As a fiction author, I occasionally encounter roadblocks in my work in the form of thinking errors, usually because of what I call Instinctive Norms. While the term Instinctive Norms carries a whole blog post, the short explanation is this. An Instinctive Norm is an idea that I or any person carries in their mind as normal on an unconscious level, not because there is any proof the idea IS normal, but because the idea is so inherently ingrained in our society it is impossible to distinguish whether the idea stems from nature or nurture.
Take gender as an example. I’ve spoken to many of my friends who hold no dissonance between the gender in their mind and the sex of their body, and it has never once occurred to them to consider which of the things we consider normal for boys and normal for girls comes from biological sex and which comes from cultural stimulus.
And yet despite my biological female sex, I internalized much of the cultural narrative reserved in my upbringing for boys. Not because I was “allowed to be a boy” growing up. I wasn’t. Simply because my mind sees me as a male.
And yet I find myself writing some characters that necessarily must be one sex and gender as the other, simply because of my own INSTINCTIVE understanding of the two.
Thus I present to you the thought exercise below. I’ve taken a fairly standard blog post about domestic abuse and domestic violence, and flipped the gender language on its head, mostly so that I could more broadly understand one of my novel’s key antagonists. The original post is here, and all due deference to the author, as she has pulled her material from her own experiences.
I’ve provided 20 signs someone is in an abusive relationship, many from firsthand experiences. Some are glaringly obvious, while others are not as evident to an unobservant eye.
Domestic abuse victims and perpetrators have no demographic or sexual orientation.
For simplicity’s sake, I’ll speak in terms of woman-on-man abuse or manipulation. “He” is the victim, and “she” is the manipulator or aggressor:
1. He neglects his beauty habits relative to is pre-relationship routine.
He may stop his katas, no longer get manicures, or stop wearing makeup. He may gain or lose weight. His partner is lowering his self-esteem, which now hinges upon her judgment.
She likely instigates these changes in order to prevent other women from “wanting” him or to make him feel unworthy of being wanted.
2. He may have physical wounds.
Bruises, scratches, lacerations, jammed fingers or worse (black eye or a broken nose) are giveaways of physical abuse.
Abusers are often strategic enough to inflict these wounds in inconspicuous areas.
3. His clothing could change to disguise evidence of physical abuse.
A man who previously sported denim shorts and tank tops might transition to long-sleeved shirts, scarves, and pants to hide his wounds.
This clothing shift could also be another tactic his girlfriend uses to fend off potential suitors.
4. On the flipside of appearance changes, a victim’s looks may “improve.”
He is molded into her trophy; he is her Ken, her prop.
If he’s not immaculate, he’s embarrassingly unacceptable to her. She has boiled down his self-worth to how good he looks on her arm. She snidely comments on what he eats and wears.
5. The abused man is significantly less social. He doesn’t make lighthearted small talk in the hallways or break room anymore.
He no longer eats lunch with his friends in the cafeteria. Where does he go? He avoids women and conversations by retreating elsewhere.
He doesn’t have a guys’ night anymore. You will rarely catch him at a party or social function without her.
6. He is noticeably less confident.
He’s no longer the life of the party or a major contributor to discussions. He is less talkative.
He lost the electric air about her. Where’d his personality go? If she’s around, he constantly checks for her approval of every move he makes. He “blends in” much more now.
7. His body language changes.
He doesn’t walk into a room with his shoulders back and his head held high anymore. That would open him up to others. He’d rather beeline for a seat in the corner of the room.
He likely walks around with downcast eyes because eye contact opens him up to people he’s becoming increasingly distant from. He avoids conversations; he doesn’t want people to get close.
What if they ask questions? She doesn’t want him to talk to anyone.
8. He is always distracted or preoccupied.
Now that he has an abusive significant other, he is constantly walking on eggshells. He’s distant, even when “engaged” in conversation.
You may have to repeat yourself as he glances over his shoulder, at the clock or at his cellphone.
When he is speaking, you can almost hear him choosing the “right” words in his head.
9. He is attached to his phone when he is not near her.
His phone is always on hand. If he misses a call — or, gods forbid, two calls — from her, he’s screwed. If he fails to reply to a text in a “timely manner,” who knows what words (or fists) will be throw his way when they reunite.
At times, she forces him to be connected on a call with him, even though the phone is in his lap or on his desk. She’s eavesdropping on his every waking moment.
10. He only talks about his relationship on a very superficial level.
“How are y’all doing?” “Great. Just fine, as long as you stop prying.”
“Prying” into (i.e., caring about) a male you suspect to be in an abusive relationship could go one of three ways: First, if she catches wind of the questioning, she could punish him or psychologically manipulate him into thinking the person is bad.
Secondly, he could internalize the questioning along with the rest of his toxic relationship.
God willing, a third thing occurs: He comes to realize how seriously he needs to get the agency of his life back, starting by ridding himself of her.
11. His social media presence changes.
He is no longer on social media or he is significantly less active.
In reality, she’s acting as his social media manager by screening him from receiving help or being exposed to people she deems inappropriate (i.e., people she feels threaten the balance of power she has constructed).
They may now have a joint Facebook account.
12. His communication habits change.
He’s ignoring your texts, calls and emails because he’s only allowed to talk to certain people and do certain things. He might even get a new phone number.
If you’re lucky, perhaps he replies every once in a while, but he’s probably keeping the conversation short and superficial. As a result:
13. His relationships break down.
His close friendships dwindle. Relationships with his family members are extremely limited, or they’re the only acceptable kind of relationship.
Those people know (or knew) him the best, so they’re a threat in her eyes. She’s isolating him.
14. He avoids everything related to the past.
Life before her doesn’t exist. Experiences once reminisced about are now off limits. Don’t talk about anything or anyone that could trigger interrogation (or worse) from her.
That life is over, if she has her way. According to her, he should feel guilty about past relationships.
15. He’s disinterested.
He quit the dance team. Though previously his favorite activity, ocean swims are now few and far between. He stops going to the theater to watch new movies every weekend.
Of course, he stops going to places to do these things because attractive women, acquaintances or someone with the same car as his ex could be there.
If his significant other is not interested in something or able to be right by his side during an activity, he’s no longer involved.
16. He’s always in a hurry.
If she’s not with him, he shouldn’t be there. If he must be somewhere, he’s in and out, no nonsense.
No more chitchat before and after class and no more conversations in the break room.
17. He often has puffy or red eyes.
He is sleep-deprived from fighting and worrying all night long. He has been crying. He tries to sneakily wipe tears away.
You heard him sniffling in the restroom; you’ve caught him in the act. His eyes well up with tears when you try to reach out to be his friend or ask how he’s doing.
18. He lies.
He skips class because she won’t let him out in public today, but he tells his professor he got in a fender bender.
He can’t make it into work. He tells coworkers he woke up with flu-like symptoms, but he’s really at home cleaning up a vase she smashed, replacing a painting she punched through, and giving his swollen nose 24 more hours to heal.
He can’t go to dinner with his friends because he has to “clean the garage.” And the biggest lie of them all; He’s happy.
19. He’s strapped for cash.
She controls his finances, even if he’s the breadwinner.
“Where’s that $10 go? Did you give it to your good-for-nothing brother? Or did your skank ass buy condoms to sneak away with some other woman while I was at work?”
She’ll use the money as she wishes, or she’ll manipulate him into using it only as she deems fit.
20. He fakes his emotions.
He forces smiles. He forces laughs, then glances in her direction to see if that was okay to laugh at.
She forces him to cry in order to destroy his self-esteem. “I know you had sex with that woman. You’re a slut.
You have nothing to be proud of. I can’t believe I have a hoe for a boyfriend. You’ll never find anyone else willing to love you.” Love? Yeah, if you want to call it that.
If you notice someone who displays a telling combination of these red flags, then whatever you do, don’t ignore it. The longer he stays in the relationship, the more manipulated his mind becomes and the more likely a psychologically abusive relationship is to turn physically abusive.
The longer he stays in the relationship, the more “normal” the manipulation and abuse becomes to him, and the less likely he is to end the relationship.
If the suspected victim shuts you out, you could always slip a note with the phone number of the National Domestic Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
If you are the victim, know that you are worthy of real love. Take your life back!
Could you read it without getting jumbled as to which was the man and which was the woman? How often did you read the abuser as the man, even though I specified in the beginning? Tell me in the comments where you got lost.
Also, for anyone reading this who is having trouble, the hotline is available. If you’re a man in trouble, I’m not sure where to direct you, but I will listen.