22 February 2009

Early warning signs. How to spot a Dominator

This chapter is influenced by some work I did with the male perpetrators from the original probation programme in 1996. In that session I asked the men to write a letter to a real or imaginary daughter. In the letter they warned her which behaviours to look out for in a new boyfriend.

Later, the women on the Freedom Programme started to compare notes during the sessions. Many said that they had left their abusive partners and then met a new one. The new one was completely different from the old one so they assumed that he was not an abuser. Wrong! He was just as abusive but in a different way.

So in this session we try to guess how a Dominator would show himself in the first two weeks of the relationship. Here are some of the many warning signs provided by hundreds of men and women from the Freedom Programme over the last nine years.

Warning Signs or “How to spot a Dominator.” Early” Bully”. He may go quiet for a short time. This could be a “sulklet”, he will not explain why. He may stare or glare or have our “Bully” smile which means he is smiling with his mouth and glaring with his eyes.

He may be aggressive with others. Perhaps he may bully bar staff or waiters. He may use all the body language of the Bully. Watch out for tapping fingers, folded arms and swinging feet.

If we express an opinion with which he disagrees he will not let it go. He will railroad us until we agree with him. He may assume the crotch thrusting position.

He may tell us very early in the relationship that he would never hit a woman. Why would he need to say this at all?

Early “Jailer”. Many of these tactics are very hard to recognise unless you have done the programme or read the book. Many of us would see them as romantic or loving. Films and fairy stories tell us that these tactics are the face of true romance.

We want to visit a friend and he insists on dropping us off and collecting us. He may genuinely be trying to protect us from the elements or he may be making sure we are where we say we will be and there are no men there.

He comes on too strong, wanting to see us every day. He buys us a mobile phone to "make sure we are safe." He telephones and sends texts all the time. When he calls he asks where we have been and who with.

He calls round late at night unannounced. He does not want to socialise with our friends. He may try to sow seeds of doubt in our minds about our friends. For example he may ask, “How well do you know Sharon?” “Why do you ask?” We may ask? “No particular reason” he may reply. This will leave us with an uneasy feeling about Sharon. He has implied that he knows something we do not.

He will tell us that we do not need to work. He tries to persuade us not to go to work by suggesting we have the odd day off to be with him. He uses phrases like "together for life" and "always."

He tries to monopolise our time. He makes exhaustive plans, which involve being with him all the time. If we tell him that we usually go out with our friends on Thursday nights he will “forget” this and arrive with surprise tickets for an expensive show or film. We then do not want to disappoint him so we miss our night with our friends.

Early “Headworker”. He will tell racist, sexist or homophobic jokes. He does not use our name. He calls us "love" or "babe" or “princess” or refers to us as his "bird." He puts us down in front of others but always uses humour to do it. He makes sexist remarks about women generally. He will criticise other women in front of us. He will also praise their looks or figures to us.

He stands us up or arrives late. He will be generally patronising and may begin to play mind games in the first two weeks. We feel uneasy but ignore it.

He may make insulting comments about our appearance under the guise of a compliment. For example “You would be really attractive if you were slimmer!”

Early “Persuader”. He will try to make us feel sorry for him. He may combine this with the Jailer tactic of buying the surprise tickets. He will try to persuade us to do something we do not want to do. An example of this could be to persuade us to eat or drink something we do not want.

Early “Liar”. This Liar may tell us he has a failed relationship. He will have a sob story about a horrible woman who took all his money and now will not let him see his children. He will not use her name. He may call her “the ex!” He will accept no responsibility for any of this and will blame his former partner for giving him a bad time.

He may tell us he is insecure and has low self-esteem. He may tell us he is the victim of domestic violence.

Early “Badfather”. As we have mentioned our Badfather will probably not have contact with his own children. However he will start to try to use our children to control us. He may very quickly make himself indispensable. He will provide financial support, practical help and treats for the children.

This is very hard to resist if we have been struggling to manage time and finances on our own. Once established he may subtly begin to dispense discipline. He may ask, “Do they always stay up so late?” He may say, “You should not let them speak to you like that!”

Early “King of the Castle”. He will begin to choose our clothes in very subtle ways. “You look lovely in that dress but have you ever thought of wearing blue? He moves in with us too soon. He often achieves this by leaving things at our house.

In the “King of the Castle“ chapter we have identified how he gradually manipulates us into doing all the household tasks. The King of the Castle also controls all of our lives and takes over our house. He may offer to do everything for us initially and it is but a short step from there to not allowing us to do something.

For example, if we go shopping for groceries and we select a loaf he may take it out of the trolley and replace it with another. If we vacuum the carpet or wash the dishes he may do these jobs again claiming that we have not done them properly.

“The DIY Merchant”. He starts doing our DIY as soon as he meets us. He will call round and say,” I’ll be round tomorrow with my tool box to fix those shelves.” Before we know it Dado rails have sprung up all over the house! He can then come round and rip them down if we try to end the relationship.

Early “Sexual Controller”. He may move too quickly and want us to do things, which make us uncomfortable. He is not actually communicating with us if we do have sex with him.

He is irresponsible about contraception. He refuses to wear a condom. He is married or in another relationship. He may grope us in public.

These warning signs will come in clusters. They will not just exhibit one sign but will display several at a time. We will have noticed more than we realise. We then feel uneasy but ignore it. Women on the programme say that when they have done this session they now take those feelings of unease very seriously.

So, if our new partner exhibits clusters of such tactics it may be time to recall our Fairy Story and say to ourselves, “I don’t fucking think so!”

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