Abuse: How can I spot it, and how can I help?


"Abusive Relationships" by Zorah Olivia is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Abusive relationships are common and sometimes hard to spot. Here’s how you can help.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Children are told from a young age that they should stand up to their bullies, to not let the other kids hit them or call them names, to just walk away. But what if those bullies are someone one cannot walk away from?

Relationships tend to be blinders, keeping people from noticing abusive behaviors from their significant others, their friends, and their parents. A darling girlfriend should not be monitoring who her boyfriend is texting, just as a parent should not be telling their children they are not enough. A best friend forever should be allowed to get away with treating their partner awfully and then acting like a saint around their friends.

When spotting an abusive relationship, it is okay to ask for help. Reaching out to friends, parents, or trusted adults can and will help out in certain situations. No one is alone. Hotlines are available and school counselors were hired to help students.

Spotting victims of abuse can be tricky. Victims primarily have a change in personality. They may become timid or withdrawn or even defensive, drastic changes in clothing, and even becoming excessively angry are common for physical and emotional abuse. They may think they are happy to be in a relationship with this person, but which are they feeling more of, happy or sad? They could have lost interest in things and people they used to love, including themselves. It is not uncommon that victims begin needing reassurance from everyone and base their views on themselves from others approval.

People who have experienced abuse before are susceptible to abuse again, either as recipient or supplier. It is not uncommon that people who have never seen or experienced a healthy relationship do not realize that hitting and name calling are not the norm. But it is possible to break the cycle.

Physical abuse is one of the most widely recognized forms of abuse. It can range from minor incidents like pinching, to major extremes resulting in hospital visits. Physical violence is not just hitting. A partner, or in some very unfortunate cases, a parent, may coerce their partner by means of pressure or force into sexual things. PTSD, depression, and anxiety can stay with victims even after they have separated from the abuser. If you or someone you know is going through something like this, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-799-3224. You can also visit https://www.thehotline.org

Emotional abuse is harder to spot and does not always couple with physical mistreatment. The need to criticize every move, to shame and blame or deflect such, to threaten, and to have control over every bit are all tactics used to gain and keep power over a cowering partner. Name calling and belittlement can also lead to depression. A controlling partner tracking someones every move can lead to paranoia and anxiety. If you or someone you know is going through something like this, please contact the Crisis Text Line. Text HELLO to 741741 or visit https://www.crisistextline.org/

As friends, there is not much we can do besides provide support and resources to those in need. We can try to convince our friends to leave their violent girlfriend or controlling boyfriend, but what are the chances of them listening and not making the same mistakes again? We can be the strong shoulder while our friends confess their feelings towards their unforgiving parents, but at the end of the day, we can not change who they go home to. 

One thing we can do is encourage them to talk to someone. There is no shame in asking an adult, a coach, a counselor, anyone to help, even if it is just to talk. Contrary to popular belief, school counselors are not there to fix schedules and tattle to our parents, but to help students going through anything from sad thoughts to broken bones. They are trained and know what they are doing. 

Do not be afraid to speak out. You are not alone.