How to Spot a Domestic Abuser



 How do you spot a domestic abuser?  He’s likely to be soft spoken, funny, charming and successful. To everyone but his partner.  If you are his partner, you know that you alone experience his angry side - his uncontrolled rages, throwing things across the room, tearing you down with his words until you feel worthless. And if he is a physical abuser, he is likely to attack your body in places the world cannot see. He is likely to kick you in the back, He is likely to squeeze your upper arm so hard that you can see the prints of his fingers in black and blue. He may head-butt you on the same cheek he kissed this morning.  You cover the bruises and the welts as best you can, with make-up and long sleeves, and you hope that no one will notice.


Emotional abuse leaves no physical evidence. It simply leaves the victim emotionally raw and feeling worthless. And because there are no bruises, cuts or welts, our shameful secret stays hidden.


Who are these women who allow them selves to be abused? They are doctors, they are lawyers, they are stay at home moms, they are waitresses and nurses and teachers and accountants. If you are a victim of domestic abuse, as I was, it is likely that you feel trapped in your relationship. Trapped by shame. Trapped by believing that you are worthless. Trapped by the fact that you keep the abuse a secret.          


You may believe, as I came to believe, that no one else would want you. Over time, I began to see myself as he labeled me: stupid, selfish and unlovable.  And to feel safe, we may allow him to dictate who we should see and when, if and how we should spend money, and who we can and cannot talk to.


Why do we stay?  For me, it was a combination of love for him, fear of him, and a deep sense of victim shame. I did not want anyone to know. I also sensed that I might not be believed. By my friends, whose sons he coached in soccer and hockey, by my extended family, who had never witnessed his angry rages.


Feeling complicit in the abuse, feeling that it was somehow my fault deepened my sense of shame. If only I had greeted him more lovingly when he walked in the door, if only I had not asked him to help with the dishes, if only I had not mentioned that he left his dirty plates and spilt beer on the coffee table. I found myself walking on eggshells. Stepping as carefully as I could, editing my words so as not to set him off.  Still the abuse continued.


The cycle of abuse is crazy-making.  After the abusive incident, there is usually a honeymoon period. He is sorry. He may gift you with flowers, a massage, or compliments. He loves you more than anything. He will never hurt you again, he promises. Until the next time, and the next time, and the time after that. Up, down, up, down, until we are dizzy and disoriented.


I loved him. It is very likely that you love your partner/abuser. And he loves you. Thus the cycle of abuse is not easily broken.


If you are in an abusive relationship, you need to know that if your partner has ever attempted to strangle you, he is far more likely to kill you. 47% of all women who are murdered in the United States every year lose their lives at the hands of their domestic partner or husband. Will you be among the 76,000?


You may or may not know that women in abusive relationships are most at risk of being murdered by their partners when they try to leave them. Our risk is highest when we attempt to leave him, and/or when we file a domestic abuse charge or a restraining order against him. Strong signs that a relationship could turn fatal include death threats behind closed doors, easy access to guns, jealousy, separation or a breakup. 


I initiated our divorce before he killed me. I do not believe that he would have killed me on purpose, with intention, in a premeditated away. I think the way he would have killed me would have been "on accident” during one of his blind rages; shoving me too hard to the ground; or slamming my face against the faucet at a slightly different, fatal angle. Afterwards, I believe he would have felt remorse. He would have felt afraid, and especially afraid for his own skin. I know with almost absolute certainty that he would have made up a grand lie about how I died. And, if history is any indication, he may very well have gotten away with it. Even a bloody glove in an angry man's van may not serve as proof enough.


On the inside, the domestic abuser is likely to have some sort of inferiority complex. It may be that his father never believed in him, or he may secretly believe that his penis or another part of his body is deficient in some way. He is likely to feel so competitive with other males that he has few if any real male friends. He feels that it is him against the world.  And he is likely to convince his wife/girlfriend that it is the two of them against the world. He is likely to be unable to express his emotions, and he cannot begin to admit to anyone that he is abusing his beloved.


The cycle of abuse serves to entrap his partner. When I was married, I was not able to get off the merry go round of abuse. There would be an episode, always when we were alone.  Read: No witnesses. Early in our relationship the abuse was physical, later, it was emotional abuse. Early on in our marriage, he flew into a rage, and dragging me across the room by my hair, he slammed my face into the faucet on the kitchen sink. I screamed and staggered away, and our two very young children who witnessed it went hysterical. It ended up destroying my front tooth, and damaging my spirit, but not killing me physically. Thanks to his rage, I now have caps on four of my front teeth.


The essential question is how can we stop this from happening? Demonizing the abuser is tempting, but it is not productive.  The majority of abusers were abused themselves, often at a young age. Kareem Hunt of the Cleveland Browns was videotaped in a hotel hallway, using his 215 lbs. of muscle to shove a woman to the floor.   Afterwards, he said: "What I did was wrong and inexcusable. I am committed to following the necessary steps to learn and be a better and healthier person from this situation."  According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the most promising signs that an abusive partner may be capable of changing include "admitting fully what they have done without excuse or blame, recognition that physicality is a choice, willingness to identify and alter how they respond to grievance and conflict, and the understanding that they won't be able to call themselves 'cured,' but rather have years of work ahead of them." 


Most men who are abusive do not want to be that way. No one enjoys feeling like an out-of-control monster. In order to achieve results, counseling must be individual

Counseling must help the abuser to acknowledge his problem as a condition that he is capable of changing and help him to discover the roots of his anger. Mindfulness can help us become aware of bodily signals that our anger is rising, including a pounding heart, and/or clenched fists, shoulders and jaw. With mindfulness, we can learn to calm ourselves, rather than allowing our anger to escalate into blind rage.

Ultimately, an abusive partner will become a happier and more realized person when he learns to love himself and to manage his anger appropriately.


If your abusive partner is not able to admit that his treatment of you is wrong and inexcusable, and if he refuses to see a counselor, it is unlikely that he will stop abusing you.  Because the abuse is likely to escalate if your partner knows you are planning to leave him, it is wise to make a plan with trusted professionals and friends. A helpful resource is the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233. Because a computer's history can be impossible to erase, it may be safer to call the hotline than to visit the website on your home computer.


Resources and The WHY:

The Why: I am reaching out to women who are currently in abusive relationships; to empower these women to take action to protect themselves. Yes, this is a Call To Action.

My research sources include the following:

Research:  Jacquelyn Campbell and researchers at Johns Hopkins University, who state that "A woman is far more likely to be killed by an intimate partner who has attempted to strangle her in the past."

Ruth Glenn: president and CEO of National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

National Institute of Health (NIH) 

National Domestic Violence Hotline

Two articles from The Washington Post:

1. Murder With Impunity - Domestic Slayings: Brutal and foreseeable

 By: Katie Zezima, Deanna Paul, Steven Rich, Julie Tate, and Jennifer Jenkins

2. The NFL deserves cynicism. But Kareem Hunt deserves another chance. 

By Sally Jenkins