It makes sense that verbal and emotional abuse can lead to physical violence: many abusers start out with those forms before they progress to making your pain visible on your body. But sometimes you don’t really see the signs — I certainly didn’t, until one day my ex flew into a rage and I suddenly knew he was going to hit me. I’d never been so scared in my life. I was lucky that he didn’t touch me, but I later discovered he’d been physically abusive to an ex. To be honest, there had been many signs along the way that he was a potential abuser — just hadn’t wanted to see them:
- The feeling that something was off. Early on in our relationship, my ex and I had gone to a party and then on the way out he became weird. He was silent all the way while driving me home and gave off this strange, heavy energy. I wasn’t sure if it was contained anger, but I was afraid to ask — that’s how bad it was. I told myself I was just being paranoid or overreacting, but my gut was trying to tell me that there was something not right about him. I should have listened, but I didn’t.
- Aggression towards others. Although he wasn’t violent towards me, my ex was easily provoked and quick to show aggression towards others. If he had a fight with some guy, it could easily escalate to physical violence or he would speak in a violent way, for instance by saying he was going to kill them and no one would be able to stop him from doing it.
- Volatile moods. Any little thing could set him off and turn a fun-loving, cool guy into someone angry and brooding. His jaw would clench and he’d look ready to lose his mind, completely out of the blue. It was awkward not knowing how he was going to be from one minute to the next. I thought he was just dark, but hell, the guy looked ready to turn into a psycho.
- Drug use. Studies have found that drug and alcohol use is linked to physical abuse and it makes sense because substances make people angry and violent, plus they can reduce anxiety so that people are more likely to participate in dangerous activities. When I found out my ex was sometimes on coke, I realized it was probably contributing to making him so aggro. Not cool.
- Never taking responsibility. No matter what happened to my ex, he would always have someone to blame for it. If he lost his job, it was his jealous boss’s fault; if his last relationship went sour, it was his crazy ex who was to blame; if he punched some guy at a club, it was that guy’s fault for saying something nasty to him. I learnt how someone who doesn’t take responsibility for themselves can be dangerous because it’s like they think they can get away with bad behavior because they didn’t cause it. It’s a ‘get out of responsibility free’ card. It’s BS.
- Blaming me for things I hadn’t done. There were a few times in our relationship when my ex would blame me for things I hadn’t done, in a subtle way. For instance, if he met one of my male friends and knew I spoke to the guy every now and then, my ex would hint that I was planning to leave him for my friend. I’d try to laugh it off, but he’d always bring it up again.
- He was the center of his world. My ex was always focused on what was going on with him and had little interest in others, myself included. He would downplay others’ achievements while bolstering his own. Same went for his pain. He had no empathy for others because it was all about his hurt, his pain. Damn. If someone can’t feel for another human being, they can’t see things from that person’s perspective, which is troubling. And a sign that someone’s a psychopath.
- Excessive charm mixed in with needing me. What’s more appealing than a man who is super charming? A man who is charming and needs you, desperately. My ex displayed both qualities. He was super charming and romantic from when we started dating and then he showed me how much he needed me. It made me feel special, but he was really just manipulating me. He wanted me to focus on him and forget about other people in my life. Abusers are all about isolating you from those who love you.
- Losing it when he didn’t get his way. My ex would get angry if he didn’t get what he wanted when he wanted it. Once, he phoned me to say he wanted to see me and I couldn’t go because I was busy. He told me how I wasn’t there for him and he sounded really angry. I wrote it off as him being childish but it was more than that — it was a sign he was selfish and controlling, two major warning signs that someone shouldn’t be your boyfriend.