How to Identify a Jerk

How to Identify and Dump a Jerk

Sandra Fu

He can be anyone -- the star football player, the yearbook editor, the loudmouth class clown. Some of you girls out there might even think all you have to do to be a jerk is to be male. But using that logic can backfire on you -- if all guys are jerks, then all girls are suckers. Why?

Because some of you keep going out with them.

Breaking the Cycle The first step is identification. It might not always be obvious who's a jerk, but there are some telltale signs you should look for.

"First, there are jerks and then there is 'The Jerk' -- the guy who brags and reveals he scored," says Dr. Nancy Maloney, a licensed marriage and family therapist.

Maloney suggests that you stay far away from guys like this if you know them. Because if they'll say it about someone else, they'll say it about you, which usually is a sign that they feel their attachment to you is more a conquest than a relationship.

"Another big sign is the guy who tries to change who his girl is," Maloney continues. "They attempt to isolate the girlfriend from her friends, and will especially keep her away from their own male friends. So when they are together, they'll say, 'You're my girl and I'm your guy.' But when they're around their own friends -- maybe at sporting events or in the school cafeteria -- they'll turn around and act as if they're single."

"It's a situation that's very dangerous for girls," she warns. "She ultimately ends up compromising who she is."

In part, Maloney blames current social mores for putting a girl in the position to date a jerk and for encouraging or giving permission for a guy to become one. Typically, guys don't put much energy into relationships, she says, and that has much to do with the fact that in our society men are seen and defined by what they do -- whether it's "the athlete" in high school or "the lawyer" when they get older -- whereas women are often characterized by who they are with.

"Even after the feminist movement," she adds, "women still seem to look to men for validation. It is often the case that the guy has got to be somebody and the girl has got to find somebody. Also, women are the ones who usually want more emotional nurturing, so relationships sometimes are seen as women's work -- working on changing the relationship and changing the guy, which is impossible."

What is the Outcome? What Can a Friend Do? So what girls and boys sometimes end up with are unhealthy and destructive relationships for both parties. One of the big problems is that -- even in spite of clear signs of jerkitis, like the ones mentioned earlier -- excuses are made on both sides and the couple still sticks together.

So if you are a friend or family member of a girl dating a jerk, look for some of the warning signs that can clue you into the possibility of an intervention -- one of many effective solutions for jerkitis sufferers.

"The first thing that comes to mind that I've seen in my practice," says Maloney, "is that the teenage girl begins distancing herself from her friends and family. They might notice that she'll exhibit depressive traits, different sleeping and eating habits, or increased use of drugs or alcohol. She'll might also be easily frustrated and display excessive anxiety and anger reactions."

And although you might think that whenever someone gets in a new relationship, they tend to distance themselves from others in order to be with their main squeeze, there is a difference between joy and frustration. It should be evident that the distancing is occurring because both parties want to be together and are happy. If it doesn't seem that way, stop to take a closer look.

"Hopefully someone close, like friends or family, will detect the anguish," Maloney adds, "and be able to tell the difference from a honeymoon phase. When a male is being abusive -- whether it is emotional or physical -- there is a lot of anguish and shame."

Maloney asserts that if a girl is incapable of ending a destructive relationship on her own -- despite knowing that she should -- it is a sign that she has lost touch with her sense of self.

"For anyone that wants to help," she advises, "you want to start by encouraging her to develop a more secure self-esteem and self-worth by pointing out that there are other ways to define her worth than who she is with. Identify those characteristics -- she is a great friend, she is a great daughter, she is a great soccer player. Then you'll begin to get her to take a clearer look at herself and possibly tap back into her self-worth. Eventually, she will develop her sense of self and understand that there will be other boys."

Let's Move On to the Dumping It won't be easy. No one said it would. But you're going to have to convince yourself that it's the right thing to do.

"I have girls take out a piece of paper and write down 'I'm leaving,' let's say, 'Joe,'" Maloney explains. "That's the main item; next we do a cost/benefit analysis."

Maloney then has the girl in question ask herself, "What's it going to cost me to leave Joe?" The usual responses are based on loneliness and embarrassment. For example, she may find out that she doesn't have a date for prom or she doesn't want to be the only one without a boyfriend.

Next, she has them ask the important question -- "What are the benefits of leaving Joe?" Some responses might be that she'll see her girlfriends more or she won't have to take his constant ridicule. After answering this question, most girls realize that they'll feel better.

Maloney then has the girl turn the sheet over and write the following questions -- "What is the cost of staying with Joe?" and "What are the benefits?"-- and go through the analysis again. The results are usually worth the exercise.

"I think that if you can get to that cognitive place with a teenager," Maloney says, "where they can really see it on paper and think it through, what commonly comes out is the shame factor, which is something you'll definitely want to talk about. What is that shame? How much shame do you have staying with him, as opposed to the shame you'll have if you leave? How many friends or family members have said 'Dump that jerk, he's no good for you?' -- well, there's a reason they're saying it."

These are the tough questions you have to answer -- they will eventually help you to lay the groundwork of the game plan to dump your jerk.

"It's almost like working with an addict," Maloney explains. "When you want to see him or go to where he hangs out, who can you call? What friends can you call instead of calling him? Who's going to talk you out of it? At the moment when your feelings are so intense -- where you feel that you might burst if you don't talk to him -- who can you call, who do you trust?"

Another helpful tactic is to remake connections with your close friends and family. Or try filling up your calendar with things to do, like taking up a new sport, going on vacation, or starting that Great American Novel you've been meaning to write.

Ultimately, Maloney recommends positive affirmations. See if you can look in a mirror and say, "I love and accept myself exactly as I am." If you can't, you know you have some work to do. It might mean talking to a professional or a school counselor, reading a self-help book on improving self-esteem, she says.

But the important thing is figuring out how you go about loving and accepting yourself as you are. "And finally try not to blame yourself or the other person," Maloney adds. Just tell yourself that the relationship didn't work out.

And then go out and dump that jerk.