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Laura Riley, Ph.D. Headshot

How to Spot an Abuser Before It's Too Late

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BAD DATE
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When dating, women often ignore clues that reveal violent abusers. In the first flush of infatuation, they forgive small cruelties. But just as the footprint of a tiger should be taken seriously because it means a tiger is in the neighborhood, so should small signs be recognized as predictors of physical abuse. Here are a few giveaway behaviors.

1. How does your date handle stress? Does he solve problems with words?
In my 30+ years of clinical experience, I've seen that abusers are often unable to solve conflicts verbally. Under stress, words fail them. Instead of using the small muscles around their mouth to discuss a problem, they lash out with large arm or leg muscles to relieve the tension. They hit something or someone. This is infantile behavior. An infant in a crib, before he can talk, wiggles his entire body to get attention and food. He uses large muscles to cope with the stress of hunger. As the baby matures, he should learn to talk and use the small muscles of his jaw to handle the conflicts of life. Some people never mature and always resort to large muscles when stressed. When talking fails, they lash out physically. On a date, if you're sitting in traffic and your date pounds the steering wheel in frustration, say goodbye. If he punches a man whom he thinks patronizes him, say bye-bye. If he grabs your arm roughly to get your attention, so long.

2. Is your date possessive?
It may seem romantic that he calls eight times a day, but is it really surveillance? Being the center of his universe may feel nice at first, but does he start belittling your friends or pushing them away? Abusers gain control by isolating their victims. Don't give up female support for male affection.

3. Is he excessively jealous?
Abusers are insecure and afraid of losing their victim to other men. Does he get angry when you talk to other men? Does he bruise your arm when he takes you away from a male conversation? Does he accuse you of infidelity? It will only get worse.

4. Does he say you're the special one, the only one who understands him or treats him right?
It flatters you, but you will soon join all the others who have failed him and he'll attack you for disappointing him.

5. Does your date's treatment of people depend on their rank?
Is he giving and charming to his boss and a tyrant to those under him? Much can be seen in behaviors toward waitstaff and cleaning professionals. If you fall from your current princess status, this is how he'll treat you.

6. Does he get mean or violent when he drinks?
It's a warning.

7. Does he blame others for his problems?
Was he fired because the boss hated him? Or leave his roommates with unpaid rent because they ate his food from the refrigerator? Or not talk to his sister because she "deserved it"?Abusers blame their victims for doing things that cause them to explode and lash out. They don't feel responsible for their violence.

8. Is he moody?
Are you ever frightened of him? Abusers are often unpredictable in their moods. Their victim must tiptoe around to avoid their wrath. This element of controlling the victim by fear is the major element in an abusive relationship. The abuser keeps his victim isolated from others and frightened of physical harm so she can be easily controlled.

9. How does he handle frustration?
Of course, if your blind date hits you or breaks something of yours, it's goodbye.

One or more of these signs should send up a serious warning flag in your mind. Be smart. And lead with your head as much as your heart.