Abusive Relationships

Nemours Foundation

When Brian and Sarah began dating, all of her friends were jealous. Brian seemed like the perfect guy: smart, sensitive, funny, athletic, and good-looking. For the first couple of months, Sarah thought she had never been happier. She started to miss her friends and family, though, because she was spending more time with Brian and less time with everyone else. That seemed easier than dealing with Brian's endless questions. He worried about what she was doing at every moment of the day.

Sarah's friends became concerned when her behavior started to change. She lost interest in the things she once enjoyed, like swimming and music. She became secretive and moody. When her friends asked Sarah if she was having trouble with Brian, she forcefully denied that anything was wrong. What was going on? Read this article to find out how to tell if you or a friend is being abused and what you can do about it.

What Is Abuse?
Everyone has heard the songs about how much love can hurt. But that doesn't mean physical harm: Someone who loves you should never abuse you. Healthy relationships involve respect, trust, and consideration for the other person.

Abuse can sometimes be mistaken for intense feelings of caring or concern. Sometimes abuse can even seem flattering; think of a friend whose boyfriend or girlfriend is insanely jealous. Maybe you've thought your friend's partner really cares about him or her. But actually excessive jealousy and controlling behavior are not signs of affection at all. Love involves respect and trust; it doesn't mean constantly worrying about the possible end of the relationship.

Abuse can be physical, emotional, or sexual. Slapping, hitting, and kicking are forms of physical abuse that can occur in both romances and friendships.

Emotional abuse, like teasing, bullying, and humiliating others, can be difficult to recognize because it doesn't leave any visible scars. Threats, intimidation, put-downs, and betrayal are all harmful forms of emotional abuse that can really hurt - not just during the time it's happening, but long after, too.

It's never right to be forced into any type of sexual experience that you don't want. This type of abuse can happen to anyone, anytime.

The first step is to realize that you have the right to be treated with respect and not be physically or emotionally harmed by another person. But how can you prevent becoming involved in this type of relationship? How can you help a friend who is in an abusive relationship?

Signs That You Are Being Abused
Any type of unwanted sexual advances that make you uncomfortable are red flags that the relationship needs to focus more on respect. Phrases like "If you loved me, you would . . . " also should warn you of possible abuse. A statement like this is emotional blackmail from a person concerned about getting what they want. Trust your intuition. If it doesn't feel right, it isn't.

There are important warning signs that you may be involved in an abusive relationship. Abusive behaviors include:

  • harming you physically in any way, including slapping, pushing, grabbing, shaking, smacking, kicking, and punching
  • trying to control different aspects of your life, such as how you dress, who you hang out with, and what you say
  • frequently humiliating you or making you feel unworthy; for example, if a partner puts you down but tells you that he or she loves you
  • coercing or threatening to harm you if you leave the relationship
  • twisting the truth to make you feel you are to blame for your partner's actions
  • demanding to know where you are at all times
  • constantly becoming jealous or angry when you want to spend time with your friends

Signs That a Friend Is Being Abused
In addition to the signs listed above, here are some signs of abuse to look for in a friend:

  • unexplained bruises, broken bones, sprains, or marks
  • excessive guilt or shame for no apparent reason
  • secrecy or withdrawal from friends and family
  • avoidance of school or social events with excuses that don't seem to make any sense

If a friend is being abused, the one thing your friend needs most is someone to hear and believe him or her. Maybe your friend is afraid to tell his or her parents because they'll make him or her end the relationship. People who are abused often feel like it's their fault - that they "asked for it" or that they don't deserve any better. But abuse is never deserved. Your friend needs you to help him or her understand that it is not his or her fault. Your friend is not a bad person. The person who abused him or her is at fault and needs professional help.

If you have a friend who is being abused, he or she needs your patience, love, and understanding. Your friend also needs you to encourage him or her to get help immediately from an adult, such as a parent or guidance counselor. Most of all, your friend needs you to listen to him or her without judging. It takes a lot of courage to admit that you have been abused; let your friend know that he or she has your full support.

How You Can Help Yourself
What should you do if you are suffering from any type of abuse? If you can't love someone without feeling afraid, it's time to get out of the relationship fast. You're worth being treated with respect and you can get help.

First, make sure you're safe. A trusted adult can help you. If the person has physically attacked you, don't wait to get medical attention or call the police. Assault is illegal, and so is rape - even if it's done by someone you are dating.

Avoid the tendency to isolate yourself from your friends and family. You might feel like you have nowhere to turn, or you might be embarrassed about what's been going on, but this is the time when you need support most. People like counselors, doctors, teachers, coaches, and friends will want to help you, so let them.

Don't rely on yourself alone to get out of the situation; the people who love and care about you can help you break away. It's important to know that asking for help isn't a sign of weakness - it actually shows that you have a lot of courage and are willing to stand up for yourself.

Where to Get Help
There are many resources available to help you. Your local phone book will list hundreds of crisis centers, teen help lines, and abuse hotlines. These organizations have professionally trained staff to listen, understand, and help.

Ending abuse and violence in teen relationships is a community effort with plenty of people ready to help. Don't forget about those in your neighborhood who will be willing and able to help: religious leaders, school nurses, teachers, school counselors, doctors, and other health professionals are all sources of support and information.

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