Dating after domestic abuse
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Marilyn McKenzie BSc, PGDip, MBACP
12th February, 20180 Comments
If you have been in an abusive relationship and are ready to start dating again you may experience anxiety which can feel huge. You may even doubt your choices and decisions. As part of the grooming process of an abusive relationship your ex would have come as the perfect partner. Considerate, funny and loving. If it weren't for the grooming process then you wouldn't have stayed! But it was a ploy to reel you in and then hurt you. So how do you find someone who is genuinely kind and affectionate?
You want someone who is loving but you also don't want to end up in a relationship similar to before.
Growing your confidence and self-esteem after the abuse is paramount. Long after the wounds have healed the emotional abuse can remain and there may be that voice in your head telling you constantly that you are not good enough. Building back your confidence and challenging that voice will take a lot of practice but you can do it. You may even have symptoms of PTSD. If this is you, please seek support.
What can be helpful when you are thinking of dating again is to know what subtle signs to look out for in the early stages of the grooming process. This helps you to ask questions as to what’s behind some of the behaviour and make decisions as to whether the relationship is worth pursuing or not
What to look out for!
Double edged compliments
When meeting someone who is abusive they often shower you with compliments but they are tinged with a put down. Something along the lines of:
- "You look great today, but you would look so much better if you grow your hair"
- "You have a lovely figure but jeans don't suit you as your thighs are too big"
- "You know sometimes you look really handsome, but other times when I look at you in the morning I think bloody hell!"
These subtle put downs chip away at your confidence. You might not even notice that you never wear jeans because of what your ex said to you. Or that you always think you look terrible first thing in the morning so you sleep with your back to your partner. These insults leave you feeling vulnerable in the hope of creating an environment where you feel lucky to have them. Don’t fall for it.
One minute the person can't wait to hear from you and practically spends most of their day texting you. So much so that you have little time for work and wonder how they manage to get anything done. Then all of a sudden there's nothing. Whether it's for a few days or longer when you try to contact them, you barely get a response. You wonder what did you do wrong but actually you've done nothing wrong. It's a ploy to keep you anxious and never comfortable in the relationship with the aim that you'll try harder to stop them doing it again. Then they can manipulate you further. When they return they'll say things like I was just busy.
KNOW THIS: it takes less than a minute to send a text. Everyone, no matter how busy they are, has one minute to send a message to someone who they consider is important. Even if you do it on the bog, it’s still possible. This is not a valid excuse!
This can take different forms. One of the commons one is saying something to you then doing something that counteracts what was said, then denying they ever said it in the first place. Something like them saying I spent the weekend with my parents. Then a week later the same person telling you that he would introduce you to their family but they haven't spoken for years. Then when you question them on it they act as though they have no idea what you're talking about. This makes you doubt yourself and enables them to be the person who decides reality.
They are never wrong!
In the early stages of the grooming process they can do things that test your boundaries. When you call then out on this they will claim that they did this because you did something. They will play the victim, encourage you to apologise with the idea that they will apologise also then refuse to do so. This is classic of the DV cycle.
You're being a drama queen!
When you get upset at something they have done and express this they might say you are being overly dramatic. This is a way of minimising your experience as though your feelings are not valid. Your feelings, even if unjustified, are valid to you. By all means, check in with yourself regularly to make sure that you are not overreacting, maybe even check in with your therapist about your reaction.
There are many other ways in which the grooming process can take shape. Once you know what they look like and you have built your confidence then dating can get easier. When people's actions match their words this often shows they are genuine. Check how you feel after a conversation with your new date. If you constantly feel crappy after speaking to them then something might be off.
Trust your instincts.
About the author
I am Marilyn McKenzie and I am a qualified psychotherapist who has worked with couples, addiction, DV, young offending, grief and bereavement as well as anxiety and depression.
I am integrative in my approach but often work systemically. I have a private practise and work with relate.
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