How NOT to Spot An Emotional Abuser

13 Apr 2022

How not to spot an emotional abuser

My lovely partner is a stranger to abuse world.  He’s never lived there. He’s never had to recover from emotional abuse.  So, what had he seen that made him say: “That man is an emotional and physical abuser”.

We were sitting in one of the few coffee bars in Venice actually set up for people to sit and chat in.  There was only one other couple in the place.  My partner nipped off for a quick ‘comfort break’.  Glancing over at the other couple, I heard sirens and saw red flags aplenty.

She had her back to me.  She could have been in her 20s, 30s or older.  She had long blond hair, was slim and, probably, attractive.  She was deep in conversation with a man in his 40s.

An emotional abuser, no mistaking it.

He was smiling, engaging in some conversational give and take (mostly take, naturally; they both seemed to think he was a pretty interesting guy!).  Everything about him screamed Uber-Alpha Male.

He was leaning in towards her – which lovers do. But this was no romantic gesture. I could see he was invading her personal space.  (He was the kind of guy whose presence in a room would invade most people’s personal space.)  His eyes were locked on her: his gaze was too deep, too intense.

It wasn’t hard to see that this was a fledgling relationship. The potter was molding his clay.

My partner came back and I went off.

On my return, both of us had something to share: “That man!”

“Playful” behaviour

He’d seen Mr Uber-Alpha get up to pay the tab.  When Mr U-A came back to the table, my partner saw him cuff the blond woman ‘playfully’ on the back of the head.

Doubtless, he said something ‘playful’ as he did so.

For sure, he didn’t hurt her.

That wasn’t the point. He was testing the waters; seeing what she was willing to put up with…

They headed for the door.  I saw that she was pretty, in her late twenties.  She had that look: the look of someone anxious to please.  Mr U-A was poured into a dark suit in a way that white-collar workers never are.  He donned sunglasses.  It wasn’t sunny outside.  His whole look was of someone in ‘protection’.  Someone women need to be protected from.

The blond woman hadn’t seen what we had.  She’d been too busy living it: this fit, macho guy who was really interested in her.  That had to be good, right? 

Wrong! Not all interest is good interest.

Most emotional abusers don’t look like thugs in skin-tight suits.  They come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and ages.  Still, they share certain characteristics with Mr Uber-Alpha.

Hallmarks of a Narcissist

  • They invade your space, physically and/or psychologically. One way or another, they overstep boundaries.  They may get too personal with you too fast, start running a mini them-and-us scenario, or push things forward like there’s no tomorrow – or like they have no patience.
  • They run a mini lack of respect scenario. This could be anything from ignoring you, to picking up their cleaning on a first date (truly!) flirting with other women, behaving badly, the playful ‘tap’ or whatever else they can think of.  They may do more than one.
  • They’ll let you know what a fascinating – and, quite possibly, complex – character they are. They may well tell you something sets them apart from lesser men.  It could be anything from childhood, to occupation, to past hurts, to… shoe size if they can’t find anything better.
  • They unsettle you, subtly. Something about your world is less than their standards/expectations…
  • They establish the pecking order: They’re at the top. You’re not.  You may be allowed to perch on their pedestal with them.  But that’s only ever going to be a privilege – if youre lucky – not a right.
  • Maybe they have a whiff of danger about them that you pick up. Maybe they don’t.  But there’ll be something that doesn’t look and feel quite right.

It’s not hard to see how it will go for the blond woman in the cafe:  she’ll take an emotional – and physical – knocking.  (The expression on her face suggested that Mr Uber Alpha isn’t the first abuser she’s come across.)

How to avoid the pointless suffering

What would it take for her NOT to go through the pointless suffering? The same as it would take for anyone else.

She’d have to dump her baggage about being loveable.  She’d have to do one of her least favorite things and come out with a resolute: “No is NO!” scenario.  She’d have to deal with the demons whispering in her ear that he could have been The One and she’s letting go of The-Last-Good-Man-for-a-Thousand-Kilometers-Around. She’d have to work on her own value judgements around being single.

That is the price of her happy future.

She doesn’t know that red flags means sure and present danger. You do.  You have the T-shirt to prove it.

You can never be safe around an emotional abuser – not even if he has muscles like The Incredible Hulk (not even if he’s a green as a frozen pea).

It’s your job to keep yourself safe.  Because until you learn how to do that, you never will be safe.  For you to recover from emotional abuse, you need to be able to spot an emotional abuser from the get-go. Plus, you have to learn that you are valuable enough to be worthy of your own care and protection.


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

4 thoughts on “How NOT to Spot An Emotional Abuser”

  1. Dear Annie,
    yes I would like to leave a quick comment just living the experience of sharing a room with someone who laughs in my face when I am upset, sometimes ignores me, invades my space physically forcing me to have a relationship, speaking he cares while acting the opposite with little consideration for my well being and health, I guess I need to move out fast cause I cannot sleep at night and have strong emotional reactions leading to a heart pain. I guess I am dealing with sth very dysfunctional here and I do not feel safe.

    thank you for reading me.

    • Dear Martina,

      If you do not feel safe, you should not be where you are and need to get away urgently.

      Warm wishes for your healing and happiness,



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