In order to prevent dating violence, it's important to know what it is, how it shows up in real life, you need to know something about the abusers and you have to be able to not override some instincts. This seems like it should be fairly easy, right? But how come so many people are in abusive relationships, often for long periods of time? How is it that many people end up in one abusive situation after another?
There must be something going on for these situations to arise. Something is hidden from the victim, or they are controlled in such a way that they end up tolerating the abuse. Most people believe they would know if they were in an abusive relationship but when you ask them how they would know, they often reply, 'I would just know'. Obviously, this is not a good answer and the fact is that unless people understand psychological abuse and manipulation, they are vulnerable to being caught by abusers.
So before we check out how specifically relationship abuse occurs, as a first step to prevent dating violence lets be clear about what it is.
Dating violence is abusive behavior directed at a romantic partner, usually over a period of time, in order to control and dominate said partner. It happens to people of all ages, it happens to both sexes and it happens in heterosexual and homosexual relationships. The violence can be verbal, mental, physical or sexual. The four categories do not have to be present to consider that there is dating and violence. In fact, verbal or mental abuse can often be more damaging to the victim than physical abuse. And physical and sexual abuse are often preceded by mental and/or verbal abuse.
Verbal and mental abuse includes, name calling, threats, insults, shouting and screaming as well as criticisms directed at a person's clothes, hair, friends and also beliefs, ideas and opinions. Basically, anything that diminishes a person's dignity, self worth and sense of self. You can read a more comprehensive list of emotional abuse signs here.
Physical abuse is the use of physical force to intimidate or create fear or to physically injure and includes pushing, slapping, biting, strangling, kicking, the use of weapons and also throwing things around a room, punching walls beside the victim's head and moving suddenly towards the victim as if going to attack them.
Sexual abuse is anything that interferes with the sexual wants or needs of the victim and while rape and unwanted touching of genitals are obvious examples, such things as any unwanted physical contact, forced celibacy, restricting access to contraception or insisting on contraception, pushing a person to engage in sexual activities that they are not comfortable with and being forced to have relations with others outside the relationship also come under the umbrella of sexual abuse.
Some or all of these things may be done through social media. Other specific abuses that are significant warning signs are financial abuse, where the manipulator controls the finances of the victim as a way to control them, and isolation from friends and family. Anytime you find yourself without access to your close friends and family because of a new partner, you need to run! Not walk, run!
Simply knowing these forms of abuse is not enough. You have to be able to see them in real life, and this is where it gets tricky. If you could see them easily, you would obviously leave the relationship straight away. But you can't readily spot them because they are typically hidden from you. Here's how...
In a normal situation, things go something like this: Girl meets boy. Girl is attracted to boy. Girl gets to know boy. Girl dates boy. Girl and boy decide they like each other and continue dating for some time. Girl may move in with boy. Girl and boy get engaged. Girl and boy get married... and so on.
In an abusive relationship things are more like this: Girl meets boy. Girl is fascinated with boy. Girl thinks she has met her soul mate after just a few days or maybe a couple of weeks. Very quickly boy moves in with girl. Girls friends and family tell her that things are moving fast and they have doubts about boy. Girl brushes them off because she is so head over heels in love she has no sense of danger or problems, says they don't know him like she does. Girl is thrilled that boy is giving her so much attention, time, praise and gifts. Girl agrees to marry boy. Boy begins behaving badly. Girl justifies it, after all, even Mr Perfect is human and will have bad days. Girl marries boy. Boy's behavior gets worse. Girl is committed so she tries harder and harder to please him so that they can have nice times together again. Boy's behavior does not change. Girl tries harder. Girl hears so much criticism, humiliation and insults that she begins to believe she is the one at fault. She spends so little time with friends and family that she really has no one to chat with about what is happening. Boy has become her purpose in life. Everything revolves around him. She knows he is basically a good person because things were so good at the start but she can't understand why boy won't treat her as before or why he is being so cold and cruel. At this stage the girl will not recognize the amount of abuse she is having to put up with.
When an abuser starts a relationship, he or she knows they have to hide their true character or no one would touch them with a barge pole. But they don't just hide, they hide behind a façade. They present themselves as the perfect partner for the target in front of them. They will let the target know that they have the same interests, the same fears, the same history, the same desires. (People like those who are like them.) They pay a lot of attention to the target with lots of compliments, flattery and praise.
In other words, they get the target to fall head over heels in love, which means the target is unable to think well. The target cannot rationalize what is going on because they are so happy and euphoric even. Whenever somebody is in a very emotional state, whether high or low, their critical thinking abilities are limited. This is the state in which the manipulator wants their victim. The manipulator basically rushes the victim very quickly through the building of an intimate relationship and begins to create dependency in the victim.
Initially the love from the manipulator is unconditional, but slowly and surely that love becomes conditional. The victim has to follow the manipulator's rules in order for the love to continue. And the victim has experienced so much pleasure and nice times that he or she wants it to continue so initially they agree to go along with the manipulator's requests in order to maintain the nice feelings.
The initial impression created by the abuser in the victims mind is very important and it is very strong. The victim develops beliefs about the new partner that are often stronger than normal, healthy beliefs. The victim believes that the partner is loving, caring, intelligent, 'a good catch' and so on. These beliefs are so strong that later the victim can be tricked into ignoring any evidence that go against these beliefs. For example, many victims believe that the abuser loves them, in spite of the large number of examples of how the abuser treats the victim very badly.
This kind of start to a relationship is why many victims don't see the abuse when it starts and then later on they have difficulty accepting that they are actually being abused.
All the violence, whether it's verbal, mental, physical or sexual, affect the victim in certain ways. The emotions of the victim are carefully controlled by the manipulator. We have seen how the victim is made to feel particularly good at the start. Later, the manipulator also makes the victim feel very bad. The manipulator knows how to take the victim through a range of emotions and is willing to do so at a moment's notice if the manipulator wants something.
The manipulator also controls the beliefs of the victims. The opinions and ideas of the victim are challenged on a regular basis if they are not aligned with those of the abuser. There may be frequent arguments over the same issues and these are times when the manipulator is actually imposing their ideas and beliefs on the victim. Over time, the beliefs of the victim shift to become more like, and even identical, to those of the manipulator.
There is a system of rewards and punishments used to modulate the actions of the victim. They are punished for doing things that the abuser does not want. The punishments can take many forms, from the silent treatment to being shouted at, items or affection withheld, physical punishments and on on. And there may be rewards for doing what the manipulator wants, although these are not so frequent. One typical result of this is that the victim will often try harder to please the abuser in order to get their approval.
All these things add up to an alteration in the way the victim perceives the world. There is a change in how the victims perceive themselves, in how they think about the manipulator and also in how they perceive themselves in the relation to the rest of the world. Their decision making is organized around taking care of the abuser and not upsetting them. You can read more details of this process here.
In effect, the victim has been altered in a very profound way. They have had a whole new personality imposed on them. This new personality has the abuser as it's purpose in life. The new personality is programmed to believe the abuser, take care of them, be dependent on them and it is programmed to basically be and do what the manipulator wants.
This new personality is called a pseudopersonality because it is actually a false personality. It suppresses and dominates the real personality but it never destroys the real personality.
Once the pseudopersonality is in place, the victim has a hard time seeing reality. Their thinking is distorted. Their ability to reason logically is distorted. Their ability to recognize contradictions is very poor. The pseudopersonality thinks somewhat like the psychopath, with a lot of black and white thinking, things all rolled up together and with many contradictions which somehow are all acceptable.
This is one of the main reasons that a victim can no longer recognize abuse and they cannot see that they are being taken advantage of. The actions of the abuser have an explanation that seems to the victim to make sense. Constant phone calls mean care and concern rather than stalking. The victim believes that having their faults pointed out to them is for their own good rather than being an abusive tactic. The victim thinks the manipulator tells lies so people don’t worry and does not get the fact that the manipulator is deliberately hiding their activities. You can read more details here about why the signs of a controlling relationship can be difficult to spot.
Up to now I have been talking about abusers and manipulators. But who are these people? Who wants to dominate and control others for the sake of it? Who goes to all the trouble to put on a great show at the start in order to capture people? What type of person can deliberately and calculatedly deceive others with the purpose of cruelly destroying their lives?
The answer is psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists. If you hadn't considered this before now, it may come as a bit of a shock because no one wants to think of their loved one as a psychopath or a sociopath. And even if you have realized that your partner may be a psychopath or a sociopath, it still takes a while to get your head around the idea.
Basically, a psychopath is someone who has no conscience and a huge ego. The reason they have no conscience is that they do not have emotions like normal people. There is no empathy, guilt, remorse, embarrassment, shame, love or compassion. This means that they can do anything they like and they never feel bad about it. They can do the most horrible, vile things to others and it doesn’t' bother them. This will be strange to those who do have feelings, and again, it takes a while to come to terms with this idea.
The huge ego gives rise to a sense of entitlement and superiority in the psychopath/sociopath which translates into the psychopath believing they are better than those around them, they deserve special treatment and they should be allowed to have things their way, always.
They are selfish, arrogant, cruel, controlling, abusive, manipulative, stubborn, sly, haughty, devious liars and they can also act charming, talkative, friendly, informed, helpful and caring when they want or need to make a good impression when they meet new people.
It would be very useful for you, in fact, essential, to learn more about psychopaths and narcissists (people with personality disorders) if you are in a situation where you are trying to prevent dating violence, because dealing with a psychopath is a completely different ball park than dealing with someone who is controlling for another reason. Even if your initial impression is that your partner couldn't be a psychopath (remember the pseudopersonality is programmed to defend the manipulator!) it's important to check it out because if you are indeed dealing with a psychopath, the rules of play change drastically.
It’s important to keep in mind that their motivation is to control and dominate others for the sake of it... One sociopath commented that a bully gains power by making enemies, a sociopath gets power by making friends. (I know, sociopaths bully their victims, too, but just remember this is the way this particular sociopath thinks!)
Remember, too, that there is no effective treatment for personality disorders. The implication? Your 'beloved' is not going to change. And besides, they consider themselves superior, entitled and always right. They see no need to change!
We have examined briefly what dating violence is, we have run through the dynamics of an abusive relationship and how the manipulator controls every aspect of the victim's life and we have mentioned that many abusers are psychopaths, sociopaths or narcissists and a few of the ramifications of this.
The next important skill in being able to prevent dating violence is to be able to pay attention to your instincts and not override them. I phrase it this way rather than saying 'pay attention to your instincts and act on them' for a reason. Here's why.
Many people who have been caught by a sociopath or a narcissist say that their very first impression of the abuser was definitely negative. Strange, off in some way, cold, distant are some of the words people use when they think back to their first meeting with the abuser as well as words such as disgust, revulsion, fear, obnoxious, repulsive and offensive. But for one reason or another, they overrode these initial sensations and ended up getting caught by the abuser, often for years. The reasons they override their instincts are many and varied.
The victim may consider that it was a friend that made the introduction so it's ok to give the person the benefit of the doubt, or the victim may doubt themselves and give the psychopath a second chance. Or the victim is desperate for company and agrees to continue the relationship to see how things go. Whatever the reason is, the victim quickly overrides the instinct, allows the abuser to have time with them, and the abuser gets to work installing the pseudopersonality. Once the love bombing begins, it's very hard for the victim to put the brakes on.
A bit later on in the relationship, when family and friends raise doubts about this fantastic new partner, the victim, once again, overrides any instincts. In this situation, the victim thinks, "I know my friend has my best interests at heart, but..." and almost instantaneously, any self-protective instincts are overridden while defending the new partner.
Further into the relationship, when the bad behavior starts, the victim obviously does not like it. However, once again, there are typically reasons and excuses for the bad behavior. The victim may decide to forgive because they are so in love with the partner and the nastiness is so 'out of character' that it must be because they are having a bad day, they are stressed, tired, overwhelmed or whatever. As humans, we like to have reasons and justifications for why things happen. Very often the psychopath will provide just those reasons and justifications.
That justification is very important, because once the justification is in place, we tend to act as if the justification is true and we place less importance on the actual events that took place.
For example, a man is told by his (psychopathic) wife that she is having problems after a head injury. Yes, she had a blow to the head but there is no actual evidence of neurological damage. Every now and then she is cruel and mean to him. She claims it is because her head was feeling 'funny' and she could not help herself, which is a flat out lie. He hears the excuse so often that he ends up believing it. Whenever she starts with the cruel and nasty stuff, he immediately goes to "She can't help it, it's the head injury thing." In this way he ends up tolerating the abuse, maybe even for years. The victim is then expected to forgive over and over again without ever holding a grudge.
When a victim looks back over an abusive relationship, there are moments about which the victim will often say, "that was another warning sign, I wish I had left the relationship then." The psychopath may have done or said something particularly nasty. The victim's instincts were telling them at the time that something was seriously wrong, but because the pseudopersonality was so strong, leaving was not really an option. This will seem strange to people who have never been in a situation of mind control, but if you have, you will recognize what I am referencing. You want to leave but for all intents and purposes it's physically and mentally impossible. This is an indication of how profoundly someone can control other human beings when there is mind control involved. The programming of the pseudopersonality can be so strong that it causes people to override the strongest of self protecting impulses to run away.
The common theme here is that people's instincts do warn them at various times, but before they even have time to act on them, the person is basically programmed to override the instincts and quickly justify why they are overriding them. It is actually very difficult to not override the impulses. However, once you recognize that you have been overriding instincts, it becomes easier to stop the process. Keep in mind though, while you are learning to not override your instincts, that doesn't automatically make it easier to just act on those instincts and leave the situation. You may need to undo some of the programming of the pseudopersonality first so that you can indeed begin to make your own decisions once again and do the things necessary to protect yourself.
As I have pointed out initially, it would seem that it should be relatively simple to prevent dating violence, but once you are in the middle of it, there are lots of complex factors at play that make it really difficult to just walk away.
This is why it's useful to make some decisions about your life before you actually need to make them. The idea here is that you decide now about certain things and if you ever find yourself in such a situation in the future, you don't have to make up your mind what to do in the heat of the moment because you have already decided beforehand.
For example, you can decide that if anyone tries to separate you from family and friends, no matter what reasons they give you, you are going to separate from that person to figure out what is actually going on. Then later on, if you find yourself in a position where you realize that you are spending all your time with one person, you know just to move away from them, irrespective of how good things might be and so on.
You could make the decision that in the future you are going to ask 3 or 4 people close to you what they think of any new partner and if any of them have doubts, you will have a serious look at the partner to check that they are actually good for you. Alternatively, if anyone warns you about a partner in the future, you pay attention to the warning and separate from the partner in order to check them out. It's better to have a false positive (i.e., think that someone may be an abuser who actually is not), than to be caught again. You can never give a psychopath or a narcissist the benefit of the doubt. This will lead to problems one way or the other.
Another good decision to make is that if someone lies to you on 3 occasions, that's a deal breaker and you remove the person from your life. The reasoning is that everyone tells 'white' lies now and then. However, two big lies is a warning sign for you and should alert you to something serious. 3 significant lies is a pattern. If someone is prepared to lie to your face on 3 separate occasions even thought they have been caught, do you really want a relationship with that person?!? Best to cut your loses straight away and have nothing else to do with them.
It doesn’t have to be 3 times, it could be twice. You get to decide. And you can substitute other things for lies, for example, shouting at you, calling you names, inviting you for a meal where you end up paying (irrespective of the excuse, of course), not turning up for dates or any other behavior that you find unacceptable or are not willing to tolerate.
If you are realizing that you are in a bad situation, professional help is invaluable. It will help you to, first of all, understand what is actually happening in your life. It will also help you avoid the common mistakes in such situations and it will help you to get out with the least emotional, mental and financial damage to you.
While you have a pseudopersonality, you are an easy target for psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists. They recognize that you have been in a traumatic situation and they will target you because a lot of the work has already been done for them. They just need to step in and take over where the last abuser left off! Therefore undoing the pseudopersonality is important from this point of view, as well, of course, so that you undo the negative beliefs, ideas, thought processes and behaviors that were installed by the previous abuser(s).
Otherwise these patterns of beliefs and behaviors, that were installed for the benefit of the abuser, persist (they were put in place using strong influence techniques and were reinforced over and over again, often for years!) and they will cause you difficulties in different areas of your life. For example, thinking that you are not good enough or not as good or as worthy as others, believing that you are to blame for all your problems, saying thank you too much, saying sorry for things that are not your fault, not being able to say no, putting other people's needs and comfort before your own, these are just a few of the common things that persist and affect people's lives to a major degree.
Would you like to talk to someone about your situation?
If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
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