Grooming is a form of abuse where a person is manipulated into isolation and dependence on the groomer, which allows them to be vulnerable to exploitation. We may often hear grooming discussed, but it is not often that I hear it discussed when it comes to an adult grooming another adult. Through this article, we will discuss the stages of grooming as well as signs of grooming in adult relationships.
1) Targeting the Victim
The first step in grooming is when the groomer is targeting the victim. Groomers will generally learn about potential victims before they decide they are a target, and will focus on those who they perceive to be more vulnerable. This may include targeting:
People who are unpopular or have family problems as this makes it easier to isolate them.
People who they perceive to have low self-esteem as it may make it easier to make that person feel “special” for getting the groomer’s attention
People who have physical/mental disabilities because it may be easier to make them more dependent on the groomer
People who have already been through abuse as it may be harder for them to recognize patterns of unhealthy aspects in relationships.
In a lot of cases, targeting happens during the start of a friendship. The groomer may use the information they gain about a person to figure out how to gain access to them. While it is not always the case, it is not uncommon for the groomer to be in a position of power whether this means age, wealth, community connections, etc.
2) Gaining Trust
Groomers can be hard to notice as they will do their best to appear safe and genuine. This makes it hard to identify them. Over time, they will gradually manipulate the victim to be dependent on them. This can be done in a number of ways such as creating emotional dependence and/or financial dependence. Grooming is usually about control and having that control over the other person. This is usually to set that person up for abuse. As a result, the second step is usually gaining their trust.
While gaining trust, the groomer may use flattery like offering gifts, admiration, and sharing “secrets” with the person to make them feel special. The groomer may do favours for someone. The groomer may gradually begin asking for favours in return, generally starting small. This may be the start of a romantic relationship or a simple friendship.
Groomers may share secrets with their target in order to make them feel special and trusted by the groomer. This also may make the target feel they need to share secrets of their own, which the groomer may later use to increase their power over the target.
3) Filling a Need
The groomer may try to fill a space in a person’s life and they usually convince the victim that they alone can fill this need. This is done in order to build a dependence on the groomer and make the target want the groomer to be closer to them.
This may be as simple as giving the victim the attention that they never receive from abusive family members, or making them feel like the groomer is the one person who will always listen to their problems. The groomer may save their victim from significant problems or difficulties, by helping them make rent or buy groceries, or being the one person the victim can depend on when their disability makes everyday tasks impossible. The groomer might make their victim feel as if they have a special connection with the victim, such as having knowledge on a shared hobby like writing or a particular type of music.
Whatever need the groomer is able to fill, if the groomer has their way, they will become essential in the life of their victim.
Groomers will likely try to isolate the victim from their loved ones. This may be evident in the way they refuse to meet family and loved ones. Or perhaps they bad mouth them, or try to point out to the victim that the groomer is the only one who really and truly cares for them. Being isolated from friends and family makes it harder for the victim to notice warning signs. It is also possible that they meet friends and family and try to be as charming as possible so that any concerns the victim may express are dismissed.
While subtle abusive behaviours may occur before this stage, this is usually where the abuse becomes more noticeable. This may include the introduction of physical and/or sexual abuse. Other forms of abuse include emotional abuse, mental abuse, cultural abuse and financial abuse. Please note that any and all types of abuse are valid, and any feelings or trauma you have from them are also valid.
6) Maintaining the Relationship
At this stage, groomers will use whatever tools they have to keep their victim dependent and in the groomer’s power. Some methods for this might be gaslighting, destroying self-esteem, and/or continuing isolation. They may use guilt or other emotional manipulation to make themselves appear innocent. One example of this would be that whenever you are hurt by something they’ve done, and you try to communicate with them about it, it somehow ends up with you feeling bad and possibly apologizing for how unfair you’ve been to the groomer, who is just trying to take care of you..
Signs of Grooming in Adult Relationships
How fast is the relationship going? Are you comfortable with it? Groomers often attempt to push things to a high level of closeness and connection very quickly. This can make it harder for a victim to see red flags or realize they might need help until they have already given up a lot of control to their groomer and may be isolated.
Groomers often shower their victims with “love”. This may mean giving them gifts, showering them with attention or giving them constant and overwhelming praise. They may treat the victim in a way that they have never been treated before, making them feel they are extremely important to the groomer and often making them feel like they owe something to the groomer.
Groomers often seek to take control over their victims. Some of this may be behaviour that fits in with the shower of love, such as wanting to be in constant contact, but that constant contact may also include always wanting to know what the victim is doing and who they are with. They may seek to combine finances or move in together. In many cases, this is done in ways where the groomer gains power, such as “I make enough money to support us both” or “I have so much space in my house, it’s would be no trouble at all for you to be here too,” both of which are situations where the victim might become dependant and be put in a position where leaving becomes especially difficult. They may seek full access to the victim’s email and social media, perhaps arguing they’re happy to give the same, as they have “nothing to hide.” They may push to do everything with their victim, and get upset or sad if their victim wants to do something on their own.
Groomers often push the limits of consent with their victims. This may be set in terms which blame their feelings on the victim, such as “I just want you so much, I can’t control myself.” This may be pushing against boundaries, trying to find loopholes or ways to press and find how strong the boundaries are. They may guilt trip their victims, or try to make it seem like their boundaries are unreasonable. This often is not about sex. For instance, a groomer might say “I know you don’t like gifts, but just think of this as a token of appreciation.” or “but this was just so perfect for you.” They may wear down their victim’s feeling of autonomy by making them feel like if they refuse to do something, their groomer will choose not to do something else which the victim enjoys or even needs.
Groomers often financially abuse their victims. Grooming often leads to the victim becoming financially dependent on their groomer. This may be because their groomer has a high-paying job or other significant income and convinces the victim that they will “take care of everything.” They may gradually tighten things, giving the victim a strict allowance or carefully examining every cent they spend and questioning anything “frivolous”. They may set up joint accounts in such a way that they are the ones who decide where all the money will be spent, sometimes even if the victim is the one with a higher income - possibly using any small example of the victim spending money unwisely to convince them it is for their own good that the groomer controls the money for them both. Groomers may also slowly take money away from their victim without the victim’s knowledge, particularly if they have significant savings. Groomers who target older people often do so with the intent of stealing retirement savings behind their backs, or convincing them to give money to get the groomer out of a series of “emergencies” which do not end until the victim has nothing more to give.
Groomers often target their victims' worst insecurities. Groomers often turn their victims’ mistakes on them as examples that the groomer is more intelligent or capable. They may push their victim to feel more helpless, so that the groomer can come and save them from the world (or from themselves). They may push a victim to see others as “against them” or “wanting to see them fail,” in order to isolate them.
Groomers “normalize” behaviours or ideas which are not normal. Groomers often repeat and push ideas to the point that they seem normal. This may be done gradually, by making their victim agree to things that are slightly different from the norm by and gradually introducing further ideas which seem logical because of what the victim has already agreed to. This might mean moving from, “I only want to know where you are because I love and worry about you,” to, “I need to monitor your email to make sure no one takes advantage of you,” to, “you wouldn’t be safe going to that party without me.” These behaviours or ideas may be pushed purely through logic, which is helped by the way the groomer has built up their victim’s belief that the groomer is smarter than they are. They also may be reinforced through manipulation and use of the power dynamic the groomer has built.
Many of these signs, on their own, can happen in healthy relationships. Someone may give a lot of gifts because that is how they express love. Someone may offer you financial security because they want you to be able to pursue your own passions, such as by going back to school or writing a novel, when you would never have the time to do so while working in your current job - especially if you have told them how much you hate that job or are exhausted by it. When you are considering these signs, ask how many of them show up and ask yourself how the person you’re with makes you feel. If you have a gut instinct that something “isn’t right”, listen to it. If someone makes you feel “obligated” to repay them, or you feel like you’re being taken advantage of, those are not good signs.
If you have been groomed, it isn’t your fault and doesn’t make you weak or anything like that. Groomers tend to plan things out in ways that most people who expect partners to genuinely care about them wouldn’t anticipate. One of the main reasons grooming works is that it takes advantage of most peoples’ natural tendency to give the benefit of the doubt and interpret the actions of someone they care about in the best light. No one wants to believe that they have been the target of someone with bad intentions, but those people are the ones who chose to target, manipulate and abuse. And they are the only ones to blame.