Another common and telltale sign that your partner may be abusive—and one you can often notice during that tricky dating stage when everything is still bubbly wine and roses—is if he harbors resentment toward his ex and speaks of her in highly negative terms. If this is the case in your relationship, you may want to consider that you’re dealing with an abusive personality.
Why? Couldn’t it be that he just happens to have a truly horrid ex (or a series of them)?
Yes, definitely. Many people have rotten exes. But the venomous stories of the ex's cruelty or the scathing commentaries about her horrific personality are a different matter altogether. If your partner talks about his ex in disdainful, disrespectful, and monstrous terms (no matter what she may have done), that’s a sign he’s not seeing her as a human being, but as a personal possession. And, in instances were the stories are exaggerated or fabricated, there's a good chance that the ex has triggered his underlying feelings of shame and unworthiness, especially if she was the one who left the relationship. He has to hide from those feelings and protect himself from his unbearable emotions by turning her into the monster, which may be a conscious or unconscious tactic. All these thought processes and cognitive distortions simmer beneath the surface of his psyche and often aren’t things he’s aware of. And because he’s not conscious of these abnormal thought patterns, the abuser eventually comes to believe his self-created sense of reality.
In my blog post “He’s Abusive Because He was Abused,” I promised to follow up on what Lundy Bancroft calls “Myth #2” in his list of “The Myths About Abusers”:
“He had a previous partner who mistreated him terribly, and now he has a problem with women as a result. He’s a wonderful man, and that bitch made him get like this.”
First, we’re all endowed with God-given free will—no one can “make” another person into an abuser. We all make our own life decisions.
Second, although it may be true that some men have had horrible exes, it's also true that using this as an excuse for abuse is a common manipulative tactic. In conducting interviews with over sixty domestic abuse victims/survivors, across three separate survivor platforms, I discovered that with the exception of three participants, every woman reported that their abuser claimed to have had crazy, cheating exes who caused them immense damage. And of the three who didn’t report this behavior, all three stated that their abuser didn’t have any previous exes because they’d been together since they were teenagers.
“He had a previous partner who mistreated him terribly, and now he has a problem with women as a result. He’s a wonderful man, and that bitch made him get like this."
I was also able to verify Bancroft’s observation that “in the most common version of this story, the man recounts how his ex-partner broke his heart by cheating on him, perhaps with several different men.” This is also used as an excuse for the over-the-top jealousy that is a “major, huge huge red flag” of an abuser. The manipulative man quite often attempts to shelter himself within the tactic of excuse and blame by claiming, “‘It’s because my ex-partner hurt me so badly by cheating on me so many times, and that’s why I’m so jealous and can’t trust you.’”
It’s sad and excruciating if anyone is treated this way, but infidelity in a past relationship is never an excuse to take it out on an innocent victim. Also, due to cognitive distortions, abusive men typically see infidelity where infidelity doesn’t exist, making up “worst-case scenarios” in their minds and obsessing over them until they honestly feel their own made-up stories are true. Abusive people “are pathologically jealous, drawing ludicrous conclusions about nonexistent extramarital affairs. They don’t merely react to events, but create a different view of the world in which emotional bumps become earthquakes.”
Think of it this way: his brain is broken, and unless he makes an internal, authentic effort to fix it, with all the arduous work that entails, his brain will always be broken. It’s very typical for a manipulative man to begin a smear campaign against his partner when she finally decides to break free and leave him. He’ll attempt to discredit her amongst family, friends, and—well, anyone who will listen, and even those who prefer not to—by spreading lies about how abusive she was, how crazy she still is, how much of a bitch and a cheater, how manipulative and back-stabbing, etc. This is done to soothe his own sense of wounded self. Being abandoned is one of his core fears, and when it actually happens, his sense of shame and worthlessness goes into hyperactive overdrive. In order to protect himself from his own unbearable feelings, he convinces himself that he was the victim, not the other way around. He can’t see his role in the demise of his relationship, because he doesn’t want to see it. It’s too painful for him to acknowledge the truth, look it in the eye, and fix what’s broken. And so he’s doomed to repeat the same pattern, again and again.
Again, even though this is incomprehensible to others, he truly believes his own lies and distortions of reality. This is due to a “rigid unconscious defensive structure” and “unconscious distortions and defenses” provoked by a desperate need to avoid the burning, horrific sense of shame that lurks deep inside most abusive personalities. It also serves to “alter reality in order to make it more palpable for a fragile ego.” In order to soothe that unbearable sense of insignificance and being unlovable, an abuser “often unconsciously incorporates a victim stance.”
Because of a desperate need to avoid the horrific sense of shame that lurks deep inside most abusive personalities, he truly believes his own lies and distortions of reality.
This level of distortion is scary, yet true—and it’s also extremely difficult for the victim to deal with. As the victim of domestic abuse and the target of your partner’s ongoing cognitive distortions, questions naturally swirl and swelter inside your head. You want to believe the best of him. You want to maintain faith that he’s always truthful and honest and wonderful. But then … things happen. You uncover the lies, and you're crushed with the betrayal of realizing that his lies are frequent, and automatic. Doubts niggle. Intuition begins perking up again. And you wonder: should you believe your abuser’s smear campaign against his ex and continue to feel sorry for him and his sufferings (which means continuing to allow yourself to be abused), or should you view his tale as a potential cognitive distortion (one he may not even not even aware of)? After pondering these questions, you then wonder: does it even make a difference, since the ex shouldn't even be a partner in your relationship in the first place?
Getting down to the core, what really matters is that mantra I keep repeating: There is no excuse for abuse. Whether or not a smear campaign against his ex is purposeful and conscious, truthful or not, makes no difference whatsoever. To again quote Lundy Bancroft:
"The instant he uses [his ex] as an excuse to mistreat you, stop believing anything he tells you about that relationship and instead recognize it as a sign that he has problems relating to women … Whether he presents himself as the victim of an ex-partner, or of his parents, the abuser’s aim—though perhaps unconscious—is to play on your compassion, so that he can avoid dealing with his problem."
Don’t fall for it. Give your compassion to yourself and your own healing. You deserve to be treated with love and respect, not with coercive control and cruel mistreatment. If he won’t deal with his problem head-on, without excuse or blame, there’s absolutely nothing you can do to help him. You can’t fill his bottomless well of need. You can’t love him into good behavior. For the sake of self-preservation please, please stop trying.
 Lundy Bancroft in his talk “Inside the Minds of Abusers” given on June 2, 2021 at the WNAAD 2021 Survivor Empowerment Summit, https://wnaad.com. See also Lundy Bancroft, Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That?, article “Jealousy is Not Love,” 42-43. Additionally, domestic violence expert Natalie Collins points out, “Negativity about an ex-partner can sometimes be an early warning sign that somebody is abusive. Setting up a scenario where his ex is responsible for all negative aspects of the previous relationship may show an inability to take responsibility.” Natalie Collins, Out of Control: Couples, Conflict and the Capacity for Change, 45.
 Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, 27-29.
 Ibid., 28; see also “The Narcissist’s Smear Campaign,” https://medium.com/psychology-self-healing/the-narcissists-smear-campaign-4ea460bbbd05; Dr. Les Carter, “Narcissistic Injury: Navigating the Injured Narcissist,” https://survivingnarcissism.tv/narcissistic-injury/; Angie Atkinson, “Narcissists are Liars! 12 Lies Narcissists Want You to Believe” (the 10th lie she mentions in this video, at 14 minutes), https://youtu.be/TV_xgPpb3O0.
 Bancroft, Why Does He Do That? 27.
 Lundy Bancroft in his talk “Inside the Minds of Abusers” given on June 2, 2021 at the WNAAD 2021 Survivor Empowerment Summit, https://wnaad.com.
 Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?, 28.
(For more on smear campaigns, see Dr. Lilian Caibiron, "The Smear Campaign: How a Toxic Person Tries to Destroy His Target's Credibility")
 Donald G. Dutton, The Abusive Personality: A Psychological Profile, 42.
 See Dr. Vanessa R. Abernathy, “Why is Lying So Important to Covert Narcissism?”, https://drvabernathy.com/why-is-lying-so-important-to-covert-narcissism/; Erin Leonard, Ph.D., “Does a Narcissist Believe His or Her Own Lies?”, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/peaceful-parenting/201906/does-narcissist-believe-his-or-her-own-lies; Angela Atkinson, “Narcissists Believe Their Own Lies: Here’s Why,” https://queenbeeing.com/narcissists-believe-their-own-lies-heres-why/; Lundy Bancroft, Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That?, article “When Your Partner Rewrites History,” 114.
 Erin Leonard, Ph.D., “Does a Narcissist Believe His or Her Own Lies?”, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/peaceful-parenting/201906/does-narcissist-believe-his-or-her-own-lies
 Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?, 29.
I'm Jenny duBay, a domestic abuse survivor and now advocate. My degree is in Christian theology with a concentration on spiritual direction, and my vocational emphasis is on helping those who have suffered from domestic abuse to heal and reclaim their true selves.