None of us wants to be involved in another abusive relationship. How can we prevent it? I regularly hear from people who want to know the difference between narcissists, psychopaths and sociopaths and how to tell them apart. They want to know what to look for, in order to prevent another abusive relationship.
I propose another solution, one that is simpler and much more effective, and that doesn’t require us to become some sort of experts in diagnosing mental health disorders.
The solution has two parts:
1. The first is to look at what they all have in common, instead of how they differ.
2. The second is to look at the things the rest of us have in common, and to protect them. By doing these things, you will protect yourself from abusive relationships.
There are two traits all abusers share (no matter what their particular diagnosis), which will become apparent. To identify if someone you’re getting involved with has these two traits, you don’t need any knowledge about what disorder they have. I’ve already written about these things many times and in many places on this website, but I think it will be helpful to have all of it in one place, with links to just a couple of articles you must read if you want to protect yourself.
The two traits all abusive people have in common:
They lack empathy
They are manipulative
The details will follow below.
Unfortunately, it will take time to get to know a person before these traits become apparent. The good news is that there is no need to have your involvement with such a person be anywhere near as long or as traumatic as it was before. It can be as short and as painless as is possible. It’s up to you, though, to trust your perceptions and be able to disengage.
First, it’s necessary to follow a couple of ground rules if you want to keep abusers out of your life.
Ground rule number one:
The truth is in the way a person acts, not in what they say.
To put it another way, actions speak louder than words. For example, if you question whether your partner loves you or not because they don’t act as if they do, you have your answer.
Ground rule number two:
“The single most important empowerment tool is to accept no excuses for hurtful, harmful, or inappropriate behavior.”
(Dr. George Simon)
If you find that a person acts in ways that lack empathy or is manipulative and you excuse it or let them explain it away, then all bets are off. You’ll be right back to where you were before.
Now on to the first trait, a lack of empathy.
If a person lacks empathy, it’s not possible to have an emotional connection—and therefore an actual relationship—with them. In addition, you will suffer trauma if you’re involved with a person who lacks empathy. A lack of empathy is what enables abuse and what causes the trauma in these relationships. Before going on to anything else, if you want the knowledge you need to protect yourself in the future please read the article, “EMPATHY: WHAT IT IS AND WHY YOU NEED IT.”
How can you tell if someone lacks empathy? Look for the following signs.
SIGNS OF A LACK OF EMPATHY
- Seems to have plenty of empathy for you, but not for others. Watch out–you’re next.
- Indifference to the suffering of others.
- Sexism and womanizing.
- Believes he or she is always right.
- Refusal to acknowledge that you have justification to be upset about something he or she did.
- Expects you to accommodate his schedule, without regard for yours.
- Neglecting or ignoring you if you’re sick.
- Doesn’t comfort you when you need it.
- Feels he knows you better than you know yourself. When you tell him how you feel, he might tell you that’s not really how you feel. This is a sign that he or she does not see you as having a mind of your own. When someone denies your reality and tries to substitute another in its place, head for the nearest exit.
- When they apologize, they don’t act like they mean it. You do not see genuine remorse, understanding about why what they did hurt you, or purposeful, deliberate efforts on their part to repair the damage they may have done or efforts to do better in the future. Instead, it just seems like a couple of empty words spoken to placate you.
- Inability to imagine how their words and actions may affect you.
- Cheats, and then blames it on you.
- Needs space (more than a day or two) and doesn’t care that it hurts you.
- Isn’t interested in finding ways to soothe your worries.
- Ogles or flirts with others in front of you, and then accuses you of being smothering, insecure or mistrusting when you ask him or her about it.
- Becomes angry when you cry or get emotional.
- Looks at you with a blank face when you cry.
- Makes you feel out of control emotionally.
- You feel he just can’t seem to understand you, no matter how much you explain or defend yourself.
- You feel he or she doesn’t know you, even though they’ve had ample opportunity.
- You sense a lack of emotional connection.
- There is drama and intensity, and when you look beneath it you find a lack of genuine emotional intimacy.
- Treats his or your pets badly. For example, he may say he loves his dog, but he lets him run loose, neglects visiting the vet when the dog is sick or injured, or leaves it out in the cold.
- Tells you you’re too needy or too emotional.
- Is hurtfully blunt and casually critical, and when you become upset he tells you he is “just being honest.” Honesty without kindness is cruelty.
- Talks at length on a topic that clearly bores you, without noticing it.
- Doesn’t ask you how your day was or how your doctor’s appointment went.
- Forgets your birthday or other important occasions.
- Brings up a sensitive topic even after you’ve asked him to stop.
- Looks down on people for what he sees as their bad decisions, without taking into account how their life circumstances may differ from his.
- Expects instant forgiveness.
- Censors and restricts your emotions.
- Invalidates your thoughts, feelings, ideas and concerns.
- Fights dirty, using your most personal, painful past experiences to hurt you.
- Wants you to give up pursuing a goal that’s important to you.
This brings us to the next must-read article: INVALIDATION: I REFUSE TO HAVE THIS DISCUSSION. If you can’t recognize invalidation, you’ll miss a MAJOR (and very common) sign that a person lacks empathy.
Now let’s move on to the second trait, manipulative.
Anyone can fall for manipulation. We’ve all done it already. What we want to do is to prevent it from happening again. Covert (hidden) emotional manipulation occurs when a person who wants to control you uses deceptive and underhanded tactics to change your thinking, behavior and perceptions. Emotional manipulation operates under the level of your conscious awareness. If you aren’t conscious of it, how will you know it’s happening? Look for the following signs.
If you are in a relationship and notice a few of the following 20 signs, there is a high probability you are being manipulated:
- Your joy at finding love has turned into the fear of losing it. Your feelings have gone from happiness and euphoria to anxiety, sadness and even desperation.
- Your mood depends entirely on the state of the relationship.
- You are unhappy in your relationship a lot of the time… yet you dread losing it because you’re blissfully happy every now and then.
- You feel like you’re sabotaging the best thing that ever happened to you, but you’re not sure how.
- Your relationship feels very complex, although you’re not sure why. When talking to your friends about it, you might find yourself saying “It’s hard to explain. It’s just really…complicated.”
- You obsess about the relationship. You endlessly analyze every aspect of it as you desperately try to “figure it out.” You talk about it constantly, to whomever will listen. None of this gets you anywhere.
- You never feel sure of where you stand with your partner, which leaves you in a perpetual state of uncertainty and anxiety.
- You frequently ask your partner if something’s wrong. It really does feel as if something’s wrong, but you’re not sure what it is.
- You always seem to be on the defensive. You frequently find yourself feeling misunderstood, so you feel the need to explain and defend yourself often.
- You seem to have developed a problem with trust, jealousy or insecurity, which your partner points out to you on a regular basis.
- You feel that you just don’t know how to make your partner happy. You try hard but nothing seems to work, at least not for long.
- Expressing negative thoughts and emotions feels restricted or even forbidden, so you try to keep those things hidden. You feel frustrated a lot, though, because important things go unsaid.
- You feel inadequate. You don’t feel as good about yourself as you did before the relationship. You feel less confident, less secure, less intelligent, less sane, less trusting, or in any way “less than” what you were before.
- You always feel you’re falling short of your partner’s expectations.
- You find yourself apologizing a lot.
- You often feel guilty. You continually try to repair the damage you believe you’ve caused. You blame yourself for your partner pulling away from you. You can’t understand why you keep sabotaging the relationship.
- You carefully control your words, actions and emotions around your partner to keep him or her from withdrawing their affection again. Your suppressed feelings build inside of you, and sometimes you erupt like a volcano. You’ve never acted this way before. You can’t seem to help it, and it only makes things worse.
- You do things you aren’t really comfortable with or that go against your values, limits or boundaries, in order to make your partner happy and keep the relationship intact.
That’s all you need to know to tell if you’re involved with a manipulator. If you would like to catch it before you start experiencing these things, learn the tactics all manipulators use. I wrote a book that’s highly regarded by many people who’ve read it. 30 Covert Emotional Manipulation Tactics: How Manipulators Take Control In Personal Relationships. As a bonus, you’ll be helping support this website.
At the beginning of this article, I wrote that you don’t need to have any knowledge about what disorder a person might have. The most important thing is to have some basic knowledge about yourself.
We all have some basic things in common:
our emotional needs and our basic rights.
With the knowledge of your needs and rights, all you need to do to determine if you’re in an unhealthy relationship is to determine if your emotional needs are going unmet and if your basic rights are being violated. This must be examined on a regular basis. Your needs and rights will always be met at the beginning of any relationship, but in an unhealthy relationship, that will change. If you don’t purposely examine these things on a regular basis, you could end up so confused by manipulation that you won’t even realize they’re missing. Many of us started out in life with family who disregarded our emotional needs and trampled our basic rights. As a result, it feels almost normal for people to behave like that. It’s not. We’re born with emotional needs, and the reason we have relationships is to have them met. That’s what relationships are all about. If they’re not being met, misery, confusion and trauma result. Only you know if your emotional needs are being met, and only your perceptions about it matter.
You were born with normal human emotional needs AND you have the right to be in mutually fulfilling relationships that meet these needs:
The need to be loved.
The need to be valued.
The need to be trusted.
The need to feel worthy.
The need to be accepted.
The need to be listened to.
The need to be supported.
The need to be respected.
The need to be understood.
The need to be appreciated.
The need to be acknowledged.
The need to feel capable and competent.
The need to feel clear (and not confused).
The need to be safe, both physically and emotionally.
The need to be known.
You have these basic rights:
You have the right to say no.
You have the right to make mistakes.
You have the right to change your mind.
You have the right to ask for what you want.
You have the right to express your opinions.
You have the right to be listened to respectfully.
You have the right to change your life situation.
You have the right to choose how you live your life.
You have the right to decide what your priorities are.
You have the right to have your boundaries respected.
You have the right to choose who you share your body with.
You have the right to choose who you spend your time with.
You have the right to set limits on how you will be treated by others.
You have the right to experience your feelings and to express them, if you want to.
You have the right to walk away from relationships that you determine are not good for you.
You have the right to be treated with dignity and respect by everyone you come into contact with.
You have the right to your own needs and feelings, and to have them be as important as anyone else’s.
You also have the right to have these basic human rights, and you have the right to stand up for them.
If you follow the guidelines above,
there is no way you can be involved in an abusive relationship. You’ll see the signs at the earliest moment possible, before you’re too entangled and confused to leave. You don’t need anyone’s agreement, and you’ll never get it from the person who lacks empathy and is manipulating and mistreating you. If you have doubts about someone, trust your own perceptions! Doubt is your friend. Self-doubt is your enemy. Trust yourself. Self-trust is self-confidence.
I am going to recommend it to the facilitators in the divorce support group I am attending.”
“This small book was full of tons of useful information. I don’t usually write in my books, but my copy of Boundaries has underlining on almost every page. I was really glad I bought it.”
“My eyes have seen the light. How I wish I would have read this book years ago.”
“”Worth your time! Well written, clear, and concise. So thankful I came across this quick, but powerful read. I so appreciate the wisdom I found in this writing. I feel empowered once more! Easily rated at 5 stars.”