by Nicole Pramik
George* was an unassuming, 40-something divorcé who worked from home and had a teenage daughter. He enjoyed reading and writing, he seemed friendly and polite, and he claimed to be a Christian. I was nearing 30 at the time and I too loved to read and write. So when George and I met in a creative writing class I led, I was enamored, despite the age gap.
Ours remained a casual friendship for nearly two years. We met nearly every Saturday for lunch at a restaurant to talk and share our writings and were also involved in a book club and writers’ group. Red flags slowly emerged, but initially I chose to ignore or make excuses for them.
Then one day during lunch, George started quizzing me about sex. That’s when I knew.
I was being groomed.
What Is Grooming?
Grooming is the process by which an abuser conditions a victim, especially for sexual abuse. In my case, I ended the relationship before anything could happen. I will not say with certainty that George was a sexual abuser, but many of the things he did and said fell in line with common grooming patterns.
While we often apply the grooming process to the way children are abused, the same general methods also pertain to adults. Grooming’s initial stages are exhilarating as the abuser lavishes you with positive reinforcement. You’re often initially unaware of what’s going on because you are overwhelmed, so you ignore indicators that something isn’t right. In time, the abuser cements trust, erodes boundaries, and employs manipulation.
What has happened to you is not your fault.
Below, I’m going to discuss the six general stages of grooming as they pertain to sexual abuse in adults. But before I begin, I want to stress two things:
First, God will never place you in a bad relationship because it’s His will or because He wants you to “fix” someone. This has circulated in Christian literature, and it is a dangerous lie. It is not God’s will for you to be in an abusive relationship, and it is not your job to fix people—that is God’s job.
Second, if you’ve been a victim of grooming or abuse, know that what has happened to you is not your fault. The topic of abusive relationships is too extensive to fully address here. Therefore, if you find yourself in an actively abusive situation, please seek godly counsel and help from persons and agencies who are equipped to assist you.
Six Stages of Grooming
Stage One: Targeting
Initially, the abuser selects a victim based on personal preferences such as attractiveness, age, ease of access, intelligence (some abusers view a smart victim as a challenge), and perceived vulnerabilities (loneliness, low self-esteem, and introversion). While being introverted or not having a large pool of friends isn’t wrong, take care with how much you share about yourself early on, and try to act self-assured.
In my case, George perceived two “vulnerabilities,” namely an introverted personality and a lack of a large group of friends. He interpreted these (incorrectly) to mean I was a naïve, submissive-to-a-fault person who didn’t have any friends, so he could set himself up as the primary friend. This then became the erroneous springboard from which he initiated his other actions.
Stage Two: Gaining Trust
At this stage, the abuser is established as a person of importance in your life. They collect information about you, digging for details and “weaknesses.” This doesn’t mean all nice people are abusers, but abusers will masquerade as nice people. Remember: a genuinely good person does good deeds as an extension of inner character. But an abuser does these things to appeal to your better nature in order to cement trust.
Abusers will masquerade as nice people.
• Abusers are usually eager to advance the relationship. They expect you to trust them right away rather than build trust over time. They might shower you with gifts, affection, attention, and praise. While giving gifts, compliments, attention, or affection are fine, there is a right time and a wrong time to do so, as well as proper measures. If someone is trying too hard to impress you, especially through flattery—be careful. Similarly, be aware of anyone who tries to manipulate you. A good-willed person respects your decision to do or not do something, especially your right to say, “No.”
• Abusers will also mine for information about you. Asking get-to-know-you questions is how we discover common ground and establish friendships. However, some information is too private to share right away. Therefore be alert to anyone who wants to know more about you beyond what they have a right to know.
• Abusers may deploy charm to appeal to you. Proverbs 31:30 cautions that “charm is deceptive,” so be wary of anyone who tries to immediately sweep you off your feet. This doesn’t mean you can’t be attracted to someone, but take care if the person’s repertoire involves flirtatious behavior or speech. In the words of Sade’s song “Smooth Operator,” “His eyes are like angels, but his heart is cold.”
Stage Three: Fulfilling Needs
Once the abuser is a presence in your life, they will attempt to fill your perceived “needs.” Just as in stage two, this could be through gifts, attention, or affection and will often be accompanied by flattery. As a healthy relationship advances, such sentiments are fine, but such expressions of devotion aren’t appropriate during a relationship’s early stages.
In my case, George was incessantly charming. He would email and call me, assuring me I was a “special friend.” He emotionally leeched off of me, saying he needed me to encourage him when he was down, yet I was often left feeling emotionally drained.
If you ever refuse the abuser’s “help,” they may argue or use emotional blackmail. Once, George insisted on driving me to a writing conference and loaning me money to attend. I turned him down, but he responded, not with respect for my decision, but with attempted emotional blackmail. Allowing the abuser to fill a need might cause them to demand that you fill a need for them in return. Once the need-fulfillment cycle begins, the abuser will further entrench themselves in your life.
Stage Four: Isolation
Isolation is more than just physically shielding you from family or friends. While George never physically isolated me from my family, he made negative comments about them behind their backs, claiming my living at home was akin to being “in captivity.” Hence, a groomer may emotionally insulate you by speaking unkindly of family or friends, avoiding contact with people you know, or insisting you keep certain things about the relationship secret. No matter how isolation is employed, its purpose is to make you dependent upon the groomer.
Isolation can come through possessive, paranoid behaviors.
Isolation can also come through possessive, paranoid behaviors such as the abuser acting like they have a right to know your whereabouts or treating you or others as suspect for no reason. Once I was absent from a book club meeting, and George’s response was to frantically call me, adamant on knowing where I was. Another time at a restaurant, George became alert when an elderly man passed our table and looked at a TV behind us. After the man left, George asked if I knew him (I didn’t) and insisted, “Then why was he looking at you?” I replied that the man wasn’t looking at me but at the TV. George relaxed and said, “Good. I thought I might have to defend your honor.” At these times and others, George’s reactions were obvious signs of possessiveness and paranoia.
While an abuser is trying to isolate you, the relationship may become one-sided and may even turn into a parent-child dynamic, where the abuser assumes a headship role over you. My friendship with George was such a dynamic where he felt I needed to be guided through life by trying to tell me what was best for me. He also was one-sided when it came to information he shared. When he went out of town for lengthy vacations, he ignored all communications, acted elusive about his whereabouts, and refused to say where he had gone. Thus it was OK for him to dodge questions, but I wasn’t awarded the same privilege.
While the abuser is working to get you alone, both physically and emotionally, they aren’t adhering to the same rules. In time, you may no longer question the abuser and simply normalize the isolation and one-sided behavior.
Click here for part 2: the final two tactics of groomers—Sexualizing the Relationship and Keeping Control—plus 6 ways to protect yourself from grooming.
posted on August 6, 2018
Meet the Author:
Nicole Pramik is a speculative fiction writer from Kentucky (though she is originally from Texas). Her works include The Guardian Trilogy, a fantasy series, and A Modern Apocrypha, a poetry collection. She has also served as a contributor for various volumes analyzing facets of popular culture with a philosophical slant, from SpongeBob SquarePants, to the films of Tim Burton, to Star Trek. She holds an MA in English (Creative Writing) from Marshall University and is a former English and Humanities adjunct professor. She is a self-proclaimed geeky bookworm who has fun with flags (technically known as vexillology) and harbors a love for EDM and curling. Currently, she is working on several speculative fiction manuscripts and hopes to see them in print someday. You can follow her on GoodReads.
*Name has been changed.