The world is full of abusive people so it’s impossible to get through life without running into some of them. As a victim of childhood abuse I went through life feeling as if I had some kind of stamp on my forehead saying “Pick Me” to abusers. Even after I grew up and began healing from the abuse it seemed like I was still attracting abusive people into my life for a long time.
Some forms of abuse can’t always be avoided, like being attacked by a criminal or being treated rudely by a stranger, but there are several things I look for in the way people behave. If I find them I take them as a warning that I am about to get involved, or have become involved, with an abusive personality.
Knowing the warning signs is not enough, however, because there is acceptable abuse as well as unacceptable abuse. Human beings are not perfect. We all make mistakes and we can all be abusive at times as I well knew.
I needed to develop an inner barometer along with the ability to recognise warning signs so I could tell whether I was dealing with someone who makes a habit of being abusive or someone who slips up now and then. My inner barometer is my “gut feelings”.
If I feel hurt, attacked, offended or disrespected I know it is highly likely I have been treated to behaviour that was hurtful, aggressive, offensive or disrespectful! If I feel like this behaviour is happening too often I know it most likely IS happening too often!
Here are three of the most common, easiest to see, warning flags I look for in the behaviour of the people I meet.
Warning sign number one – Name Calling.
I don’t care how sweet the tone, how genuine the smile, how good the excuse – an insult is an insult and it is abuse! Nobody has a right to label me or attack my self-esteem by calling me names. People who label me automatically get labelled “abuser” in return.
Don’t get me wrong. People have a right to their opinion. They are free to think I am stupid, a bitch and anything else they want to think about me. They do NOT have a right to try and pin THEIR label on me by saying such things to my face as if their OPINION was actually a fact.
When I sat down to write this I wanted to make allowances. I thought I would have to make allowances. I thought there were some people who, under some circumstances, should be allowed to get away with calling me names.
If my children were tired and stressed and upset and I did something that angered them it would surely be understandable if they lashed out and called me stupid for example.
I assumed such a thing must surely have happened already. My children are both in their twenties and we have been through some tough times. A few years ago all three of us were crammed together in a tiny one bedroom flat in a hot and humid climate for seven long months. We couldn’t move without tripping over each other and our stress levels were about as high as it was possible to get. We had no privacy, no money and we all got really sick of each other now and then but I could not recall a single time when we called each other names.
At first I thought I must be having memory problems. We must have called each other names at some point in our lives. I distinctly recall the word “stupid” being said. Then I realised the truth – we never label each other with such words but we have been known to label one another’s behaviour with them.
I have heard my children say “THAT was stupid Mum” but never “YOU are stupid Mum”.
I scanned my memory. I know I have called my son a bastard and my daughter a bitch and I recalled them calling me a bitch a few times so why were those times not coming to mind as abusive? The only emotion that seems to be attached to the times we have called each other names is laughter. The last time we used such names was a few months ago in a game of cards.
The two’s were declared wild but I forgot and threw one out. I remember my son picked it up when my daughter didn’t want it. A little later I threw out another two and, again, he picked it up after my daughter passed it over. He said “Have you got any more two’s Mum?” and I said “No”. He then asked my daughter if she had any two’s she was planning to throw out and she said she had no two’s. He started laughing and said “It’s no fun being the smartest person in the room if you are the only one who knows you’re smart so may I remind you both that the two’s are WILD!”
My daughter and I both called him a bastard for not telling us sooner at that point but we were not serious and he knew that so he took it as a compliment. He did not FEEL insulted because we were not intending to insult. If he had FELT insulted it would not have been right for us to make excuses or say anything other than “Sorry” and sorry is all we would have said because we would have BEEN sorry if we had actually hurt his feelings.
We only call each other names under circumstances like that – where the name is taken as a compliment. I’m trying to imagine my reaction and my children’s likely reaction to the use of name calling under any other circumstances and I realise any other circumstances would make it abuse!
Name calling is one person’s attempt to put a negative label on another person. Anyone who tries to put a negative label on you automatically deserves the label of “abuser” for themselves.
Warning sign number two – Blaming.
Abusive people are experts at blaming anyone and anything but themselves for what happens to them and for the things they do. Listen carefully to what people say before you let them into, or keep them in, your life.
Listen particularly carefully to what they say about their last partner. Imagine yourself in the shoes of that person because that is precisely where you WILL be if they become your new partner!
A fast exit through the nearest door is the only smart response to “I hit him/her but they MADE me do it” or any statement similar to that. This includes minimising the seriousness of what they did. “It was just a slap” means slapping people is not REALLY hitting them!
“She said I was too jealous but if she had not acted like such a slut I would not have been forced to keep checking up on her all the time” does not mean everything will be fine with us because *I* am not a slut. It means I am about to become the person he CALLS a slut!
People LEAVE if they really think badly of someone they are with. If they try to change the person instead of leaving they are trying to impose their will on the other person. Anyone who thinks it’s OK to tell another person who they should be and how they should live is a person who thinks what THEY believe, think or want is more important than the other person’s right to be themselves.
Here is a thought you won’t find in many places. People have a RIGHT to behave badly!
She has every right to BE a slut! He has every right to BE a wife-basher! They have a RIGHT to lie, steal, cheat, screw up, get it wrong, ruin their lives, use and abuse other people to their hearts content!
What they do NOT have, is ANY right to expect other people to approve, excuse or accept their bad behaviour!
If she CHOOSES to cheat, if he CHOOSES to bash, if they CHOOSE to lie, steal, use or abuse other people they are CHOOSING to accept the risk they will end up with only their bad behaviour for company. They can, and usually will, CHOOSE to blame someone or something else for their behaviour but when they do that they are CHOOSING to stay the same.
When someone who chooses to behave badly is someone you are involved with your only right, your only option, is to tell them you can’t stay if they don’t stop then leave as soon as you possibly can. If you are not important enough to them for them to stop why are you staying? To force your will on them? To make them see reason? To make them understand that what you want is more right, more acceptable, more important than what they want?
If so you are adopting the thought patterns of your abuser! Abusive people have a lot more experience at such thinking than you so rest assured – they will not change – you will simply suffer until you give up trying to change them and leave.
Does the person you are thinking about letting into your life seem to have had a dreadful time with other people? Is his or her ex given horrid labels like “she was psychotic” or “he was a sociopath”? Have they lost or quit a lot of jobs because of some “insert name calling label here” boss or co-worker? Has everyone they ever cared about done them wrong of some kind?
If there are no people for them to blame for something do they blame something else for their bad behaviour? “I was drunk/drugged/tired/stressed/in pain/ill”.
“It was my fault but…” actually means “It was not REALLY my fault”.
The person who habitually refuses to accept any real blame for anything that goes wrong in their life is a person in need of scapegoats because they will not have learned how to avoid having things go wrong in their future. This means things will continue to go wrong and you will become their next scapegoat. Their next “insert blame label here” friend, co-worker or partner.
Warning sign number three – Lies.
Listen carefully for lies in all their various forms because people who make a habit of lying to others are likely to lie to themselves as well. If they lie to themselves they can excuse behaviour as obviously wrong as abuse. The worst abusers society has are expert liars.
“It’s not abuse – it’s love” says the man who bashes his wife because he loves her so much he gets insanely jealous when he thinks she has looked at another man or MIGHT look.
“It’s not abuse – it’s love” says the paedophile who uses a child for his own pleasure and tells himself sex is a natural expression of love. The childs protests or tears are proof the child does not FEEL loved but that’s OK because the paedophile knows he can train the child to stop crying and maybe even make the child believe the lie too.
Here is a tip for all you abuse victims out there who believe the lies:
If you did not want the abuse THE VERY FIRST TIME IT HAPPENED it WAS abuse and you WERE forced!
It does not matter how many times you said yes after that or even how much you grew to like the abuse – your very first no, protest, attempt to leave or stop the person is proof you did not deserve or ask for the abuse. It does not matter how weak, feeble or ineffective your attempt to say no was – YOU SAID NO and they did not want to hear it because they were not interested in anything but getting their own way.
“It’s not my fault – you MADE me hurt you” is another form of lie abusers love to tell to their victims AND to themselves.
“It’s not my fault I stole from them – they MADE me do it by being stupid enough to leave their belongings where I could be tempted” says the thief.
“It’s not my fault I raped her – she was asking for it”.
Or the classic “It wasn’t rape – she said yes” that many men use when they have ignored “no” because “no” was not what they wanted to hear. As far as they are concerned it does not count that they may have threatened, accused, insisted, persisted, pushed, shoved, begged, pleaded, lied, manipulated, blackmailed or got someone drunk or drugged. In their minds a yes means it is not rape no matter how the yes was obtained. One half-hearted, insincere, bullied, coerced, fearful “yes” outweighs any number of “no’s” because they are liars. They tell themselves it doesn’t matter how they get the “yes” a “yes” means it is not rape.
They would be the first ones to go to court and claim they should be allowed to back out of any agreement obtained from THEM using pressure, persistence or substances!
Abusers tell such whopping great lies to themselves and to their victims that they have a lot of trouble even recognising little lies actually ARE lies. Look for those little lies and the ease with which the person tells them – as if they are not lies at all and are not something they even need to feel ashamed about.
“I told you I was employed because I was afraid you wouldn’t like me if you knew I had no job” means I am prepared to lie to you to get my own way.
“I told them I was going overseas ha ha ha” means I will lie for no reason, to make myself look good, or just because it’s Monday.
People who regularly agree to do things – to times, dates, events then don’t turn up, back out, forget or turn up late are lying with their behaviour.
Abuse requires all three things.
There needs to be a victim – someone who is the target of the abuse. Preferably someone the abuser is able to believe deserves the abuse for some reason. Someone they can label or blame.
Abusive people need to blame someone, or something, other than themselves for their bad behaviour. They can only continue to abuse others if they are able to convince themselves, and their victims, they are not entirely responsible for their abusive behaviour.
This requires the ability to lie and lie BIG to themselves as well as to other people.
If any of these things are missing it will be possible to put a stop to the abuse.
The abusive person is the only one who can stop lying to themselves and their victims, take the blame for what they are doing, and change their behaviour.
If they are not willing to do those things the only other way to end the abuse is to remove the victim – their target.
When I meet someone who lies a lot, who has a history of blaming other people for what happens to them and for what they do, and who tries to turn people into objects by slapping name-calling labels on them I know I have a choice to make.
I’ve had all the abuse I care to take from people so I don’t like to take the risk that the person will turn out to be abusive.
I always pick door number one – the exit door!