- Author Louise Doughty told the story of an ex-boyfriend who became abusive and controlling in The Times.
- She said he started out charming but then became possessive.
- “Charm Syndrome Man can be your work colleague or friend,” she wrote. “He can be a builder, teacher or judge. What such men have in common is that, while being a model man to the outside world, they are making the lives of their partners a misery.”
- Cherlyn Chong, a breakup recovery and dating coach for successful women, told INSIDER that excessive charm in a man is something many of her clients fall for, and it’s a red flag because the victim is more likely to excuse future abusive behaviour as “irregular.”
- “I think that is exactly what makes him so dangerous,” she said. “The ability to blindside and disarm.”
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Author Louise Doughty wrote in The Times that her ex-boyfriend, given the pseudonym Richard, was incredibly chivalrous when they first met. So much so, that once he waited for her on her doorstep all night until she woke up, just so he could cook her a full English breakfast.
But over time, he started getting annoyed if she was a few minutes late to meet him, and would deliberately hijack her plans with friends so she’d have to spend time with him instead. In short, Doughty was experiencing coercive control, but she didn’t suspect Richard’s behaviour was problematic because he had always seemed so kind and considerate.
Doughty told the story how the “charming man” she initially met turned abusive. She also explained how many women fall into this trap (the vast majority of domestic abusers are men, but not all), and how charisma and generosity can morph into possessiveness and violence.
“Charm Syndrome Man can be your work colleague or friend,” she wrote. “He can be a builder, teacher or judge. What such men have in common is that, while being a model man to the outside world, they are making the lives of their partners a misery.”
But it can be hard to recognise abusers because they often don’t look like the stereotype – “a tattooed thug who goes to the pub, comes home and ‘batters’ his wife,” Doughty said.
This means “their behaviour can go under the radar for years,” she said.
Cherlyn Chong, a breakup recovery and dating coach for successful women, told INSIDER that excessive charm in a man is something many of her clients experience and fall for, “no matter how accomplished, strong or smart they are.”
“It’s hard not to be enthralled by a man who knows just what to say,” she said.
It’s a red flag because it’s the initial step in grooming their victim, where they try and solidify the idea they are trustworthy, kind, and think the world of their partner.
“Manipulators use grooming to keep their victims invested long enough to get what they want out of them without question,” Chong said. “Because the sudden abuse is so incongruent with a manipulator’s ‘regular’ behaviour, a woman would normally excuse it, saying that he’s had a bad day, or that he’s had a bad childhood so he’s allowed to get angry.”
This is one of the reasons toxic and abusive relationships are so difficult to leave. Victims are made to feel like they can’t trust their own thoughts because abusers constantly make them question their feelings.
Also, the trouble doesn’t all come at once. It’s more like an IV drip of poison entering your veins over a long period of time, according to trauma therapist Shannon Thomas.
“Before she realises that something is very, very wrong, it can be too late to get out of the relationship,” said Chong, “because by then she’s not only too deeply invested, she’s been trauma-bonded and ‘trained’ by the manipulator to stay.”
Doughty said it’s important for women to understand that being protective is often thinly veiled possessive behaviour.
“It is pride on his part, outrage that any other man should touch his possession,” she said. “It’s all about him.”
She was also fortunate her abuser turned out to be lazy. When she moved away for a job, Richard didn’t pursue her.
Others aren’t so lucky, and stay in abusive relationships for years, thinking it’s what they deserve. And if they do find the courage, the hard work doesn’t stop there – it can take seven attempts to leave an abusive relationship, and there are as many as 17 steps you should be aware of.
Chong said she hears a lot of women say, “I thought he was different” when they look back and realise what really happened to them.
“I think that is exactly what makes him so dangerous,” she said. “The ability to blindside and disarm.”
Doughty mused at the end of the article whether Richard has looked back on his behaviour and changed.
“Somehow, I doubt it,” she said.