This post is written mostly from personal experience. It addresses a topic that generally leads me to start talking to myself: “Jeff, how could you have been so stupid? Why didn’t you realize what that person was a long, long time ago?” You know that kind of self-talk I bet. But I think that we should also lighten up on ourselves quite a lot. The fact is that by its very nature, evil is extremely deceptive, especially when it is parading under the guise of “Christian.” The fact is that you usually have to learn the hard way. But we would all admit that if we had listened to God’s Word more closely and seriously, we would have been tipped off earlier. At least in part.
Well, how can you spot an abuser early on? Here are some warning signs that are frequently missed and yet they are very, very typical:
- Telling you what you are thinking, what you were thinking, or what your motive was/is. And normally the thought or motive identified is not a good one! “You did that because you were angry at her.” “You totally ignored that person when they were trying to get your attention.” “You said that the reason you did such and such was ________, but I know that you really did it because _________.” Reject this kind of thing. “You cannot read my mind and you do not know the motives of my heart. Do not make those kind of accusations to me again. I will not permit you to do so.”
- Offering to “help” you with certain personal character flaws that they claim to see in you. “We would be a really good team. I know that I would help balance you out.” Reject this as well. “So, you are saying that your motive for wanting to be on the team is focused specifically at me and your mission will be to fix me? That is a faulty motive. You are not a good fit for our team.”
- Evidencing controlling behaviors and words, often when no one else in your life says or does the things this person does. “I see that you are going to _________. I don’t like that idea. It is a mistake.” Now, healthy and safe people can indeed say such a thing to us, but the abuser/narcissist will do so in a rather animated way, becoming more animated as he goes on speaking. “I believe that this is the right way, the biblical way, and you need to do it like this.” And you find yourself thinking or feeling, “this guy’s animation and zeal for such a minor point is just plain weird.” In Christian circles, such a person will even tack on God’s name and supposed authority to his own position. “Do it my way or God will judge you.”
- Changing and altering history. You are quite sure that you heard him say or saw him do something, but even a very short time later when you bring it up, he not only denies it but acts as if he has absolutely no memory of the event ever happening.
- Blame-shifting. Abusers, you remember, are never wrong. They will make you feel, the longer you are around them, that you are always the guilty one. After a time if you try to recall an incident in which they honestly admitted fault, your list will be very short if not non-existent.
- Criticizing you in front of other people, thus working to gain them as allies on his side and plant doubt about you in their minds.
- Often reminding you of past incidents in which they have already accused you of having sinned or being wrong. I have personally had wicked people do this very thing, claiming that they clearly remembered something that allegedly happened 15 years before, based on the very barest of evidence. The fact is that they actually invent these incidents and in reality, they never happened at all. But abusers are very, very good at feigning absolute sincerity and thus making you think that they must be right. They aren’t.
- Playing the victim. They will hear a sound, biblical sermon series or lesson and they will walk away having twisted it into applying to YOU, not to them, when in fact the Scripture very obviously exposes their own sin. They will attack and revile, and when you call them on it they will instantly feign being “hurt” and morph into the victim role.
- If they are a man, they will often evidence a mentality that men are inherently superior to women. This attitude will often come across as supposed “humor,” but we must reject it as not being funny at all. At other times, if the abuser is a professing Christian, watch for warped views on roles in marriage.
- A too-good-to-be-true image, especially in Christian circles. The perfect, biblical marriage. Perfect obedient children. Nobody is perfect, and those who appear to be are suspect.
The list goes on, but these are all signs that I have seen in abusers very early on in my acquaintance with them. I just didn’t have the wisdom to realize what these indicators were telling me. I found out the hard way.
I am wiser now. I hope you all are too.