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Q | How can you know what an abuser is really capable of, or what extreme he’ll go to?

[Disclaimer: My answers for this feature are based on a mixture of personal experience, training with a women’s DV shelter, state certification in the subjects of domestic and sexual violence, and substantial studies of the personality disorders that lead to abusive behavior. My efforts are powered by a passion for advocacy. Featured guidance may not be exactly right for everyone, but I do hope it’s helpful for most. | Janna]
A | I don’t think we can ever know. It’s risky to try and figure them out, and nearly impossible to be one step ahead. They are predictably unpredictable.
We’ve all heard stories about the relationships where there were red flags, but the woman stayed, and the man’s behavior escalated, he snapped, and he either attempted to kill her or did.
What if that were your abuser?
There is very little that separates the abuser who “only” plays mind games and emotionally or psychologically damages his victim but does not attack her physically, and the one who beats her to a pulp once a week. Why? Because in all scenarios of abuse, power and control are the key players.
Some abusers may be cunning and aware enough to avoid those tactics which leave physical evidence, thus you have your mental and financial abusers. The ones a little less careful get a little more physical (and that they do on top of committing all the other abuses, too). An abuser will always minimize his behavior and justify his actions: with him there is no gradation of offenses. He cares none about his victim, so why does the act of abuse or what shape it takes matter?
I personally believe few abusers are incapable of the worst. We already know they lie, cheat people and secure systems and the law, steal, throw tantrums, and neglect their “loved” ones, plus they have no conscience, no empathy, no moral compass (they’re just good at faking otherwise). They are above rule and consequence, and their sense of right and wrong is completed misguided, likely misshapen from poor values and characteristics instilled during the formative years (see last week’s Q&A for more on that).
The restraint and self-control it takes to maintain their facade of goodness cannot last forever. Age, health, mental acuity, stress, too many close brushes with consequence, failed relationships, that heavy soul and self loathing they must carry around in there somewhere way deep, etc., all takes a toll. An abuser, year after year, digs his own hole deeper and deeper, leaving only a certain amount of time before he falls in and his world caves around him.
Put an immature, underdeveloped man with no coping skills or human compassion under dire pressure. Get him desperate to protect himself (only himself, always) and cover his tracks, or hide his guilt. We’d soon find out what extreme he’s capable of.
| If you are in immediate, physical danger, do not test your abuser. Quietly build an army of support, a safe exit strategy, and whatever resources you can. Ask for help, and be careful. |
Submit your questions about abuse by email to jannawrites @ gmail dot com — nothing is off limits — and stay tuned for our Friday Feature: Your Abuse Questions Answered here and at Facebook/Breaking the Silence for Women.
| All identities will remain confidential. |
[A note about the pattern of female pronouns: All of this applies to any gender, and any relationship dynamic, but since this page is devoted to women, all content keeps that in mind.]

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