People tend to believe that violence is a random, unpredictable disaster. “It was totally out of the blue!” “He was always so nice!” “There’s no way we could have known.”
That’s just not true.
Violent people are everywhere. The rates of domestic abuse are similar across every culture, race and religion. If they were easy to identify, they would not be successful. So they conceal their violent behavior. They draw in their victims using manipulation, take away her safety net, break down her defenses and coping mechanisms and make her totally dependent on him. (For the sake of statistical integrity, I will refer to the violent person as being male and the victim as female. This is because in an overwhelming majority of cases, violent partners are male, and in a less overwhelming majority, the victims are female. Men have been victims of domestic violence as well.)
The key to identifying a violent person is understanding that violence is all about control. Abusive people use violence—physical, emotional and/or sexual—to gain a sense of control over their lives and the people in it. This is often the result of a troubled childhood in which the violent person felt powerless in some way. They are often victims of some form of abuse themselves.
So how can you tell?
He Doesn’t Respect Your Boundaries
A good way to “test” your date for potentially violent behavior is to challenge him by setting a good, solid boundary and watching his reaction. For example, insist on paying for your date. He will probably protest, since there is a societal expectation that he not let you pay, but a normal guy will give in once you have explained that it is important to you to pay just this once. A potentially violent guy will get angry, accuse you of insulting him, and might hand his credit card to the waiter behind your back. Or, politely decline his offer to carry your bag or to give you his coat. A normal guy might ask, “Are you sure?” and when you say you are he’ll shrug and move on. A potentially violent man might shoot you a mildly derisive, perhaps playful “You trying to be superwoman or something?” “Come on, don’t go all women’s lib on me.” or “Come on, that bag is way too heavy for a little shrimp like you.” And yes, he will try to take your bag or place his coat on your shoulders. When you say, “I said no!” He’ll tease or insult you further, or get defensive.
A man who does not respect your right to say no and make decisions for yourself is not going to respect your physical or emotional boundaries either.
He Is Egocentric
Pay attention to how he talks about the people in his life, especially women. A potentially violent person believes the world revolves around him. Everyone in his life is either a villain or a hero. See how he reacts when you express an opinion contrary to his. Does he discuss it? Does he accept the possibility of being wrong? Or does he belittle you and mock your opinion?
He Is Manipulative—and Often Charming
When you first meet them, violent people tend to be… extremely charming. Yes, that’s what I said. Remember: personal charm and “niceness” are not inherent traits. They are tools. In our case, they are extremely effective manipulation tactics that lower your guard and get you to relax.
Another classic manipulation tactic is one Gavin de Becker, violence prediction expert and author of “The Gift of Fear”, calls “loan-sharking”. He’ll buy you a very expensive piece of jewelry on your second date. You are overwhelmed and a little uncomfortable, but now you feel you owe him something, since he spent so much money on you. Or, he confesses that he loves you and can’t live without you. The suddenness throws you off, and the intensity of his confession makes you feel like you can’t possibly let him down or hurt him by asking him to slow down. If you refuse or reject him, that makes you the “bad guy”. He might even press this point a little if you hesitate to take what he offers: “Go on, take it, don’t play hard to get.” “I didn’t think I was dating an ingrate.” “Are you so cold-hearted as to not respond to what I just said?”
Remember: if his “favor” was unsolicited, you owe him nothing.
This penchant for messing with your head can manifest in countless ways, but the upshot is that once involved in a relationship with him, you will somehow end up feeling stupid, helpless, completely dependent on him and… responsible for his behavior. He will keep you locked in this mentality that if only you would do things right, everything will work out. Don’t get trapped in his mind games!
He Is Jealous
Once he is in a relationship with you, he will start to isolate you. He’ll stop you from speaking to your parents or friends using threats and tears. (He does this because it increases your dependency on him.) And he will make sure he knows exactly where you are at all times, and with whom. If you are home late because you got stuck in traffic, you’ll find 50 frantic messages on your cell phone. And he will be jealous beyond any reasonable measure. A normal guy might see you interact enthusiastically with a male friend you meet in the street, and then ask a few cautious questions about your relationship after the encounter. A violent man will interrogate you repeatedly on the incident, insist you are lying when you say there is nothing between you, and stalk the guy on the Internet.
He Is Intense and Habitually Uses Violence
Relationships with potentially abusive people get very intense very fast. This is partially due to their mastery of manipulation, and partially to their tendency to get obsessed with their object of desire. If things are spinning out of control really fast, take a step back and ask yourself if this pace is good for you and if it’s really what you wanted in the first place.
Pay attention if you notice him using violence against objects or animals to solve his problems. Slamming his phone on the table, kicking his dog if he whines to go out. A man who regularly uses violence to express anger or frustration will be more likely to use it against people, too.
He Displays a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde Pattern of Behavior
Violent people tend to have a kind of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde split personality. One way this manifests is in the stark contrast between the way they treat their partners in public, and the way they treat their partners in private. The other way this manifests is in their “cycles of violence” with their partner. One minute they will be violent and abusive, next minute they will be pleading on their knees, telling you they’re sorry and they hate themselves for hurting you and they’ll do anything, anything if you will stay, even though they deserve it, even though you have every reason to leave etc. Those “Dr. Jekyll” moments are more manipulation, but they are also another expression of the deep insecurity and dependency of the violent person. He needs his victim as much as he makes her believe she needs him. It is the “Dr. Jekyll” moments that tend to keep battered women in the relationship, because the display is so remorseful and genuine that they truly believe he means it and that he can change. He often does mean it. But he won’t change, at least not without very intensive therapy. Even then, full recovery is rare.
Trust Your Instincts and Defend Your Boundaries
If a guy gives you the creeps, even if you can’t explain why and everything is perfect on paper—don’t dismiss your feeling. It could be mistaken, but just raising your awareness might help open your eyes to red flags you didn’t notice before. I highly recommend Gavin de Becker’s book “The Gift of Fear” for more information on intuition and how it can help keep you safe.
As with all areas of self-defense, learn how to identify and guard your physical, mental and emotional boundaries, using a firm, clear voice and assertive body language. Learning these skills can prevent a majority of violent incidents, and it is highly recommended to take a self-defense class that focuses on them and not just physical techniques. In Israel, you can contact “El Halev”, the Israel Association for Women in the Martial Arts (www.elhalev.org), for information on courses near you.
Daniella Levy is a self-defense instructor for El Halev, as well as a writer, translator and mother of three.
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