My Dating Red Flags series of the past few weeks was aimed at showing people the often subtle warning signs of an abusive relationship using my experience. While I didn’t face any physical violence outside of unwanted groping and gripping, I still consider what I experienced to be abuse on the mental level. The blogs I wrote were primarily aimed at warning signs for girls, but that has me wondering, what about the boys?
You know what, that’s not right either. My piece doesn’t have to be taken in a heteronormitive fashion. Maybe my experiences can provides lessons and warning signs for everyone. Gender doesn’t matter when it comes to red flags. Men and women can both be victims of domestic violence and said violence can be perpetrated by men or women. As such, my real question has nothing to do with boys. What I want to address is the aggressor. It’s common to tell people all the things they should avoid in a relationship, but is anyone asking people to look and address signs of romantic aggression in themselves?
At the end of my Aftermath post, I asked what parents would do if they suspected their child was the perpetrator in an abusive relationship. How is a situation like that to be addressed? It might be their child thinks their actions are normal. They might not recognize their actions as abusive. It’s then the responsibility of parents to step in, making sure their child knows right from wrong when it comes to how they treat a significant other.
Here’s a mildly terrifying story.
There was a day years ago in my grandparents house. My parents, myself and my boyfriend were all visiting. When it was time to leave, my boyfriend and I walked into a doorway leading to the living room to get our shoes. Passing through the doorway, my boyfriend said, “SPIDER!” and, in what seems like seconds, reached up at something and threw it at me. Out of seemingly pure instinct, I let out a surprised yelp and slapped his hand away (I think. I’m pretty sure my eyes were closed). The next second, I realized he had been joking and rounded on him. I’m not a yeller, but I pushed him and told him sternly how little I appreciated the joke.
In the next moment, I caught the shortest glimpse of my parents in the room we had just left, looking at the small scene. I immediately felt chagrin at my actions. Sure, my boyfriend’s actions were that of an immature college student. He shouldn’t have done what he did, but it was at least equally inappropriate and immature for me to react violently.
In that moment, I recognized the warning signs in myself. There were things that made me angry and there were things that scared me. If my gut reaction to those emotions was violence, my relationship was going to be more tumultuous than it needed to be.
I thought this even though no one ever explicitly told me it was inappropriate to hit a significant other. I suppose being told not to hit in general when I was three should have done the trick. When you are scared or angry, logic can sometimes leave you. That is not an excuse, but it is something to notice. Those emotions are related to insecurities and the feeling of losing control. When they are dealt with through violent outbursts, not matter how small, they become a sign and a red flag that you are at risk, not of abuse, but of being the abuser.
My boyfriend and I have both matured beyond those days, but that one event still haunts me a bit. It was so simple and so pitiful that many would probably think my actions don’t count as violence. My slap at his hands, eyes closed or otherwise, was just a reaction to fear. My push was just a reaction to anger and frustration. They’re all reasonable, right? Besides, how could tiny TK harm her tall, strong boyfriend?
Violence is never the answer, even when the person being violent doesn’t stand a chance in a fight. I feel we need to start talking about warning signs on both sides of domestic violence.
Maybe the message we get at three years old needs to be repeated a bit. Don’t hit people. Don’t put people down. Don’t lie. Don’t act aggressively towards other to get your way. Don’t manipulate people. These are behaviors which can escalate and lead to becoming the abuser in a relationship. Is there some message like that we can send?
It’s kind of like the issue of rape. Far more effort goes into telling people how to avoid being raped then goes into telling people not to rape. In the same way, there are a lot of tips aimed at recognizing yourself as the potential victim in an abusive relationship, but not recognizing yourself as the potential abuser. Perhaps a potential abuser could catch themselves in time, before they develop bad habits. Maybe the tips could offer advice, such as calming techniques, so they can be proactive and never let their fear or anger turn them against those they love.
Do you think there is any value in telling people how to recognize the signs of a potential abuser in themselves? Can a person who sees the red flags in themselves take action to avoid ever becoming an abuser? What sort of advice would you recommend to someone who sees the potential in themselves to act upon their insecurities in a violent way? Lastly, I’ll ask one more time; what would you do if you thought your child was the abuser in an abusive relationship?