Are you marrying a Monster?
Domestic abusers are initially charming and adept at concealing their inner demons, as the author of a new book on violence in the home tells Nick Bramhill
It was the happiest moment of her life. 'Linda' had always been unlucky in love and had all but given up on ever meeting Mr Right.
But in 2005 she met 'Stephen', the man of her dreams. Life was wonderful.
She had never felt so close to anyone. "We were a couple, and more than that were best friends as well, we were each other's life.
"My husband, when I met him, was a caring, loving, respectful, good-looking man. I used to think to myself -- I have met the one -- how lucky I am."
How was she to know Stephen was about to subject her to years of terror? No sooner had they married, then he turned into a monster and started subjecting her to horrific abuse. Linda had failed to spot the signs that her husband was secretly hiding his real personality -- that of an abuser.
But she is not alone.
Of the 13,575 incidents of domestic abuse disclosed to the helpline of Women's Aid last year, it seems fair to assume that none of the victims was aware of their partner's abusive side when they first started dating.
The grim reality is that violent and controlling people who crave an intimate relationship are very adept at cloaking their inner demons, particularly when they first meet their victims, according to a new book by Tipperary-based author Jim O'Shea.
O'Shea, who runs a counselling practice in Thurles, says that the abuser will go to extraordinary lengths to keep his dark side concealed by sweeping his target of her feet and showering her with gifts, flattery and compliments.
But it's all part of a deadly trap, which the victim will unwittingly fall into the day she agrees to marry him.
However, thanks to O'Shea's book, Abuse: Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying, women at least have a chance of avoiding future suffering and pain by referring to a checklist of the personality traits and behavioural patterns of a potential abuser.
O'Shea has discovered first-hand that abusers, be they men or women, all tend to follow a similar pattern of behaviour at the outset of a new relationship.
But the 66-year-old former secondary school principal insists: "By recognising abusive traits early in the relationship, you can avoid great suffering and pain. Early detection will help to prevent you falling into a fully fledged abusive relationship."
Although written from the perspective of a straight relationship in which the man is abusive, he says the same warning signs apply to potential male victims and those in a gay relationship.
The book devotes separate chapters to five types of abuse -- physical, psychological, verbal, sexual and financial. Unfortunately for the victim, all these forms of abuse can simultaneously be inflicted on them by the perpetrator.
The honest real-life account of one of his clients, 'Linda', is interspersed throughout the book. Linda couldn't have known on the day she met the man of her dreams that she had failed to spot warning sign number one -- charm. O'Shea explains: "An abuser has a real Jekyll and Hyde personality. Almost all abusers are charming from the outset. You have a charmer, who sweeps you off your feet and puts you on a pedestal. They make you feel very special and they tell you they love you.
"Few relationships begin in an abusive way. You may find your partner charming, charismatic, attentive, loving, romantic, amusing, and handsome. Equally desirable, he may share many of your interests. You may think you have a real soul mate.
"If your self-esteem is low, if you have brought feelings of abandonment from childhood, that person's initial attention will make you feel flattered and fortunate. It is easy to be disarmed in those early stages by charm."
Linda, who wasn't used to being showered with so much affection, was so disarmed by Stephen that she failed to spot the second warning sign -- a quick proposal.
O'Shea highlights this trait as the one victims should really look out for, explaining: "It's the first sign of an abuser looking to control a relationship.
"The real danger sign is when an abusive person asks for an early commitment. When you meet victims of abuse and ask them if they were proposed to very quickly, the answer is always 'yes'."
Unfortunately for Linda, she also said yes to Stephen's hasty proposal. "Within a few weeks, he had told me he loved me. And to be honest it was so intense between us that it didn't come as a real shock . . .
A couple of weeks before Christmas 2005 I came home from work one evening. . . he led me to the sitting room, where candles were lighting and two glasses of wine were poured out. That evening he asked me to marry him. I knew it was quick, but I was so happy and everything seemed to be perfect, and I said yes.
"I loved this man, he was a good man, and they are hard to come by."
It's once the commitment is ensured that the honeymoon period ends and the abuser's dark tendencies start to spill out, often appearing in cycles and extreme mood swings.
They quickly assert their control over a relationship and isolate their victims and ridicule their close friends. They also tend to be critical of authority, compulsive liars and know-alls, who refuse to take into account anyone else's point of view but their own.
And paranoia and jealousy quickly become apparent. In extreme cases abusers will go to terrifying lengths to imprison their victims. O'Shea said he is familiar with a case in which a female victim who had driven to the supermarket to collect the household groceries had her speedometer checked on her return, as her suspicious partner then measured the exact distance between the home and the shop.
O'Shea believes a person abuses because of a lack of affection and emotional abandonment he or she experienced in their own childhood.
"Love is the basis of all healthy relationships. Everyone needs someone to love them. But an abuser is incapable of forming a relationship. Instead of falling in love, they attach themselves to someone.
"Abuse is driven by toxic shame and rage, and, I believe, is engraved in the biology of the brain. It is also the offspring of childhood conditioning and can be a learned behaviour, underpinned by irrational thoughts, beliefs and values.
"Driven by these, abusers use power and control to humiliate the victims, trample on their boundaries, and exert control over them."
Linda realised she had married a monster when it was too late. Isolated in a house with her new baby Jack, she suffered every form of domestic abuse, even being publicly humiliated when Stephen flaunted his mistresses in public, as well as bringing them back to the family home.
And three years after she escaped his clutches to contribute to O'Shea's book, the wound is as raw as ever.
"The day I gave my vows at the altar to Stephen, I meant every word with an incredible amount of love. He was the first man that I loved with everything I had. I had never felt so much love towards a man. . .
"I write these words, and it hits me like a knife in my stomach -- a hollow feeling that only hurt and pain can bring on."
She adds: "To this day, I don't know how many other women have crossed his path. Plenty probably. I just hope one day he doesn't meet a nice girl, and nearly destroy her like he did me.
"It took a lot of strength and courage to get where I am today. I would never like to see any other person go through it."
Abuse: Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying, written by Jim O'Shea and published by Cork University Press, costs €14.95.