By Sandra L. Brown, M.A.
This article was originally taken from the web site of Sandra L. Brown, MA.
Women erroneously think that a dangerous man is only a violent man. While the violent man is indeed one of the categories of dangerous men, there are seven others that are often overlooked. These omitted categories are exactly how women get into dangerous relationships. These lapses in information leave women without the knowledge to respond to the face of dangerousness when he is in their life. Since much of the information about ‘what’ makes a man dangerous has not been taught to women, they do not recognize and respond to dangerousness.
Most women have learned to ignore their red flags—their biological response system that tells them that something is not quite right. Our research indicated that 100% of women understand red flags, have red flags, and many of them go on to ignore the very red flags that can alert them to unsafe relationships. Women sited various reasons for ignoring red flags which included societal training that women should be polite, gender differences that taught them that women are to be hyper-tolerant to less than appealing male behavior, and female role modeling in their childhoods where women in their families tolerated dangerous male behavior, renamed the behavior to something less threatening, and then stayed.
Overtly lacking in today’s women’s programs are the outright names of dangerous diagnosis, the labeling of specific dangerous behaviors, and the teaching of why dangerousness is not something that can be treated, more less cured. Most women cannot site any elements that make a man ‘incurable.’ They don’t understand that the issue of dangerousness is based on a person’s inability to grow or change. And furthermore, they do not know what ‘an inability to grow or change’ looks like or acts like.
No wonder record amounts of women are or have been in as many as four to five dangerous man relationships before they changed their patterns. Often the only reason change came at all was because of extreme violence and subsequent near death injuries, or death itself. Sadly enough, once a woman has dated one dangerous man her chances of dating even more dramatically increase. This is because one of the notable side effects of dating pathologically dangerous men is that women begin to normalize abnormal behavior until dangerous men look normal and are the only types of men they date. Even more shocking, women will adapt their own behaviors to the pathologically ill man so that his behaviors are less disturbing to her. This results in the woman mimicking sick behavior and also learning to tolerate this type of behavior by increasing her negative coping skills which allows her to deny, justify, minimize or in any other way ignore or discount dangerous behavior.
Universal signs of a bad dating choice can be learned and should be by all women. But until recently, the categories and types of dangerous men were known only to the therapists who treated them. The 7th Great Wonder of the World (psychopathology) was undisclosed, explained, or taught to the lay public. Women’s patterns of perilous selections continued on without the benefit of knowledgeable intervention that included how to spot dangerousness. Girls, teens, and women are all told not to date ‘bad men’ but no one taught them what bad men were or what made them bad.
A woman’s capacity to choose differently is only as effective as the information she has to choose wisely. Women begin to make different selections when they understand the incurableness of some men, what makes them untreatable and unsafe, and how he can impact her long term quality of life by his own destructive dangerousness. Women can understand and do respond when they have the information to choose differently. They also learn to choose differently when they learn to reconnect to the red flags that their bodies are faithful to send them. Information and awareness become powerful tools for healthier relationships and long term change.
The Fast Track is for Racing–Not Relationships!
We live in an instant society: instant messaging, drive through food, microwaves, text messaging, ipods—just about anything we want NOW we can have. No wonder we have confused technology speed with relational speed. After all, isn’t this the decade of speed dating?
The problem is that there is no way to rush intimacy. Speed dating does not = relationship security and knowledge. There is only one way to know someone and that is through time. There are no short cuts. Many people think that if you substitute the time you would spend with someone over a year of knowing them and squeeze that time into a 24/7 relationship, then you will get the same results. Very often there is an inappropriate pacing in relationships in which people early on begin to spend 24/7 with a new person. They give up their outside hobbies, friends, families, and lifestyles. They think that if someone WANTS to spend 24/7 with them, they must be ‘really into them.’
Over the years as a mental health counselor, I have found there are a number of reasons why people want to rush relationships. Sometimes it’s because they want to usher you into the center of their lives before you find out their history. They want you really tied-in before you find out why no one else has wanted a relationship with them. Other times it is because the person has a hard time being alone. That is never a good sign. The inability to be alone is often related to other mental health issues. Fast paced dating can be a distraction away from their own feelings and issues.
I always suggest that the woman be in charge of the pacing of the relationship. If she has been 24/7 with someone, stop! Not only because it’s unhealthy but also to see what he will do with the changing of the pace. Make other plans, see friends, don’t be so available. Healthy persons will accept the pacing change. They may not like it, but they will honor it. Unhealthy and even dangerous persons will blame, shame, and guilt you. This should be a red flag as to whether this person is someone safe to date.
Rushing a relationship—whether it’s dating 24/7, moving in early together, or marrying within the first year is a mistake that renders not enough time to truly know a person. This includes the persons ‘true’ (as opposed to stated) background, their character, and maybe their own dangerousness. It takes time to build a healthy relationship. It takes no time at all to imitate one.
Grief and It’s Impact on Relationship Selection
Grief can have devastating effects on the type of person you choose while you are still actively grieving. Many people do not realize they are grieving so are at-risk of choosing dangerously while being impaired by their grief. Some assume that grief is related only if your partner has recently died and if you are currently still saddened by the loss. But actually grieving occurs when any relationship ends—whether it is anticipated, desired, prepared for, or not. The longer the relationship existed, the longer the grief normally takes.
Persons are often distressed to learn that there should be a ‘time out’ from dating or future relationships when one relationship has ended. The rule of thumb is 6 months time-out for every 5 years of relationship. So if you were with someone (married or not) for 10 years that would suggest you take 1 year off from dating. I get horrified reactions to that because most people think ‘just get your self back out there. The best way to get over someone is with someone else.’
Many of my clients ended up in counseling with me because they did exactly that. While still grieving, they hooked up and made some bad choices which caused them even more problems and pain. When you are coming out of a relationship, you are in pain even if you aren’t acknowledging it, even if you wanted out of the relationship, even if you had planned for the ending of it. When we are in pain, we are not in our best decision making mind. When issues of the previous relationship are not resolved, many people go on to choose someone just like the relationship they just ended. Subconsciously they are trying to work out those issues—but with a new person instead of the one they just left.
Drastically, many people jump from one relationship to the next to avoid being alone. Alone does not necessarily = loneliness. In these cases, people don’t really care about the quality of the next relationship they only desire to avoid themselves. These are issues for the person to work out with a professional. People who cannot be alone are at a significant risk of choosing anyone to avoid being alone.
The baggage we carry from the last relationship has the ability to impact current and future relationships. Ideally, none of us want to hurt new relationships with our old issues that are unresolved. That’s why time off relationships help us get some distance where we can assess the good and bad things of the relationship, our part in it, the types of people who we tend to select and whether we need to make some changes. These insights do not happen overnight or even within a few weeks. That is why following the formula listed above protects you from your own impaired choices. Sometimes it allows enough time that you see you might need a few counseling sessions to work out your anger, fear, or look deeper at your dating selection patterns.
The longer we wait and the more we work on ourselves in-between relationships the better chances we have of bringing a more healthy self to the next relationship and being able to spot potential bad dating choices.
Dating and the Internet
With the need to date fast the internet has taken on the role of a hook-up location. Unfortunately, it is also a potential stalking ground for dating gone awry.
There are some inherent problems with internet dating. It is difficult to read body language, eye lingo, and verbal pacing of sentences via email. One of the ways people can keep themselves safe in dating relationships is to feel and respond to their red flags. Red flags are greatly reduced by the inability to see first hand someone’s immediate response to statements or questions. Email, which is usually how people first talk when met on the internet, impairs the ability to get early insight into potential problems.
People have created false senses of intimacy via internet dating. I know of one woman who met a man from Iran on the internet and went there to marry him without ever having met him in person. It was a disaster and hard for her to get back to the states. He was nothing that he had represented himself as.
A false sense of intimacy increases rapid disclosure. The connection with someone online (that you have no idea if he is safe or not or who he says he is) becomes privy to a bulimic-like purge of personal problems and information. This is very common for women to rapidly disclose and over disclose information. Dangerous and predatory men have stated that “women who rapidly and overly disclose make my approach easy.” Men who are not highly verbal in person may be very verbal online and the woman perceives this as ‘relationship,’ ‘connection,’ ‘knowledge about the person,’ and ‘intimacy.’
The internet increases fantasy—you can be whoever you want to be with someone you aren’t sure you will ever meet. The increase in non-credible information about someone is significantly higher. People can lie about where they live, their marriage status, career, appearance, or criminal history.
People who are unhappy in their marriage find internet relationships to be the perceived escape out of misery they have been seeking. Many are disappointed (or even horrified) to find the relationship online is all fantasy and not much reality. Women have left husbands for online men who never materialize. When it comes to who they person is or what the relationship is, they find it’s more about what the person has projected and fantasized it to be—not what it will become in the future.
While it is unlikely that internet dating will ever disappear, women need to understand the risks of internet hook-ups and how it puts a woman at a distinct disadvantage in reading body language and red flags.
What are ‘red flags’ for the Therapist?
I am often asked what my ‘red flags’ are as a therapist when I am counseling a couple and I sense he might be dangerous. There certainly ARE specific things that I have trained my ear to listen for because they are often indicators of more serious problems often attached to dangerous behavior.
- Pacing of the relationship. If its 24/7 it’s not that he’s “just that into you.” Pathological men have agendas about getting the relationship to appear ‘intense’ and ‘deep’ quickly. They want to usher you into the middle of the relationship before you figure out his agenda or respond to your own red flags. Predators have told me in group that their move is to ‘sweep them off their feet’ by overwhelming them with intensity of emotion, time, and gifts. Women who get into intense relationships in which quickly they are seeing each other constantly, not having an outside life, and have the sensation of being ‘breathless’ from the pace of the relationship are often with a dangerous man. Many different types of dangerous men often try to move in quickly or marry quickly. Both of which should be a red flag to a woman. Women should always be in charge of the pace of the relationship which should be SLOW. Women should also change the pace of the relationship and see how he responds. Normal men accept that you ask for more time to yourself, dangerous men do not. They guilt and shame you into keeping the pace at THEIR rate, not yours.
- Serial Relationships. Women often ignore a man’s history of failed relationships. Guys with histories of multiple failed relationships have difficulty being alone so they rapidly seek other relationships without reflection on the failed one. This lack of insight in the failed relationship increases his pacing so that women are hurried into a relationship before figuring ‘why’ he has so many failed relationships. One clue I always listen for is his relational history—how many relationships, why they ended, what he has to say about his own responsibility in them ending, and what he says about the woman now. Men who take no responsibility for their actions often have mental health issues as do men who never say anything good about any of the women they have been with.
- His History. Women need to find information about his criminal, mental health, and relationship history. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. There are on-line background search sites that can do this. Women often discount a man’s criminal history. His criminal history is good predictors of future violence, other criminality and sometimes mental health issues. Likewise, his mental health history matters! If he has been diagnosed with a mental condition, most conditions INCREASE with time, age, and stress. Mental conditions are highly unpredictable and how he appears ‘now’ is not a guarantee of any stability in the future. All of his histories matter: criminal, mental health, and relational.
- Enduring Patterns of Behavior. Women often believe they can ‘change’ men once they are in a relationship with it. It’s one of our characteristics we don’t like to admit! But it is often part of our belief system. But if he has ‘always been this way’ he may have a pathological disorder which is determined by looking at enduring patterns of behavior that don’t change. Chronic womanizing, unrelenting unemployment, long histories of addictions, etc. are all examples of enduring patterns of behavior. We begin to suspect pathological (which means a permanent disorder) when people have long histories of certain behaviors. These behaviors will not be changed by you, or likely, anyone else, including professionals.
- His pattern of selection. The types of women he has dated can reveal the type of woman he targets. A history of emotionally unhealthy women should be a red flag. Some men love victimized women, others like women with low self esteem, or financially dependent women. What are the women like he has been with and why are you now one he wants to be with?
If these are red flags for me, they certainly should be for women as well. Women who end up with dangerous man-after-dangerous man is women who ignore the warning signs, like these, and often ‘hope’ they are going to get different results than what the professionals are advising. Don’t be one of them!
Your Family’s Impact on Relationship Selection
Fortunately or unfortunately our families are training ground for later in life choices and behaviors. As children, we are influenced by the types of environments we are raised in. Often, women who have distinct dangerous man patterns of selection were raised in homes in which mom chose dangerous men or dad/uncle/grandfather/brother was a dangerous man.
These behaviors, both in the dangerous man and in the family’s tolerance of these behaviors, go a long way in developing women who have learned how to normalize this kind of abnormal behavior.
Young impressionable girls being raised in a family environment in which dangerous behavior is renamed, relabeled, repackaged, and redistributed are building blocks for her own choices as an adult.
The women most likely to choose continual relationships that are dangerous are women who were raised in dangerous environments and women who witnessed other adult females discount these types of behaviors and stay. There are often a lot of reasons WHY a woman stays—economical, geographical, etc. The question is not WHY she stayed but WHAT the impact of staying is on young girls and how that is manifested in adulthood in their lives. We are now being able to study the effects of dangerous parenting on children and what kinds of issues these children have as adults.
Families with chronic untreated addictions (drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, etc.) are also families who produce either addictions in the young girls or young girls who pick addicts as partners. Families with untreated mental illness are families who produce women who select the mentally ill as partners without even realizing they are mentally ill. Young girls raised in homes, for instance, with schizophrenics or bi-polars often don’t realize what normal behavior looks like in adults. Therefore, replicating what is normal to them, they pick men like those adults they were raised with.
While we can’t choose the families we were born in and as adults we now must live with the effects of the parenting we received, we can be proactive in recognizing our emotional baggage we acquired and doing something about it.
Women who have histories of chronic bad relationships are often those who have not recognized the connection between early childhood parenting and their choices in men as adults. Without this important recognition, women continue to pick the same type of man over and over again wondering what the attraction is and why ‘nice guys’ are never part of whom they are attracted to.
Early childhood influences are often at the heart of women’s patterns of selection—picking bad boys, men who need mothers, emotionally unavailable men, married men, clingy-needy men, addicts, mentally ill, predatory type men, and those with hidden lives. These choices don’t ‘just happen’ in the lives of women. They are planted seeds that take root and grow. Women with patterns formed in early childhood and acted out in adulthood need counseling to help them see, understand, and break their patterns of dysfunctional selection. This often is not a process that is just a ‘cognitive’ one in which the woman says ‘Aha! I see it, therefore I will stop it.’
Furthermore, a woman’s own pattern of selection can impact her own children in the home. Many women’s guilt connected to what their children have been exposed to from her patterns of selection have prompted women to seek help. Children who have witnessed violence, been abused or molested by dad/boyfriend are the next generation of potential victims and abusers. Women who were abused as children are more likely to select an abuser as a mate than women who were not abused. Women who were abused are always confused by this pattern in their lives. They are SURE they would never be attracted to the same type of situation they lived through as a child. And yet, those very issues that are unhealed are the issues that drive her pattern of selection. In many ways, women are often trying to heal their original childhood wounds by selecting someone similar that they can ‘reenact’ their unresolved issues with. This should be a big catalyst for women to seek help so that the repetition stops.
Our cycle of destructive selection patterns can be hinged on our own environments we were raised in. But our futures can be hinged on our own emotional health as we begin to see, understand and change our dangerous man patterns. Whatever you have lived through, you deserve the time to heal so your relationships can be healthier in the future. Change your choices, change your life!
** This article is free for use or reprint as long as the following information is included with the article and the article is quoted as is: Article written by Sandra L. Brown, M.A., Director of The Dangerous Relationship Institute and author ‘How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved’ and ‘Counseling Victims of Violence.’ The Institute is involved in helping women achieve relational harm reduction. Visit our site at www.saferelationships.com for advice and resources on changing your dating patterns of selection. Change your choices, change your life.