HOW ABUSERS CAN BE IDENTIFIED?
Intuitively feeling uncomfortable is a signal for an unhealthy or bad relationship.
Selecting a mate may be the most important decision one can make in their life. Pair bonding is an essential feature of being human, but pairing with an abusive personality is a miserable experience. The abusive personality more often engages in domestic violence (DV) or intimate partner violence (IPV). The ability to recognize the warning signs of an abusive person may be distorted by one’s emotional, social, and intimate needs that can outweigh logic and better judgment.
Both genders can be abusive and can cause far reaching or asymmetrical damage to their relationship, partner, family members, and those whom they associate. Most negatively impacted are any children related to an abusive relationship and they often experience developmental difficulties, and perpetuate the cycle of abuse through engaging in their own unhealthy relationships.
Signs of an Abusive Relationship
Avoiding involvement with an abusive personality is difficult because by the time the abuser’s traits are apparent, often the victim is already deeply invested in the relationship. In new relationships, most women and men “put their best foot forward”. Consequently, someone’s true colors, or abusive tendencies, may not show for months. Abusive tendencies generally appear when there is stress, conflict, or fear.
During courtship, abusive males have the ability to manipulate female victims by making them feel adored and special. After abusive episodes, abusers often revert to their charming behavior, thus creating a (traumatic) bond that makes it harder for both the victim and abuser to terminate their relationship. The emotions experienced during abusive episodes are intense for both victim and abuser, followed by passionate reconciliation.
It is common for abusers to lavish apologies, professions of love, gifts, and attention upon their victims. They frequently promise to change, but abusive people seldom alter their abusive pattern, especially if they have personality disorders such as antisocial, borderline, narcissistic, histrionic, and paranoid disorders.
Emotional investment and attachment develop quickly within an intimate relationship that are complicated when assets are commingled, financial dependency is developed, emotional dependency couples with fears of infidelity, and children are involved. As time together lengthens, ending an intimate relationship, even an abusive one, becomes difficult. When the decisions are made to end the relationship, shame over the failed relationship, fear about the risk of financial forfeiture, and fear of the future make the decision difficult. Ending a relationship can become cognitively confusing, emotionally painful, and physically difficulty that will result in significant changes in one’s lifestyle.
When ending a relationship, disagreements about child custody time and support amounts can aggravate emotional tensions that can escalate verbal and/or physical abuse. Abusive people usually become frightened about losing their partner, which increases the volatility during episodes of abuse, especially violence.
Characteristics of abusers frequently include a cluster of the traits in this list. Awareness of these traits can provide warning indicators about whether someone has a propensity toward being abusive. A problem for many victims is that many of these traits will not be evident until emotional, sexual, and physical bonding has taken place. Recognizing these traits can be difficult while dating. If you are dating or have married someone with a preponderance of the listed abusive traits, there is a high probability that he is an abuser.
Abusive Personality Warning Signs
Look for clusters of traits when reviewing the list. Most of these traits should not be considered in singularity or isolation, because many people exhibit some degree of these behaviors and do not commit intimate partner violence. The abusive traits are not listed in order of significance or importance. Before physical violence occurs, many of the batterer’s traits will be exhibited before he assaults his victim.
This list is written as the male being the perpetrator of intimate partner abuse, but abusive females will have similar characteristics. Homosexual abusers will also share clusters of the following traits that are broken down into the following categories:
- Low Self-Esteem
- Cyclical Turmoil of Feelings
- History of Abuse within Relationships
- View Women, Relationships, and Intimacy with Fear
- Acute Separation Anxiety
- Possessive Jealousy
- Sexual Manipulation and Subjugation
- Beliefs in Extremism
- Substance Abuse
- Financial Problems
No one can change the behavioral tendencies of an abusive personality. Most abusers claim that they are willing to change, but overall, biologically they cannot.
1. Low Self-Esteem
- Shows signs of low self-esteem or poor opinion of himself. Self-esteem can affect decision making. How he perceives himself can be a reflection of how he treats others. Abusive personalities often mask or conceal their low self-esteem in defensive, projecting, and assaultive behavior.
- Degrades and criticizes others in order to appear superior and compensate for low self-esteem.
- Feels worthlessness.
- Fearful of failure with correlating belief that he is a perpetual failure.
- Does not believe he’s lovable.
- Turns attention to himself when his partner is upset and in need of comfort or support.
- Seeks to make his partner feel bad so they can feel better about himself.
- Requires his ego be constantly confirmed and needs to be told how great he is.
- When his partner is upset and needs comfort, he instead turns the attention to himself requiring his ego be stroked and told how great and grandiose he is.
- When his partner is upset, he also seeks to make her feel bad so he can feel better about himself.
- Explosive reactions to stress.
- Suffers mood swings. Sullenness, anger, or depression is followed by pleasantness, charm, and attentiveness.
- Does not have close friends, but also isolates himself while seeking pity.
- Threatens suicide, especially if partner threatens to leave or end their relationship.
- Seeks control by controlling his partner.
- Lacks demonstrable ambition.
- Talks about efforts of grandeur, but does not initiate actions.
- Lazy and happy to lounge and freeload.
- Shows resentment toward those on whom he is dependent.
2. Cyclical Turmoil of Feelings
- Requires periodic conflict to confirm his importance; often initiates cyclical episodes of conflict.
- Familiar with conflict in a relationship. Feels uncomfortable when “things are going well”.
- Unable to accept rejection.
- Projects extreme emotions onto others like hate, obsession, and jealousy.
- Blames others for his feelings.
- Ignores, denies, or belittles his partner’s or other peoples’ feelings.
- Uses his partner’s feelings to manipulate her through accusations and blame.
- Easily insulted.
- When upset, claims his feelings are hurt.
- Blames his partner for things that go wrong. Does not retract his accusations.
- Rants and raves about life’s injustices and the bad things that have happened to him.
- Cannot properly channel his anger, and often directs it at others.
- Explosive temper and allows his anger to be “out of control”.
- When things don’t go his way, quickly loses his temper.
- Breaks or throws things when angry, and blames his partner for what he has done.
Breaking things when angry, doesn’t define somebody as abusive. People handle stress, frustration, and anger differently. Ask the question, “Where is anger directed?” and “Is physical destruction used as a method to intimidate or release ‘steam?” Stated earlier, an abuser will break or hit things and reference the “next time” the damage could be his victim.
3. History of Abuse within Relationships
- Has experienced prior abusive relationships.
- Has stalked previous partners.
- Discusses abuse and neglect during his childhood upbringing, especially from mother or primary care giver(s).
- Sexually abused by a male or female caregiver, or authority figure.
- Experienced shameful or humiliation events with his father or mother.
- Experienced or witnessed physically abusive parents.
- Was abused and/or neglected as a child.
A person who has experienced or witnessed their fathers or mothers being physically abusive does not mean that they, too, will be abusive. The torment of a parent’s own abuse, neglect, and chaotic conflict within family relationships are often passed onto their child. Many children have been abused (sometimes viciously) and overcome their past. Don Dutton (1996) identified that 1/3 of children raised in homes with domestic violence report repeating the cycle of intimate partner violence. This implies 2/3 of abused children do not repeat the cycle they witnessed. Dutton identified three distinct sources of the abusive personality in a male:
- Being shamed, especially by one’s father.
- Insecure attachment to one’s mother.
- Direct experience of abuse in the home.
4. View Women, Relationships, and Intimacy with Fear
- Makes degrading comments, especially through jokes, about women, related to intelligence, sexuality and bodies.
- Makes statements that women need to be “disciplined” or require “a good beating every so often to keep them in their place.”
- Women are here to serve men’s needs.
- Makes comments about other women’s bodies and behavior with disaffirming comparative reference to his partner.
- To provoke or degrade his partner, either subtly or overtly conveys sexual interest in others.
- Idolizes or places his partner on “a pedestal”, then purposely “knocks” her down.
- Believes he sexually owns his partner.
- Accuses his partner of trying to control him.
- Withholds approval, appreciation, and affection as a form of punishment.
- Dislikes and “hates” his mother, sisters, and/or primary care givers.
- Disproportionally and angrily talks about his ex-wife or ex-intimate partner.
- Uses the terms bitch, slut, whore, and cunt to describe women, or calls his partner by these names.
- Fears, but desires, intimacy.
5. Acute Separation Anxiety
- Accelerates the progression of the relationship. Pushes commitment to a “boyfriend”; move in together, get engaged, or marry.
- Derives significant identity from being his partner’s “boyfriend”, “husband”, or “lover”.
- Expects the relationship to last forever by using phrases, such as “together for life,” “always,” “no matter what”, and “till death do us part”.
- Threatens to end the relationship if he does not get his way.
- Believes his partner’s friends and family dislike him and they are encouraging her to leave him.
- Threatens, “I’ll commit suicide if you break up with me.”
- Demands constant attention.
6. Possessive Jealousy
- Initially, jealousy may be flattering, but eventually creates anger and resentment, and anxiety within his partner and family members.
- Intensely fearful of his partner’s infidelity and intensely internalizing it as humiliation and/or betrayal demonstration.
- Unreasonably jealous and extremely controlling about with whom, where, and how his partner spends her time.
- Believes his partner is going to cheat simply when talking to another man.
- Sees anyone or anything that takes time away from their relationship as a threat.
- Very possessive of time with friends, family, and children. They are seen it as competition.
- Jealous of friends or relatives, and uses conflict to separate his partner from her friends and family.
- Argues that his partner’s friends are encouraging infidelity that will end the relationship.
- Paranoid that his partner is having an illicit affair(s).
- If partner does not arrive at home at the appointed time or does not answer the phone immediately, thinks she is cheating.
- Constantly attempts to dictate his partner’s behavior and demands to know her location.
- Restricts car and telephone usage to prevent conversation with friends and family.
- Compares auto mileage with mileage of intended destination.
- Places a tracking system on his partner’s vehicle or phone.
- Uses surveillance or follows his partner.
- Appears unannounced in order to check on his partner.
7. Sexual Manipulation and Subjugation
- Simultaneously resentful that he needs and desires his partner.
- Contradictory in his treatment; his partner is an angel one moment and a whore the next.
- Critical of his partner’s body and sexuality.
- Tells his partner no one else would want her.
- Coercive about having sex and shows entitlement without reciprocity of arousing his partner.
- Views aggressive sexuality as, “normal”.
- Is insistent upon having sex even if his partner declines. If necessary uses physical force to obtain sex (rape).
- Displays dominance through aggressive sex; disregards unwanted touching followed by coercive and/or physical force to show sexual ownership of his partner.
- Disregards or is indifferent to his partner’s comfort during intercourse and may purposely cause physical discomfort. May make comments like, “It’s supposed to hurt.”
- Becomes sexually aroused when causing his partner pain (sadism) during sex.
- Refuses to wear a condom or use birth control, and shows overall indifference about potential pregnancy.
- Intentionally or forcefully impregnates his partner, especially if fearful his partner is trying to end the relationship.
- Insistent on particular sex acts (for males, especially, anal sex) or other activities.
- Insistent on specific sex acts (especially anal sex) or other activities his partner views as degrading, and accuses their partner of “frigidity” if they decline specific sexual activities.
- Wakes up his partner in order to have sex, and may inflict sleep deprivation until she relents.
- Uses emotional blackmail, “If you won’t give it (sex) to me, I’ll get it from someone else.”
- Indifferent to his partner’s sexual pleasure.
- Has sexual affairs or threatens to have affairs.
- Uses infidelity as punishment. “If you were____ I wouldn’t have to _____.”
- Addicted to sex, and/or pornography
- Forces his partner to engage in non-consensual BDSM (Bondage & Discipline, Dominance & Submission, Sadism & Masochism).
- Forces his partner to have sex with other people.
- Photographs or videotapes sex either coercively or covertly, then uses it as blackmail.
- Pimps, panders, and otherwise sexually sells his partner for income.
- Picks fights to avoid having sex.
- Engages in activities listed on the acquaintance rapist behavior page.
8. Beliefs in Extremism
- Thinks that violent behavior is, “warranted and deserving”.
- Is never wrong.
- Identifies with power as perpetrators, and chooses to abuse others rather than be abused again.
- Denies that violent behavior has negative consequences on others.
- Refers to weapons as instruments of power, control, or revenge.
- Owning guns, knives, swords, and martial arts weapons is a substantial part of his persona. Makes statements or “jokes” about using weapons against his partner, her family, and her acquaintances.
- Identifies with or compares himself to violent people in films, news stories, fiction, and history. Rationalizes that the violence committed by these characters is justified.
- Blames angry outbursts and violent behavior occurs because “I love you so much that I get so mad.”
- Accuses his partner of trying to control him. Claims that he is the one in control.
- Paranoid that others are out to get him.
- Disrespects his partner’s opinion and beliefs.
- Advocates extreme dominant male roles in the family with unquestioned authority, “Men must be in charge of women.”
9. Substance Abuse
- Verbally and physically abusive, especially when drunk or on drugs.
- Wonderful, attentive, and charming when not high on drugs or drunk.
- As an excuse or explanation, blames hostile or violent conduct on alcohol and drugs.
- Addicted to drugs or is an alcoholic.
- Abuses alcohol and drugs to cope with prior and escape from current problems.
- Drinks or uses drugs instead of working or financially contributing to the family.
- Insists his partner drink more alcohol or use drugs. Then he uses her intoxication or “high” as justification, “You drink and use drugs too.”
- Becomes irate when money is withheld restricting his substance abuse.
- Shows indifference to other’s safety. Drives while under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
- Steals money to buy drugs.
- Lures or pressures his partner into taking drugs or enables her continued addiction to drugs.
- Coerces his partner into prostitution, often to satisfy his drug habit.
- Engages in robbery, burglary, theft or other criminal behavior to obtain drugs.
- Hides fear of being alone through alcohol and drug abuse.
10. Financial Problems
- Difficulty maintaining steady or reliable employment.
- Threatened by other’s accomplishments, ambition, or by the amount of his partner’s income compared to his.
- Refuses to let his partner work outside the home.
- Instigates problems for his partner at work, and sometimes gets her fired.
- Delays his partner’s departure to work; frequently causing partner to be late.
- Constantly calls partner’s work.
- Arrives uninvited at his partner’s work site and is emotionally or physically disruptive.
- Compels his partner turn over the money she earns to him.
- Problem managing money by impulsively spending, maxing our credit limits, failure to pay bills, poor credit, and chronic calls from collection agencies.
- Conceals financial status or denies partner access to family income.
- Insists on access to his partner’s bank accounts and credit cards.
- Requests loans promising repayment, but is consistently delinquent.
- Resists change.
- Inflexible and unwilling to compromise.
- Has a history of police encounters for offenses, such as violent threats, battery, resisting arrest, theft, drunk driving, robbery, weapons charges, sexual assault (allegations of), domestic violence, stalking, and protection order violations.
- Lacks fear of negative consequences for his behavior.
- Becomes angry or violent if confronted about his inappropriate behavior.
- Pathologically or chronically lies, even about immaterial things.
- Implies or overtly threatens use of violence. Postures or displays rage and violence with intent to intimidate others. Claiming, “This could be you!”
- Predominately selfish behavior, except when wanting something from his partner.
- At the beginning of a relationship, charming and attentive to his partner’s needs.
- Blames others for abusive and unpredictable behavior.
- Accusing others to be at fault and blames others for problems of his own making.
- Difficulty asking for what he wants or communicating his needs in a positive manner.
- Has a dual personality. Charming in public. “Good” with acquaintances, but in private is degrading and mean to his partner and family members.
- Resolves conflict through aggressiveness, intimidation, bullying, and violence.
- Is verbally abusive.
- Yells and invades other’s personal space in order to intimidate.
- In order to argue, wakes up their partner and prevents her from sleeping.
- Prevents his partner from leaving the house without permission.
- Chooses his partner’s attire, and accuses her of dressing like a “slut” to obtain compliance.
- Destroys the clothing that he does like his partner to wear.
- Withholds food and medicine, and/or prevents his partner from obtaining medical attention, especially after physical violence.
- Sways his partner’s friends, children, and family into believing she is psychologically unbalanced, or “crazy”.
- Uses children as pawns of power, “You won’t see them again.”
- Manipulates the children to “spy” on his partner.
- “Pumps” the children for information about his partner’s activities.
- Attempts to pressure mutual friends or relatives to intervene with pressure to maintain the relationship or reunite.
- Escalate abusive behavior on a continuum as each prior act loses its effect to intimidate and achieve the results he seeks.
- Creates intuitive fear in his partner that she may be at risk, especially if fearful he will injure or kill her.
- Diagnosed with a personality disorder, such as anti-social, borderline narcissistic, histrionic, paranoid, or with conduct disorder as a teenager.
- Engages in stalking behavior.
Victim Traits of Intimate Partner Violence
The victim’s temperament and personality also play a factor in the behavior of the abuser. In many cases, both partners are prior trauma survivors who may have debilitating and dysfunctional regulation of emotions that have evolved from prior wounds, cognitive habits, and biological factors. Prior trauma can acerbate poor communication and listening skills that often emerge from fears about emotional and physical security that are perceived as lacking in the relationship.
Below are some of the traits of those who commonly form attachments with the abusive personality that have a higher tendency to result in becoming victims of intimate partner abuse.
- Low self-esteem.
- History of conflict and abuse within family.
- Survivor of incest, molestation, rape or prior abusive relationships.
- Sexually assaulted; including incapacitated during the sexual assault from drugs or alcohol.
- Excessively giving nature.
- Significant loss of a close relative.
- Previous dating violence.
- Financial dependency, especially government assistance programs.
- Alcohol or drug dependency.
- Manipulated or cajoled into doing things contrary to one’s moral conscience.
- Have trouble saying “No.”
- Defensively rationalizes that an abusive partner is “wonderful” (especially when he is not drunk or under the influence of drugs)
- Justify forced sex with an abusive partner while denying that it is rape.
- Believe that with more love and support, their partner will change.
Safety Summary for Abusive Personality Characteristics
Ask yourself, “Do I feel worse about myself while I am with this person?” “Do I feel trapped?” or “Do I feel scared?” If the answer is yes, seriously consider how to safely end the relationship. Staying, the abuse will likely get worse. If he/she has an abusive personality, ending your relationship will raise concerns about your personal safety.
Depending on an abuser’s personality and emotional investment, ending a relationship can be terrifying and dangerous. You will need assistance to end a relationship with an abusive partner to include family support, assistance from friends, support group, and law enforcement intervention. Secrecy of the abuse only empowers the perpetrator and his reign of terror.
Seek help and build layers of support to include emotional support, counseling, places you can go for safety while you plan how to end the relationship. There are many resources available to assist in preparing to leave an abusive situation such as domestic violence counseling and domestic violence shelters. Be receptive to the aid and support offered.
The Model Mugging Basic Self-Defense course can empower women to develop the courage to prepare to end an abusive relationship.
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