Warning Signs you are Involved with a Narcissistic Abuser
Very few relationships start on terms other than sweetness and politeness. In the beginning, “the honeymoon” of the relationship, it’s difficult to determine what type of individual you are dating. Both you and the date are guarded, trying to obtain information about the other as much as possible without seeming like a police detective.
Romantic relationships can be wonderful with the right person. A relationship with the wrong individual, however, can lead to years of heartache, emotional/social damage, and even physical damage. A damaging adult partner can damage us, damage our loved ones, and even damage the way we feel about love and romance in the future. They can turn what is supposed to be a loving, supporting, and understanding relationship into the “fatal attraction” often described in movies. There are a variety of “bad choices” that may be encountered each week – most of which are easily to identify and avoid. We all know to avoid people that appear insane or abusive and not select them as a dating partner. However, some individuals are better at hiding their personality and behavior abnormalities. In an effort to provide some warning about these very damaging individuals, this information sheet will outline a type of individual commonly found in the dating scene, a male or female labeled a “Controller.”
A Controller is a type of partner that creates much social, emotional and psychological damage in a relationship. Some Controllers have permanent personality characteristics that create this damage. These are characteristics that they accept simply as the way they are and not a problem or psychological difficulty. In one sense, they have always lived with this personality and behavior, often something they probably learned from their relatives/family. Psychologists usually treat the victims of Controllers, women or men who arrive at the office severely depressed with their self-confidence and self-esteem totally destroyed.
The following list is an attempt to outline the characteristics of some Controllers and provide a manner in which women and men can identify potentially damaging relationships, before they are themselves severely damaged emotionally or even physically. If your partner possesses even one of these features, there is risk in the relationship. More than three of these indicators and you are involved with a Controller in a very high risk relationship that will eventually create damage to you. When a high number of these features are present, it’s not a probability or possibility, you will be hurt and damaged by a Controller if you stay in the relationship.
1. Rough Treatment: Some Controllers will hurt you on purpose. If he or she hits you, twists your arm, pulls your hair, kicks you, shoves you, or breaks your personal property EVEN ONCE, drop them. Male Controllers often begin with behaviors that move you physically or hit the wall. Female Controllers often slap, kick, and even punch their male partners when upset.
2. Quick Attachment and Expression: Some Controllers have very shallow emotions and connections with others. One of the things that might attract you to a Controller is how quickly he or she says, “I Love You,” or wants to marry or commit to you. Typically, in less than a few weeks of dating you’ll hear that you’re the love of their life, they want to be with you forever, and they want to marry you. You’ll receive gifts, a variety of promises, and be showered with their attention and nice gestures. This is the “honeymoon phase” – where they catch you and convince you that they are the best thing that ever happened to you. Remember the business saying, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is (too good to be true)!” You may be so overwhelmed by this display of instant attraction, instant commitment, and instant planning for the future that you’ll miss the major point – it doesn’t make sense!! Normal, healthy individuals require a long process to develop a relationship, because there is so much at stake. Healthy individuals will wait for a lot of information before offering a commitment – not three weeks. It’s true that we can become infatuated with others quickly – but not make such unrealistic promises and have the future planned after three dates. The rapid warm-up is always a sign of shallow emotions which later cause some Controllers to detach from you as quickly as they committed. Some Controllers want to move in with you or marry you in less than four weeks or very early in the relationship.
3. Frightening Temper: Some Controllers have a scary temper. If your boyfriend or girlfriend blows up and does dangerous things, like driving too fast because they’re mad, breaking/throwing things, getting into fights, or threatening others – that temper will soon be turned in your direction. In the beginning of the relationship, you will be exposed to “witnessed violence” – fights with others, threats toward others, angry outbursts at others, etc. You will also hear of violence in their life. You will see and witness this temper – throwing things, yelling, cursing, driving fast, hitting the walls, and kicking things. That quickly serves to intimidate you and fear their potential for violence, although some Controllers quickly assure you that they are angry at others or situations, not at you. At first, you will be assured that they will never direct the hostility and violence at you, but they are clearly letting you know that they have that ability and capability – and that it might come your way. Later, you fear challenging or confronting them – fearing that same temper and violence will be turned in your direction.
4. Killing Your Self-Confidence: Some Controllers repeatedly put you down. They constantly correct your slight mistakes, making you feel “on guard,” unintelligent, and leaving you with the feeling that you are always doing something wrong. They tell you that you’re too fat, too unattractive, or don’t talk correctly or look well. This gradual chipping away at your confidence and self-esteem allows them to later treat you badly, as though you deserved it. In public, you will be “walking on eggshells” always fearing you are doing or saying something that will later create a temper outburst or verbal argument.
5. Cutting Off Your Support: In order to control someone completely, you must cut off their supportive friends – sometimes even their family. Some Controllers feel your friends and family might influence you or offer negative opinions about their behavior. Some Controllers begin by telling you these friends treat you badly, take advantage of you, and don’t understand the special nature of the love you share with them. In some cases, if they can’t get rid of your best same-sex friend, some Controllers will claim he or she made a pass at them. If you talk to your friends or family, some Controllers will punish you by asking multiple questions or making nasty accusations. Eventually, rather than face the verbal punishment, interrogation, and abuse, you’ll develop the feeling that it’s better not to talk to family and friends. You will withdraw from friends and family, prompting them to become upset with you. Some Controllers then tell you they are treating you badly again, and you’d be better to keep your distance from them. Once you are isolated and alone, without support, their control over you can increase.
6. The Mean and Sweet Cycle: Some Controllers cycle from mean to sweet and back again. The cycle starts when they are intentionally hurtful and mean. You may be verbally abused, cursed, and threatened over something minor. Suddenly, the next day they become sweet, doing all those little things they did when you started dating. You hang on, hoping each mean-then-sweet cycle is the last one. The other purpose of the mean cycle is to allow some Controllers to say very nasty things about you or those you care about, again chipping away at your self-esteem and self-confidence. some Controller often apologize but the damage to your self-esteem is already done – exactly as planned.
7. It’s Always Your Fault: Some Controllers blame you for their anger as well as any other behavior that is incorrect. When they cheat on you, yell at you, treat you badly, damage your property, or embarrass you publicly, it’s somehow your fault. If you are ten minutes late for a date, it’s your fault that the male Controller drives 80 miles per hour, runs people off the road, and pouts the rest of the evening. Some Controllers tell you their anger and misbehavior would not have happened if you had not made some simple mistake, had loved them more, or had not questioned their behavior. Some Controllers never, repeat “never,” takes personal responsibility for their behavior – it’s always the fault of someone else. If they drive like a maniac and try to pull an innocent driver off the highway to assault them, it’s actually the fault of the other driver (not him) as they didn’t use a turn signal when they changed lanes. They give you the impression that you had it (anger, yelling, assault) coming and deserved the anger, violence, pouting, or physical display of aggression.
8. Breakup Panic: Some Controllers panic at the idea of breaking up, unless it’s totally their idea, then you’re dropped like a hot rock. Abusive boyfriends often break down and cry, they plead, they promise to change, and they offer marriage/trips/gifts when you threaten ending the relationship. Both male and female Controllers may threaten suicide, threaten to return to old sweethearts (who feel lucky they’re gone!), or threaten to quit their job and leave the area, as though you will be responsible for those decisions. Some Controllers offer a multitude of “deals” and halfway measures, like “Let’s just date one more month!”
They shower you with phone calls, often every five minutes, hoping that you will make an agreement or see them just to stop the telephone harassment. Some call your relatives, your friends, their friends, and anyone else they can think of – telling those people to call you and tell you how much they love you. Creative Controllers often create so much social pressure that the victim agrees to go back to the bad relationship rather than continue under the social pressure. Imagine trying to end a relationship and receiving tearful calls from all his or her relatives (they secretly hope you’ll keep them so they don’t have to), seeing a plea for your return in the newspaper or even on a local billboard, receiving flowers at work each day, or having them arrive at your place of work and offer you a wedding ring (male Controller technique) or inform you that they might be pregnant (female Controller technique) in front of your coworkers! Their reaction is emotionally intense, a behavior they use to keep you an emotional prisoner. If you go back to them, you actually fear a worse reaction if you threaten to leave again (making you a prisoner), and they later frequently recall the incident to you as further evidence of what a bad person you are. Remember, if your prize dog jumps the fence and escapes, if you get him back, you build a higher fence. Once back in the grasp of Controller – escape will be three times as difficult the next time.
9. No Outside Interests: Some Controllers will encourage you to drop your hobbies, interests, and involvement with others. If you have an individual activity, they demand that they accompany you, making you feel miserable during the entire activity. The idea behind this is to prevent you from having fun or interests other than those which they totally control.
10. Paranoid Control: Some Controlles will check up on you and keep track of where you are and who you are with. If you speak to a member of the opposite sex, you receive twenty questions about how you know them. If you don’t answer their phone call, you are asked where you were, what were you doing, who you were talking to, etc. They will notice the type of mud on your car, question why you shop certain places, and question why you called a friend, why the friend called you, and so forth. Some Controllers follow you to the grocery, then later ask if you’ve been there in an attempt to catch you in a lie. In severe cases, they go through your mail, look through your purse/wallet, hit your redial on the phone when they arrive, or search through your garbage for evidence. High-tech Controllers may encourage you to make “private” calls to friends from their residence, calls that are being secretly taped for later reference. They may begin to tell you what to wear, what to listen to in music, and how to behave in public. Eventually, they tell you that you can not talk to certain friends or acquaintances, go certain places, or talk about certain issues in public. If no date is present on Friday night, some Controllers will inform you that they will call you that night – sometime. That effectively keeps you home, awaiting the call, fearing the verbal abuse and questions you might receive if you weren’t home for the call. This technique allows Controller to do what they want socially, at the same time controlling your behavior from a distance or a local bar.
11. Public Embarrassment: In an effort to keep you under control while in public, Controller will lash out at you, call you names, or say cruel or embarrassing things about you in private or in front of people. When in public, you quickly learn that any opinion you express may cause them to verbally attack you, either at the time or later. If you stay with Controller too long, you’ll soon find yourself politely smiling, saying nothing, and holding on to their arm when in public. You’ll also find yourself walking with your head down, fearful of seeing a friend who might speak to you and create an angry reaction in Controller.
12. It’s Never Enough: Some Controllers convince you that you are never quite good enough. You don’t say “I love you” enough, you don’t stand close enough, you don’t do enough for them after all their sacrifices, and your behavior always falls short of what is expected. This is another method of destroying your self-esteem and confidence. After months of this technique, they begin telling you how lucky you are to have them – somebody who tolerates someone so inadequate and worthless as you.
13. Entitlement: Some Controller have a tremendous sense of entitlement, the attitude that they have a perfectly logical right to do whatever they desire. If cut off in traffic, Controller feels they have the right to run the other driver off the road, assault them, and endanger the lives of other drivers with their temper tantrum. Keep in mind, this same sense of entitlement will be used against you. If you disobey their desires or demands, or violate one of their rules, they feel they are entitled to punish you in any manner they see fit.
14. Your Friends and Family Dislike Him: As the relationship continues, your friends and family will see what some Controllers are doing to you. They will notice a change in your personality or your withdrawal. They will protest. Some Controllers will tell you they are jealous of the “special love” you have, and then use their protest and opinion as further evidence that they are against you – not him. The mention of your family members or friends will spark an angry response from them, eventually placing you in the situation where you stop talking about those you care about, even your own family members. Some Controllers will be jealous and threatened by anyone you are close to, even your children. In some cases, your parents or brothers/sisters will not be allowed to visit your home.
15. Bad Stories: People often let you know about their personality by the stories they tell about themselves. It’s the old story about giving a person enough rope and they’ll hang themselves. The stories a person tells informs us of how they see themselves, what they think is interesting, and what they think will impress you. A humorous individual will tell funny stories on himself. Some Controllers tell stories of violence, aggression, being insensitive to others, rejecting others, etc. They may tell you about past relationships and, in every case, they assure you that they were treated horribly despite how wonderful they were to that person. They brag about their temper and outbursts, because they don’t see anything wrong with violence and actually take pride in the “I don’t take nothing from nobody” attitude. People define themselves with their stories, much like a culture is described by it’s folklore and legends. Listen to these stories – they tell you how you will eventually be treated and what’s coming your way.
16. The Waitress Test: It’s been said that when dating, the way an individual treats a waitress or other neutral person of the opposite sex is the way they will treat you in six months. During the “honeymoon phase” of a relationship, you will be treated like a king or queen. However, during that time some Controllers have not forgotten how he or she basically feels about the opposite sex. Waitresses, clerks, or other neutral individuals will be treated badly. If they are cheap, you’ll never receive anything once the honeymoon is over. If they whine, complain, criticize, and torment, that’s how they’ll treat you in six months. A mentally healthy person is consistent, they treat almost all people the same way all the time. If you find yourself dating a man who treats you like a queen and other females like dirt, hit the road.
17. The Reputation: As mentioned, mentally healthy individuals are consistent in their personality and their behavior. Some Controllers may have two distinct reputations – a group of individuals who will give you glowing reports and a group that will warn you that they are serious trouble. If you ask ten people about a new restaurant – five say it’s wonderful and five say it’s a hog pit – you clearly understand that there’s some risk involved in eating there. Some Controllers may actually brag about their reputation as a “butt kicker,” “womanizer,” “hot temper,” or “being crazy.” They may tell you stories where other’s have called them crazy or suggested that they receive professional help. Pay attention to the reputation. Reputation is the public perception of an individual’s behavior. If the reputation has two sides, good and bad, your risk is high. You will be dealing with the bad side once the honeymoon is over in the relationship. With severe behavior problems, some Controllers will be found to have almost no friends, just acquaintances. Emotionally healthy and moral individuals will not tolerate friendships with Controllers that treat others so badly. If you find yourself disliking the friends of a Controller, it’s because they operate the same way he or she does and you can see it in them.
18. Walking on Eggshells: As a relationship with a Controller continues, you will gradually be exposed to verbal intimidation, temper tantrums, lengthy interrogations about trivial matters, violence/threats directed at others but witnessed by you, paranoid preoccupation with your activities, and a variety of put-downs on your character. You will quickly find yourself “walking on eggshells” in their presence – fearful to bring up topics, fearful to mention that you spoke to or saw a friend, and fearful to question or criticize the behavior of a Controller. Instead of experiencing the warmth and comfort of love, you will be constantly on edge, tense when talking to others (they might say something that you’ll have to explain later), and fearful that you’ll see someone you’ll have to greet in public. Dates and times together will be more comfortable and less threatening when totally alone, exactly what a Controller wants, no interference with their control or dominance.
19. Discounted Feelings/Opinions: Some Controllers are so self-involved and self-worshiping that the feelings and opinions of others are considered worthless. As the relationship continues and you begin to question what you are feeling or seeing in their behavior, you will be told that your feelings and opinions don’t make sense, they’re silly, and that you are emotionally disturbed to even think of such things. Some Controllers have no interest in your opinion or your feelings, but they will be disturbed and upset that you dare question their behavior. Some Controllers are extremely hostile toward criticism and often reacts with anger or rage when their behavior is questioned.
20. They Make You “Crazy”: Some Controllers operate in such a damaging way that you find yourself doing “crazy” things in self-defense. If a Controller is scheduled to arrive at 8:00 pm, you call Time & Temperature to cover the redial, check your garbage for anything that might get you in trouble, and call your family and friends to tell them not to call you that night. You warn family/friends not to bring up certain topics, avoid locations in the community where you might see co-workers or friends, and not speak to others for fear of the 20 questions. You become paranoid as well – being careful what you wear and say. Nonviolent males find themselves in physical fights with female Controllers. Nonviolent females find themselves yelling and screaming when they can no longer take the verbal abuse or intimidation. In emotional and physical self-defense, we behave differently and oddly. While we think we are “going crazy,” it’s important to remember that there is no such thing as “normal behavior” in a combat situation. Rest assured that your behavior will return to normal if you detach from a Controller before permanent psychological damage is done.
Adapted from Warning Signs You’re Dating a Loser, by Joseph M. Carver, Ph.D., Psychologist