Recognizing the Abusive Personality
by Nora Penia
Frequently, the question is asked: “How can I recognize someone who is abusive?” Here are some tip-offs to an abusive personality.
1. The Need to be in Control
The core issue for an abuser is the need to control. Unfortunately, this does not mean the desire to control self, but to control someone else – the target. It is not unusual for an abuser to deny this desire and in fact, accuse the target of being the one trying to control. The abuser may try to control many things: thoughts, speech and actions, clothing worn, employment, access to money and how it is spent, choice of friends, use of spare time, what is said and to whom it is said, and so on.
2. A Critical Nature
An abuser may be very critical – of the target’s appearance, taste in clothes, music, friends and family, anything the target is interested in. Often, though, this criticism is disguised as loving concern. The abuser will justify the criticism by explaining that it is for the victim’s own good and is done out of love. For example: “You are so attractive, why don’t you wear your hair long?” Or: “Tight jeans make you look like a tramp, and you don’t want people to think badly of you.”
Often, early in a relationship, the criticism will be very slight, until the abuser feels a commitment to the relationship has been made on the part of the target. This commitment can be anything from dating steadily, sleeping together, marriage or the conception of a child.
3. A Need to Shut Out the World
Many abusers try to cut the target off from friends and family. The abuser will point out ways in which family and friends act unlovingly toward the target, slowly trying to turn the target away from them. The abuser may contrive to move the target to another city or state, to limit contact. Once out of sight, it is much easier to control the amount of contact the target has with friends and family. These “outsiders” are often blamed for any problems the couple have.
5. A Jealous and Possessive Nature
Usually abusers have a wide streak of jealousy and may question the target about how time is spent and with whom, what was said, and may probe for details about any friend’s background. Of course, jealousy is explained away with declarations of love. “If I didn’t love you so much, I wouldn’t care who you saw, or what you did.”
Abusers seem to share the idea that what belongs to the target, belongs to the abuser. An abuser will quickly expect the target to share anything of value with the abuser and may even push for shared financial investments or commitments. At the same time, the abuser may be very reluctant to share personal possessions with the target. Everything in a relationship with an abuser is one-way- the abuser’s way.
6. A Deep Internal Rage
The abuser often carries a volatile rage inside and it will flare up unexpectedly, in reaction to minor irritations. Many targets of abuse describe arguments with their abuser about “stupid” things. Ironically, the abuser uses the very fact that something minor caused a major fight to indicate that the abuser is really not an angry person.
7. An Unbelievable Charm
Frequently, abusers have charming and likable personalities. But this charm is shallow and often a target will be warned by those who know the abuser, but may disregard these warnings as jealous back-biting.
8. A Cruel Tongue
Many times, an early indication of abuse is the use of verbal language designed to make the target feel small, ugly, worthless or stupid. Cutting remarks are used whenever the abuser feels down and out. By making the target feel lousy, too, the abuser feels better. Even so-called pet names are often thinly disguised abuse.
9. A tendency to blame others.
Abusers have a talent for twisting things around so it appears someone else is to blame for whatever goes wrong. If they get mad – it’s someone else’s fault. If they hit someone, it’s their fault. If the car breaks down, it’s someone else’s fault. Usually, the person an abuser blames is the victim — the spouse or lover. Abusers are so good at this that the victim often comes to believe it is true. Then the victim feels guilty.
10. Cycles of Fighting and Making-up
Making up with an abuser can seem wonderful. Often the abuser will make grand gestures and give wonderful gifts – emotional strokes and real objects. Compliments, declarations of eternal love, expensive gifts (sometimes purchased with the target’s money) help sooth the target’s damaged feelings. Unfortunately, these measures are simply a ploy to regain the affections of the target and help cement the relationship.
11. Behavior Which Creates A Sense of Confusion in the Target
Surprisingly, abusers do not seem to realize that the things they do to hold the target close, pushes the target away. Over time, the target begins to carry a feeling of sadness within, and because of the abuser’s attacks, feels that somehow the fault lies within, not the abuser, but the target. Along with the sadness, many targets describe feeling very confused about the relationship, what should be done and the causes of the problems.
12. Physical Contact
It should be understood that any physical action such as “playful” slapping, pinching, pushing, shoving, tripping, etc. can be a HUGE warning sign. There is nothing funny about causing discomfort, fear or injury, even in the “name” of fun. Watch out for any person who uses such tactics.
What is the best way to avoid getting involved with an abuser?
Unfortunately there is no sure way, but one good idea is to give the new relationship lots of time to develop naturally, getting to know each other and each other’s friends and family. Abusers often want to rush the relationship, demanding a show of affection and commitment very early.
Find out as much as you can about the background of the prospective mate – whether or not marriage is involved. Such as: what was the childhood like? How do the parents get along? What about previous relationships? How did the relationships end? How are personal problems handled? Is there a tendency to blame others?
Introduce the new person to friends and family and listen to their feedback. Read about verbal and physical abuse. The more you know, the better your chances of avoiding an abusive relationship.
© 1997 Nora Penia All Rights Reserved