Abusers don’t come with warning labels.

Abusers don’t hit you on the first date. They don’t write “I will humiliate and belittle you” on their Tinder profiles. They don’t wear “I break things to intimidate my partner” t-shirts. People don’t get trapped in damaging relationships because they saw an abuser coming from 20 yards away and decided “I’m going to date that person anyway”. That’s not how any of this works.

In the beginning, abusers can be some of the most thoughtful, attentive people you’ll ever meet. They’re obsessed with you; that’s what makes them so toxic and deadly as time goes on. Abusers buy you flowers. They remember your birthday. They remember to text you “good morning” and “good night”. They listen to your problems, confide in you and share silly inside jokes. They can keep that “loving, doting partner and best friend” mask in place for months or years if they have to.

So the first time they scream at you or hit you, you don’t see an abuser. You see your best friend, your confidante, the person who brought you soup when you were sick and always laughs at your stories about your nutty coworker. You tell yourself they just had a bad day. Maybe they were tired, sick, hungry, or under a lot of stress. You know them. You’ve made a life with them. And they’re so sorry and so ashamed of what they did. This isn’t who they are.

And so things go back to back to normal for a while. Wonderful, even. This is still one of the best relationships you’ve ever been in, even counting that one incident. You go back to date nights, cozy nights in and 5-hour-long conversations that feel effortless.

And then it happens again.

And you still don’t see an abuser. You see the person who means the most to you in the whole world. You decide that maybe they’re just struggling. Maybe they have mental health issues. They’ve told you every horrible thing that’s ever happened to them as a child, and maybe it has something to do with that. But either way, they’re not an abuser. Not yet. They’re just a person who needs you more than ever.

Then things are good for a while. Then something bad happens. Then it’s good again. Then it’s bad. Good. Bad. Good. Bad. And every time it happens, it gets a little harder to get out. The time you’ve invested in the relationship goes up, and your self-esteem goes down. By the time you realize that, yes, the person you thought you knew is an Abuser with a capital A, you’re in deep. You’re a frog that stood in a pot of water so long it turned you into soup before you even noticed it was getting a little warm. But you didn’t ask for this. And you certainly didn’t know it was coming.

We have this image in our heads of what abusers must look like. We picture brawny men with low foreheads and stained white tank tops, screaming at their wives while they drink beer in front of the TV. We think they’re like wildlife, as if we could spot them with the help of a guidebook and know to stay far away from them. But they’re not. Abusers can be anyone. They can be female. They can be accomplished. They can be well-groomed. Queer. Politically far-left. Politically far-right. Artists. Athletic. Charitable. Intelligent. They can come from any walk of life, any spot on the gender spectrum, any religion, any background. It’s not the abused person’s fault for not spotting them - they can’t always be spotted. It’s the abuser’s fault for abusing.

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