How to Know If You Are in Danger
By: Christine Hammond LMHC
It had been years since Stephanie heard from her ex-husband. He would send the occasional random text messages with some type of mime or joke, but nothing of substance until today. Today’s remarks came across brash and accusatory. Hidden between the lines of communication was a demand for a face-to-face meeting and a threat if she didn’t. Puzzled by the verbal attack, Stephanie anxiously began rehashing and questioning her previous actions. But what she failed to do was assess the potential threat.
He knew this about her. He knew that if he could get her on the defensive, her guard would be let down. Unbeknownst to Stephanie, his contact was preceded by his stalking. By the time he reinitiated communication he already knew her routine and had planned his attack. He reached out to her only because he thought she caught a glimmer of him and he wanted to throw her off his scent.
Still brewing over the bizarre text messages, Stephanie walked around foggy. She struggled to concentrate at work and was too ashamed to let her family know he had contacted her. As she was leaving her office late one night, her ex-husband approached her and physically attacked her. The damage was significant physically, mentally, and emotionally.
As part of her healing process, Stephanie decided to better understand the warning signals of potential danger. Here are a few of the things she discovered:
1. Look at past behavior. A person’s previous actions are sometimes the best indicator of future behavior. This is especially true with physical abuse. Once a person has crossed the line of physical contact, it is easier to do it again and again. In Stephanie’s case, she had called the police two times prior for his violent actions towards her. He was arrested but she dropped the charges so nothing appeared on his record.
2. Beware of abuse patterns. Most abusers follow the same predictable pattern over and over again. First, they are charming, nice, and seem to be unthreatening. Then out of nowhere there is a verbal attack which startles their victim. While the victim is still in shock, they attack physically. This is followed by blame-shifting, an insincere remorse, and a promise to not do it again. Then begins the honeymoon phase until the next attack. Having been removed from this pattern, Stephanie had forgotten his tactics and allowed her guard to be let down.
3. Lack of another perspective. Had Stephanie talked to her family about the text message, they would have reminded her about the abuse pattern. They also would have reiterated their concern for her safety and cautioned her to be careful. But Stephanie took the communication personally and did not say anything to anyone. She was ashamed of all the trouble her divorce caused her family and wanting to keep the damage to a minimal, so she was silent.
4. Anxiety is a friend, not a foe. Anxiety is like the engine warning light in a car. It is a signal that something is out of place and caution needs to be taken. Suppressing anxiousness can be detrimental. Instead absorbing the warning inwardly, Stephanie should have looked outside of herself to see why she was so wound up. Looking back over the incident, she did remember seeing her ex-husband just prior to the attack but immediately dismissed the thought. She later realized that the uneasy feeling she had was her subconscious trying to warn her of the potential danger.
5. Better safe than sorry. Having forgotten that old familiar saying her mother used to teach her as a child, Stephanie unwisely left her office late at night with no one else present. It was hours later before she would be found by a security guard. Instead of asking the guard to walk her to her car, she left that night tired, confused, and alone. His text message should have caused her to be hyper vigilant rather than shocked.
Stephanie’s awareness of her shortcomings did not replace his guiltiness for the attack. In no way did she assume responsibility for his behavior. Rather, in her efforts to heal from the event, she needed to feel empowered that she could do something proactive in the future. She did not want her previous victimization from the past destroying her future.
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