How to Recognize the Potential for Abuse
by Christina Hays
In previous articles advocates have defined “red flags” and warning signs of abuse. This is an important discussion to have because these red flags can be a very good indicator that the relationship has the potential to become abusive and even violent. Unfortunately, red flags are not always as obvious as we would like them to be. No light bulb will actually go off in the moment to give you the clear and definitive answer that this is a serious warning sign. However, most people who have the knowledge of red flags in relationships will at the very least have a gut response or a small voice that will subtly give them clues. The key is to trust your instincts and to speak up immediately. If the other person becomes defensive or lashes out rather than having an open and honest conversation than they just confirmed everything that you were feeling.
First, let’s talk about the fact that no one is intentionally ignoring signs of potential abuse. Even if you question your partner, they may already have a great explanation on standby. They will twist the situation around to make it seem like you are the problem for questioning them. “Of course, I have a GPS tracker on your phone, I am a paramedic and scrape people off the road for a living. I have to know where you are and that you are safe at all times. When you don’t answer your phone immediately, I panic and think you are in trouble.” “I just worry about your safety with your friends. When you go out without me, I cannot trust that they will take care of you. They are just worried about themselves and will party and leave you alone somewhere.” “I told you that guys only think one thing when a girl wears a low-cut top like the one you have on in this picture. You should not have worn it again. You promised me that you wouldn’t and now I cannot let you go back out with those people. They will think you are trashy. I am trying to protect your reputation.”
Most victims that hear these kinds of answers assume that they are the problem and immediately try to fix it by apologizing and thanking their abuser for being so caring. This is a clear example of gaslighting, and if continued repeatedly will force someone into a trauma bond with their abuser. They will start to self-isolate to avoid being the problem and making their partner upset. Victims become distant with family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, or anyone who could be seen as a potential threat.
Secondly, the red flags may not even be directly visible. There are apps that can be downloaded and stay hidden on cell phones, computers, and even cars. They could be recording all your conversations, reading your text messages and emails, and seeing everywhere you go throughout the day. They do not have to interrogate you or go through your phone if they already have access to it. Suddenly this person knows just where you are and randomly shows up with a thoughtful gift or to surprise you. One way to protect yourself from this invasion of privacy is to regularly check all devices with spyware. Never assume that you have no way to stop this or take back control. Another important strategy to keep your electronics safe is to update your passwords regularly and never use the same type of password.
Thirdly, no amount of love and patience can fix someone who has power and control issues. Abuse is rooted in the need for power and control. Couples counseling cannot fix this. No one can make an abusive person change but that person. They need to recognize that their behavior is toxic and cannot be accepted. Once the abuser understands that they have a serious problem they need to seek professional help on ways to cope with their issues and address their history of coercion, intimidation, manipulation, and violence.
If you or someone you know is a current or former victim of intimate partner violence, please reach out to Crisis Services of North Alabama locally at 256.574.5826 or at our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. All month long we will do our best to share facts, information, and support regarding intimate partner violence. Please keep looking for ways to stay involved in the fight against domestic violence. Everyone in our community is affected by intimate partner violence in some way, and we all can be a part of helping it end.