things like ugly, fat, lazy and stupid are aimed at the victim. Pretty soon the abuser will tell the victim that nobody else would put up with the victim and the victim believes it. I have seen women in the shelters absolutely broken just because of the things they have been told so often they come to believe it.
Dr. Jeckyll And Mr. Hyde The abuser will have an episode of violence followed by being a very contrite, sweet and charming person. They will change, they will never let it happen again. The abuser will bring flowers and candy, take the victim to a nice dinner or prepare a special dinner at home, cry, compliment. The words “but I just can’t live without you. If you leave me, I will kill myself” may be used.
Drink Or Substance Abuse We all have heard about the violent drunk. We have also heard stories of some things people do when on a drug binge.
History Of Battering Or Sexual Violence If you hear that the person you are seeing has been arrested for a violent sexual offense or if someone who knows that person tells you of similar events, run. Enough said.
Negative Attitude Toward Women Or women. The abuser is likely to talk about women in derogatory terms, saying they belong pregnant and in the kitchen, should not be taking good work from men, talk about how unstable they are, etc. I wonder how many congresspersons are closet abusers?
Threatening Violence In the diary that motivated this one, the person in question showed the diarist that he owned a gun. He made the showing of it seem quite innocuous, but he did it. Abusers will let the victim know they have weapons and know what to do with them. They may couch it in, “I don’t know why I still have this thing but …” but they ensure the victim knows that if she is not compliant, her safety is at risk.
Breaking Or Striking Objects This is a sign of a temper that is out of control. However, abusers also use the act of violence against an object to instill fear and obedience. The message is that the next thing broken could be the victim.
Any Force During An Argument One thing we always told women at the shelters is that if he hits you once, he will hit you again. Harder. Once the abuser gets away with it, he knows he can do it again. He may even try to see what the limits are. Even loud shouting and threatening or intimidating behavior is a warning sign.
Types of abuse
Abuse comes in five major categories:
Physical From the domestic violence websited cited above:
He came upstairs and asked me to get out of bed to help him look for a work shirt. I didn’t get out of bed. I replied that I wanted to go to sleep. He suddenly turned on me. He kicked me out of bed, somehow got me in the position of being flat on my back. He stood on me and spat in my face. (Charlotte’s Story)
I had a client once who was buying a house with her husband. I got a call one day, he had thrown her across the dresser because the bed wasn’t made properly. We cancelled the transaction and she got a divorce.
We all know about physical abuse when it results in a hospital visit, but milder forms of violence are also abusive: kicking, shoving, slapping, spitting, choking, pinching, hair pulling, dragging, burning, use of physical restraints during sex (against the partner’s will), weapon wielding, and even dangerous driving if it is intended to frighten. It often starts small, almost hard to recognize, and grows.
Verbal Verbal abuse consists of name calling and degrading statements. The abuser repeatedly tells the victim that she is unworthy and deserves to be mistreated, that she caused the abuse because of her stupidity, laziness, ugliness, and so on. The abuser ignores the feelings of the victim. Many times the verbal attacks occur in front of other people (remember the OJ Simpson trial where Nicole was demeaned at dinner with friends?) in situations where the victim has been taught not to respond.
Emotional Emotional abuse can involve threats about doing harm, calling the police, threats about the children (harming them, running away with them, calling social services and having them removed). Emotional abusers work to make the victim dependent on them and afraid to leave. They create in the victim a broken self image and the idea that their survival depends on being compliant to the abuser. They also create fear that the abuser will harm the victim or the victim’s children. It may go to the extreme of withholding necessities such as food, locking them up in a closet, not allowing them to leave the house.
Sexual This was discussed above.
Financial Again discussed above, this is becoming more and more recognized. The abuser makes the victim financially dependent (how will you raise these kids when you can’t even earn a nickel and you owe so much money? Nobody will even give you a credit card without me!). Abusers often forbid the victim the right to work so they cannot earn their own money, enforcing the dependency. They often hide the money. This happens with the abuser keeping bank statements and bills from the victim, moving money into secret accounts, putting the victim on all the credit lines but not letting the victim know what they are, what they are for or how much they are. Again, instances of financial abuse are finally becoming recognized as actual abuse.
One thing to remember in this discussion: Victims can also be abusers. In some cases, there is an abuse/abuse situation going on. One may abuse in some ways victimizing the other, while in turn the other may abuse in the same or another way. Victims may also become pass-along abusers. Not having any power in their relationship with the abusers, they in turn regain that power by abusing others. It escalates, and it becomes a learned behavior. Some have been around abuse so long they think it is normal.
The lies I wish to pull out of the featherbed here are three fold. First, abuse only happens in certain demographics, in certain types of families, in certain belief systems, in certain ethnic backgrounds, etc. It can and does happen in almost every neighborhood or community regardless of demographics. Second, the idea that the abuser loves the victim so much he can’t help himself. (Note that if the abuser was so enraged he couldn’t control himself, how does he control his blows so there are no visible bruises?) Third, that the abuser will change. I talked to many women at the shelter who thought they could love their abusers enough to change them. The only change that happened, or will happen, is the abuse gets worse. Finally, if you are a victim, there is nothing you can do about it. There is. First … get with a domestic violence organization and make a plan. Hide away some money – there is always a way to do it. Pack a small bag for yourself and one for each child. Figure out a day when you will get out. Have someone meet you – you can’t do it alone. Go somewhere he can’t find you. Get to a shelter whose location is secret. The domestic violence organization will help with all this, they have done it before. Finally, remember, no matter what you have been led to believe, you deserve better.
The links I promised: