DEAR ABBY: In 1996, in memory of a 19-year-old battered woman who was murdered by her boyfriend, you printed an item requested by her family. It changed my life. On March 29 of that year, my dad said, "I have something for you," and handed me your column. It contained a list of 15 warning signs of a batterer. It was my wake-up call.
At first I thought, "How can this help ME?" Well, it did. No. 1 took me back to the beginning of my relationship with my fiance. By the time I reached No. 15, I had reviewed the past seven years of my life.
Few realize how important a role verbal abuse and criticism play in an abuser's efforts to gain control and keep you from leaving. The verbal abuse was harder for me to deal with than being kicked in the back when I'd walk away from one of his outbursts.
After reading that column, I finally understood there was nothing I could change about myself that would make him love me. Thank you, Abby. I wish I could let the family of the 19-year-old woman know they changed my life. -- GRATEFUL IN ILLINOIS
DEAR GRATEFUL: People often ask if I ever hear from readers letting me know how my columns have affected them. The answer is yes, and today I'll reprint that list in YOUR honor.
(1) PUSHES FOR QUICK INVOLVEMENT: Comes on strong, claiming, "I've never felt loved like this by anyone." An abuser pressures the new partner for an exclusive commitment almost immediately.
(2) JEALOUS: Excessively possessive; calls constantly or visits unexpectedly; prevents you from going to work because "you might meet someone"; checks the mileage on your car.
(3) CONTROLLING: Interrogates you intensely (especially if you're late) about whom you talked to and where you were; keeps all the money; insists you ask permission to go anywhere or do anything.
(4) UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS: Expects you to be the perfect mate and meet his or her every need.
(5) ISOLATION: Tries to cut you off from family and friends; accuses people who are your supporters of "causing trouble." The abuser may deprive you of a phone or car, or try to prevent you from holding a job.
(6) BLAMES OTHERS FOR PROBLEMS OR MISTAKES: It's always someone else's fault if something goes wrong.
(7) MAKES OTHERS RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS OR HER FEELINGS: The abuser says, "You make me angry," instead of "I am angry," or says, "You're hurting me by not doing what I tell you."
(8) HYPERSENSITIVITY: Is easily insulted, claiming hurt feelings when he or she is really mad. Rants about the injustice of things that are just a part of life.
(9) CRUELTY TO ANIMALS OR CHILDREN: Kills or punishes animals brutally. Also may expect children to do things that are far beyond their ability (whips a 3-year-old for wetting a diaper) or may tease them until they cry. Sixty-five percent of abusers who beat their partner will also abuse children.
(10) "PLAYFUL" USE OF FORCE DURING SEX: Enjoys throwing you down or holding you down against your will during sex; finds the idea of rape exciting.
(11) VERBAL ABUSE: Constantly criticizes or says blatantly cruel things; degrades, curses, calls you ugly names. This may also involve sleep deprivation, waking you with relentless verbal abuse.
(12) RIGID GENDER ROLES: Expects you to serve, obey, remain at home.
(13) SUDDEN MOOD SWINGS: Switches from sweet to violent in minutes.
(14) PAST BATTERING: Admits to hitting a mate in the past, but says the person "made" him (or her) do it.
(15) THREATS OF VIOLENCE: Says things like, "I'll break your neck," or "I'll kill you," and then dismisses them with, "Everybody talks that way," or, "I didn't really mean it."
To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Keepers Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)
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