By Kara Summers, Medium
Lately, I have been obsessed with Ted Bundy documentaries. His intellect and charisma are uncanny. He reminds me a lot of my ex. He looks at the camera with his intense blue eyes and a big smile, lying effortlessly.
I know I would have fallen for him. I know I would have believed him until there was not a single doubt about the evidence left. I would have believed in the image he was projecting.
I know, because I have loved a Narcissist. I know, because I understand now that an abusive relationship doesn’t start out as abusive. I understand now that people can never be physically violent and yet be highly abusive. Red flags can sometimes be heart-shaped. Here are 7 warning signs that may not look like a red flag at first glance.
1. They constantly worry about you
It feels nice to be cared about. If your partner constantly worries about you it can be seen as a testimony of their love. Maybe it is. But abusers are driven by the need to control. This control is oftentimes cleverly masked as “caring”.
How can you spot the difference?
Think about the actions your partner asks you to take because they worry. Do they want to track your everyday move? Do you have to check in with them every minute of the day? Do they ask you to change your routine or stop doing things that you like doing?
A caring partner will support your freedom. A caring partner will acknowledge that you are grown-up and independent and listen to what level of care you think you need.
A controlling partner will tell you that they constantly worry about you. They will tell you that they only have your health and best interest in mind. A controlling partner will want to have constant access, track you, know your whereabouts, and stress that they need to know this because they worry so much about you.
2. They tell you: You are the one
Very few abusive relationships start out as abusive. Chances are you wouldn’t start dating someone if they showed aggressive behaviour or put you down on the first date.
Continuous abuse only works if you are madly in love, maybe even dependent. So generally abusers need to reel you in quickly and get you hooked by making you feel special. They do this with over-the-top affections, grand gestures, and intense declarations of love.
This tactic is called love-bombing. Real love usually develops over time and you might develop a feeling of genuine connection as you get to know each other. With abusers, everything moves at lightning speed.
They may ask you to move in quickly, declare they love you on the first or second date or quickly speak about marriage and family. It is common to hear phrases like: “I have never felt this way before.” or “You are my soulmate”
3. They have crazy exes
Of course, breakups are always difficult and not everyone can end a relationship amicably. Be cautious though if your partner seems to have a string of “crazy” exes. Pay attention to what they say and how they talk about their past relationships.
Are they able to hold themselves accountable? Why are they telling you about the “crazy” things their ex has done? And why do they feel that they have to mention these things?
My ex told me that his ex-wife was abusive and controlling and treated him horribly. He described all of the behaviours I would later discover he was displaying. Now I have joined the line of crazy exes. I don’t even want to imagine what he says about me.
Should one of their former partners contact you to warn you, ask them for more information, maybe even proof. There might always be two sides to a story, but it takes a lot of courage for a victim of abuse to reach out and try to warn others. Maybe they aren’t jealous, but genuinely concerned about others’ safety.
4.They ask you about all your secrets
The start of a relationship is always there to get to know each other better. And who doesn’t appreciate a partner who is interested in you more than they talk about themselves?
There is no right or wrong measurement of how much interest a potential partner shows, but be wary if they are particularly interested in all your secrets and “negative” traits.
Abusers are keen to find your flaws. They might pretend they do not care or are just curious, but anything you say will be used against you later on. If you do share something early on, pay attention to their reaction and what they offer in return.
Do they also have flaws and secrets? Are those actual flaws? Are they admitting any wrong-doings and show genuine remorse? Or might they be on a mission, secretly storing all the negative information about you they can find?
5. They appear to have the exact same values and interests
Another reason abusers seem very interested to learn everything about you is so that they can mimic you. This is called mirroring. They will pretend to have everything in common with you, sometimes to the extent of making up stories and events that seem to match what you want.
They are good at observing other’s feelings and needs and have mastered moulding into a personality that will present your perfect partner. They are usually so great at manipulating, that you will not notice if they lie. Furthermore, they often lie when the truth is a better story, so you might not expect it.
My Ex stalked one of his affairs on Facebook where she had many pictures of her southern France holiday. He then proceeded to ask her about her views on marriage and told her how he had a beautiful wedding in the south of France. Only months later she found out that it was completely made up.
When I spoke to her, we were able to see how he presented himself as a completely different person, depending on who he was targeting.
It can be very difficult to determine mirroring at the very start of a relationship, where we are focused on finding someone who has something in common with us. But the chances of actually meeting someone who is exactly like you are slim. It is a lot more plausible to find someone who has some shared interests and values but is not afraid to disagree or have hobbies that might not 100% align with yours.
6. They have been hard done by
Another tactic of abusers is to play the victim. This serves 2 purposes:
- It harvests your empathy. A common trait shared amongst abusers is the lack of empathy. They rely on the empathy of others to feel good about themselves.
- It will later excuse any bad behaviour they show towards you. Who can blame a victim?
You might find that an abuser will quite early on tell you about the hardship they had to endure and all the people that have wronged them. If you are an empath yourself this can lure you in quickly keep you hooked.
You might feel like it’s your responsibility to help them or show them that you are different. You might feel sorry for them and are determined that you can show them that love can fix everything.
The sad reality is that most abusers don’t change, or don’t want to change. And you might break yourself trying to fix them.
7. They tell you they are not abusive
Partners who are not abusive don’t need to point that out. It may seem obvious, but if you have never been in an abusive relationship before, you may not see it as a warning sign.
They are probably unlikely to introduce themselves with the sentence: “By the way, I am not abusive.” But they might put a lot of emphasis on abusive behaviour and make sure to tell you how they despise it. Watch out for the language they use when they speak about abuse or abusive behaviour.
Are they insisting that they would never do this? Are they exaggerating in their descriptions? Like: “I have never lied in my life”. “I am such a softie, I couldn’t hurt a fly”. “I despise angry people, I am a very compassionate person.”
They might come across as intense when they stress their point.