In many abusive relationships, the abuser is a fabulous person. They can be:
- fun to be with
- hard workers
- great parents
- supportive friends
- always helpful
- volunteer or work at church
- active in the community
- publicly affectionate
- verbally supportive
- quick with jokes
- eager to always be with their partner
Right up until the moment they aren’t.
An abusive relationship looks normal and healthy from the outside. An abuser is great at hiding the harmful parts of themselves, releasing it only in private. It often makes abuse a situation of my word against yours, unless there is a physical assault that leaves visible marks, that are recorded and reported. However, even with that said, an abuser reveals themselves in little ways that can be noticeable by outsiders. A person always shows their true selves eventually. Sometimes you have to know what to look for, what red flags are.
Some visible red flags of abuse are:
- insulting jokes. Jokes that are told at the expense of someone else are not funny, they are a sign of emotional abuse, and the abuser is using you to continue that abuse when you laugh at the joke. When we laugh at abusive humour, we teach the victim they will not be believed if they speak up.
- Public affection that controls the victims movements. Abusers will use touch that is abusive in the home, but looks harmless on the outside to remind their victim who is in charge. It’s somewhat easy to hide harmful touch in plain sight.
- An abuser to their partner is often considered to be a great parent. The children quickly obey the abuser and may even show resentment toward the victim. This is because the children see the abuser as in charge, and are often, though maybe even unconsciously, afraid they might become targets of the abuse if they don’t behave properly. They also may see the victim as weak, unwilling to protect themselves and the children from the abuser.
- Sometimes the abuser is apparently verbally supportive of the victim in public. They express how much they love their partner, how much they are so grateful for them in their life, how they couldn’t live without them in their life. When someone says they can’t live without someone else in their life, it’s an unhealthy attachment. It’s a precursor to “if I can’t have you, no one else can either”. An abuser often follows up their verbal support with criticism, or disguise it as backhanded compliments.
- Always having to be with their partner. It’s great to enjoy your partners company, but an abuser who is always watching their partner, joining in conversations, going everywhere together… these are warning signs. When an abuser hovers, it sends the message that the victim cannot speak freely, move freely… it says they are watching and the victim must be careful to do the “right” thing. It also restricts the victims ability to make, maintain and confide in friends.
My ex used to constantly want to be with me. In fact, if I encouraged him to go out and pursue his interests, he asked why I wanted him out of the house so badly. If I wanted a night out with a friend or at a church event, he’d ask who I was “truly meeting”. When we were out together, which was most of our excursions, he would constantly join in my conversations and take them over. We could be on opposite sides of the room, and as long as I was not talking to anyone he’d stay on the other side of the room. The instant I engaged with anyone in conversation, he’d come to my side within minutes. People thought it was loving and wonderful how much he liked to be with me. I felt stifled.
An abuser has spent a long time on building a public persona. They know very well how to appear and act within the norms of societal expectations. What they show at home is a very different story.
An abuser does not have anger management problems, they manage their anger quite well, as this is shown by their ability to restrain themselves until they are in private. A close friend of mine shared with me that one time, when he was angry at her, he very carefully set aside his laptop before beginning to destroy her belongings. He deliberately smashed things that only mattered to her and held no value to him. He was also a church deacon.
It’s important to realize that what we see on the surface of relationships is just that. Every relationship has struggles and trials, none are perfect, and we rarely see the challenges. In an abusive relationship, this is even more true. We must believe and support those who speak up about abuse; and we must be aware of abuse in our communities. It’s happening. 1 in 3 women are abused. 1 in 5 men are abused.
It’s very likely someone you know is experiencing an abusive relationship.