“Stop Dragging My Heart Around” (Song by Tom Petty)
Women spend years and thousands of dollars trying to heal from dangerous men. If they are lucky, they only encounter one in their lifetimes. If they aren’t, there are many more. That’s because women haven’t really verbalized what they think constitutes a dangerous man. When I interviewed women, most of them thought the ONLY thing that made men dangerous was violence. If there was no violence, well then… he was probably ‘fixable’ in the long run.
For over 20 years I have been the not-so-silent witness to women’s choices. As a therapist, I counseled women whose childhoods included abuse and who grew up to be adults who were abused. I watched adult women choose over and over again one version or another of a dangerous man. Often only the faces changed, but since there are many types of dangerous men, often women would move all over the continuum dating men from all categories.
The result was always the same:
- They were miserable
- “They were in pain”
- They took a long time to heal, if ever
- They often went on to do it all over again
Before we go any further, answer these questions:
1. Do you believe a dangerous man will eventually be violent?
2. Do you believe that, if you were hurt by a dangerous man in the past, you would be able to spot the next one and avoid him?
3. Do you believe that dangerous men are notably gregarious, aggressive, narcissistic and abusive?
4. Do you believe that something in your past has predisposed you to dating dangerous men?
If you answered ‘YES’ to any of the above, you are indeed at risk of dating one or more dangerous men.
The lack of a solid definition of what constitutes ‘dangerous’ for women is probably at the heart of what keeps us in these dangerous relationships. So let’s nail down what is dangerous.
The word danger means, “the state of being exposed to injury, pain, or loss.” Synonyms for the word include:
Notice the word danger doesn’t merely mean, “when someone is violent toward you,” nor do the synonyms indicate this is strictly limited to violent behavior. Yet women let lots of men and their behavior off the hook simply because, “well, he never hit me so I didn’t feel like I could say he was abusive.”
Year after year my practice filled up with women who would never label or define the men in their lives. When asked if their men were dangerous, they would hem and haw around, looking for loopholes to say they weren’t dangerous, but not really knowing what dangerous was or how dangerous men behaved. Women are most at-risk for picking, marrying, and staying with dangerous men when they don’t have a concrete idea of what dangerous is like. The words listed above give good clues to what dangerous is like—injury, pain, loss, hazard, jeopardy, risk.
So let’s define that for you: A dangerous man is any man who harms a woman…
This definition immediately broadens the field experience of dangerousness. It adds emotionally, financially and spiritually—three areas where women often let men off the hook from being labeled as ‘dangerous’ to a woman’s well-being.
We already determined that the word danger means ‘the state of being exposed to injury, pain, or loss.’ Simply being ‘exposed’ to the possibility of being injured, experiencing pain or going through loss IS dangerous to a woman’s mental health. Women often discount that merely the exposure to the possibility really constitutes ‘danger.’
Any exposure to dangerousness negatively affects a woman’s:
- Future relationships
- Trust in others
- Ability to disconnect and move on
…and inevitably leads to…
- Intimacy issues
Some of the women who came into counseling had only one exposure to a dangerous man, and yet the after-effects warranted psychological counseling in order to heal. Other women had experienced multiple exposures to dangerous men, choosing one after another, because they did not spot the signs. They spent years in therapy.
Dangerous men are not just the psychopaths you see on the nightly news. A dangerous man is just as likely to be ‘the nice man at church,’ ‘the smooth boss at work,’ or ‘the girlfriend’s athletic trophy-winning brother’. He is just as likely to be a social worker, cop, doctor, or mechanic. The fact is—he could be ANYBODY.
The only defense is self-defense. And the only self-defense is knowledge. The articles in our newsletters and on our website will help you realize your potential need for future insight into the area of dangerousness. Perhaps they will illuminate areas that you need more knowledge about, more insight, or just information.
If, after reading this article, you recognize your own patterns, please avail yourself to more information through our products and services, or through your local women’s organizations and counseling programs.
Our hope is that this information is used for a woman’s relational harm reduction and education for healthier relationships. Please pass this on to other women who need this life-saving information. Be the beacon to other women.