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A woman's guide to spotting bad men

There are a lot of frogs in dating land -- and a lot of whack jobs, leeches, narcissists and other dangerous guys waiting to suck the life out of you.

Counselor Sandra Brown spent 15 years trying to change their dangerous ways, only to burn out and flee to a North Carolina mountaintop.

But she has one thing left to give - the sum of her wisdom about intractably pathological men and the women who seem to fall for them time and again.

"Women just don't know how to gauge when someone is unfixable," said Brown, who hopes to clue them in with her latest book, "How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved" (Hunter House, 250 pages, $14.95).

Brown says dangerous men come in eight flavors - the permanent clinger, the parental seeker, the emotionally unavailable man, the man with a hidden life, the addict, the mentally ill man (especially when they're off their meds or not in treatment), the abusive or violent man and - most dangerous of all - the emotional predator, who can smell a victim a mile away.

What they have in common, she said, is "the inability to grow, change or have insight."

Learning to spot the red flags isn't enough. Instead, Brown said, women need to understand the grim reality of pathology - that men with ingrained personality disorders ( which includes many of her eight categories) are incapable of turning over a new leaf, no matter how much they swear otherwise.


Until women get it, they'll keep searching for loopholes to explain why their bad guy is an exception to the rule. For some women, she said, trust is eternal.

Brown stresses that physical violence is only one type of danger. Emotional trauma - the more common wreckage - also damages women's lives.

"Pathological people screw you up," said Brown, who sounds a bit shell-shocked herself as she describes the assaults and threats she used to endure from both male and female clients who came unhinged. (Women, she notes, have the same capacity for pathological behavior as men do.)

"I worked with whacks," she said. "I have been stalked and attacked and my windshield shot out and my brakes cut - and that was by clients who cared about me."

Brown, 48, who says she was once involved with a pathological man herself, began working in victim services after the 1983 murder of her father.

After earning her credentials as a masters-level therapist, she went on to found residential and outpatient programs in Florida for severely traumatized women with chronic histories of victimization. She also worked with perps, including serial rapists, killers and emotional con men.

"It was there that I began to get frustrated seeing the same women come back," Brown said. "The longer the women stayed in these relationships, the easier it was to normalize abnormal behavior. It's almost like the Stockholm Syndrome - the more you're exposed to something, the more you're OK with it."

The gravitational pull between dangerous men and chronically victimized women was so great, Brown had to set aside separate appointment days for male and female clients to prevent her counseling center from turning into a dating service.

"Right in my counseling lobby," she said, "these people were hooking up."

Although she hadn't read Brown's book, June Wiley of New Beginnings, a Seattle shelter for domestic-violence victims, said Brown's overall message sounded like "a lot of good common sense."

Wiley agrees women need to go with their gut when something seems amiss. A book she has read and highly recommends is Gavin de Becker's 1998 bestseller, "The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence."

Wiley was wary, however, of Brown's belief that chronic victims need to examine their own patterns of behavior.

"I tend not to blame the innocent person," she said.

Brown said she's not blaming women, she's trying to help potential targets gain the insight to protect themselves.

"Any one of us could make a bad choice one time and realize a mistake and correct it," Brown said. "I'm talking about women with chronic patterns. My belief is you can't change what you can't name."


The Permanent Clinger: He's sensitive, maybe even meek and mild, and, like you, he's been hurt. He's nice -but a bottomless pit of neediness. If you try to leave (difficult, because you hate to hurt his feelings) he'll scream, cry and threaten self-harm.
**Strategy: If you suspect a clinger, slow down the relationship and see how he responds. If he freaks, beware.

The Parental Seeker: He's just a big, overgrown kid - and not in a good way. You'll have to wait on him, make all the decisions and feed his ego. His biggest contribution to family life will be playing with the children.
**Strategy: Quickly scope out how well he functions - at work and in life. Underachievement is a symptom. Don't confuse rescuing for intimacy.

The Emotionally Unavailable Man: He'll happily string you along, even though he's married, engaged or so committed to career or hobbies that you'll always come last. He seems exciting, charming and fun-loving at first, but guys like him send more women to counseling than most other dangerous types.
** Strategy: The minute you find out he's married, end it, for your own integrity and peace of mind. If he spends all his time on other interests, ask yourself: Where's his commitment to me?

The Man With the Hidden Life: By the time you learn of his hidden wife and kids, secret addiction or criminal history, you'll probably be well into the relationship. Most of these tricksters are "combo-pack" men who fit more than one of the eight categories. They have addictions, mental health issues, predatory instincts and emotional unavailability.
** Strategy: Get nosy. Ask persistent questions if something feels off. These men thrive on trusting, unquestioning women.


The Mentally Ill Man: This is a sensitive issue because of the stigma that unfairly surrounds mental illness. Many upstanding men and women manage their conditions well. But the disorders usually are chronic and can potentially pose a variety of dangers, especially if the person resists treatment.
**Strategy: Educate yourself about mental illness. Did you know severe depression can lead to psychotic behavior? That people with borderline personality disorder are the most likely to attempt suicide? So says Brown, adding that unmedicated bipolars in a manic phase are at the highest risk for dangerous and illegal behavior.

The Addict: Besides the obvious addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling and sex, this group includes seemingly productive behavior, such as compulsive overwork. All addictions are life-disrupting. An estimated 80 percent of domestic violence occurs when people are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
** Strategy: Don't try to cure him. Cycles of addiction can take years to play out, and addicts often switch from one addiction to another. Examine your own family history; women often fail to see addicts coming because they've grown up around the behavior and it seems normal.

The Abusive or Violent Man: Don't expect these guys to smack you around on the first date - it often takes months or years for their behavior to escalate. It starts with boundary violations that go unchecked. These men have issues with power and control and are incapable of an equality-based relationship. Abuse isn't only physical - it can be emotional, verbal, spiritual, financial or sexual - and it always gets worse.
** Strategy: Leave after the first episode and don't go back. To gauge if he really wants a healthy relationship, keep your distance and insist he go to solo counseling for six months. "I can count on one hand how many men have actually followed through on this," Brown says. Consider background checks of prospective dates.

The Emotional Predator: These men can be lethal. They have a sixth sense for lonely, vulnerable women and boast they can scan a room and "sense" the best targets, often picking up on eye and body language. They have antisocial personalities and they smoothly morph, chameleon-like, into whatever they think you're looking for.
** Strategy: Don't reveal too much about yourself when you're getting to know a man. Ask him about himself instead of letting him pump you for clues to your psyche. As one predator told Brown, "I look for naïve women. I like a certain vulnerability to her - that she trusts humanity without asking for proof." Scary, huh? In short, keep up your guard.

-- from Sandra Brown's How to Spot a Dangerous Man

RESOURCES Sandra Brown's web site, with links and a Q & A. Web site of the King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a vast repository of educational articles, warning signs and community resources. New Beginnings, in Seattle, offers emergency shelter, support and education, legal advocacy and other services to women in domestic violence situations. The phone number for its 24-hour crisis line is 206-522-9472.

A Toolkit for Healing from Abusive Relationships (including verbal abuse): A new women's support group forming this month on Queen Anne. For more information, call 206-216-5957.

"The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence," by Gavin de Becker (Dell, 372 pages, $7.99)

(Content sourced from:
Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter)

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