What To Do If You suspect Your Friend Or Loved One Is Being Abused

By: Amy Thomson

No one wants to believe that someone they care about is being harmed by a person that claims to love them. Often, people will ignore their gut instinct and deny something is wrong or tell themselves it isn’t their business. Others may notice changes occurring but incorrectly assume something else is going on.

There Are Several Key Indicators That Your Friend/Loved One Is Being Abused:

  • You notice marked changes in the way they dress such as turtlenecks, long sleeves and other articles of clothing that could cover injuries, or they stop wearing makeup and jewelry.
  • They stop spending time with family and friends.
  • They become obsessed with time and frequently check in with their partner.
  • Their partner insists on accompanying them everywhere, including events at which their attendance is inappropriate, and limit the time spent there.
  • Their partner insults and humiliates them in front of others.
  • You observe extreme jealousy and possessive behavior.
  • You notice your friend/loved one has become depressed and developed anxiety or other marked changes in their personality occur.
  • You notice bruises or other marks show up with no explanation or are given excuses for how they occurred.
  • They defend the controlling, jealous, or violent behavior of their partner.
  • They are always worried about their abuser’s mood or upsetting them (walking on eggshells).
  • They must ask permission to go out and are given a curfew.

It is not common for someone being abused to easily open up to anyone – even close friends and family – and tell them they are being abused. If no one approaches a victim, they most often remain silent, and when someone does tell them they notice something wrong, the victim may be quick to react by denying or making excuses for their partner’s behavior. Some may not even realize that the way they are being treated is abusive.

If you believe a person you care about is being abused, there are ways to help them. Before approaching them, it is important that you prepare for the conversation. Educate yourself not only on the signs of abuse but the resources available so you have options ready if they accept your help.

Next, find a time that is safe for them to talk uninterrupted. Their abuser should not be present or nearby as a matter of safety for the victim. If the abuser overhears or witnesses the conversation, there is a chance they will later retaliate against the victim.

Remember To Do The Following:

  • Let your loved one know you suspect they are being abused and you are concerned for them.
  • The conversation will be uncomfortable, but it is important you are sincere and supportive in your approach.
  • Be patient and attentive as the conversation unfolds, and allow them to say what they need to without judgment or pressure to act in the moment.
  • Fully acknowledge the danger they are in and assure them that what is happening is not their fault. Let them know there are places they can get help.
  • Focus on supporting and helping your loved one, not attacking the abuser.

If Your Friend Or Family Member Acknowledges The Abuse And Accepts Help

Thank them for trusting you and let them know you will be there for them as a source of support throughout the process of leaving and rebuilding their lives. Rather than telling them what they have to do to leave, allow them to make the decisions to leave, including where they would like to stay and other resources they might need to be self-sufficient.

You could provide contact numbers for domestic violence organizations and offer to go with them to a counselor or an area domestic violence support group. Allow them to use your phone to make calls or look up information. If they feel overwhelmed, accompany them when they go to law enforcement, apply for an emergency order, meet with a lawyer, or attend court hearings. Not only will this provide support, it will help keep them safer should their abuser follow them.

Do not lose sight of the fact that although they are afraid of their abuser, they also must deal with the end of a relationship. Leaving an abuser can be an emotionally confusing time for them. They will not only need your support to recover from trauma, they must also go through a grieving process that occurs at the end of any romantic relationship. Help them understand it is OK to have these conflicting feelings, and they do not have to (and should not) feel guilty for it.

If they acknowledge they need help but are not ready to leave, you can still be proactive in helping to ensure their safety until they decide it’s time to take that step. Offer to keep an escape bag with extra clothes, medication, important documents, etc. if they are able to safely get them out of the house. Because their abuser will most likely be monitoring their technology use, they may not be able to document injuries that occur. Offer to take pictures for them and keep record of injuries that occur. You can also help them create a safety plan to help keep them safer while still with the abuser.

If Your Friend Or Family Member Acknowledges The Abuse But Rejects Help

Accept their decision, and do not pressure them and try to make them feel guilty for the choice they are making. While you may want them to leave for their safety, you cannot make this choice for them. Do not get angry with them either. This is something they must do on their own.

Instead, tell them you understand and accept their choice. Let them know you still care about them and will be there if and when they decide to reach out for help. Ensure they have a way to stay connected to you, because it’s important for them to have a lifeline.

If Your Friend Or Family Member Denies The Abuse

Even if you know for certain they are being abused, you cannot force them to acknowledge abuse. Doing so will appear confrontational and may make them feel as though you are trying to control them as well. Also, they may not yet feel safe enough to disclose this. Abusers are skilled at using manipulation, gaslighting and intimidation to control their victims and compel them to be silent. The conditioning they endure can make it very difficult to break from that silence. Instead, continue to show them that you care about them, and be sure to check in with them regularly to see how they are.

They may also be denying that abuse is occurring, because they do not know they are being abused. There are many ways this can happen. Abuse may have been present in their childhood home, conditioning them to accept abuse as a normal part of the relationship. Their religious congregation may tell them they have a role to fulfill, and the way they are being treated is because they are failing in that role. It is possible they only see acts of physical violence as abuse, and if they are being emotionally abused, it would be easy for them to dismiss it as stress, mental illness or the resulting heavy drinking or drug use.

In cases where the victim is unaware that what they are enduring is abuse, do your best to let them know the way they are being treated is wrong and it is wholly undeserved. Show them information that differentiates between healthy and abusive relationships. Perhaps the most powerful way to get them to realize they are being abused is to have them read or watch accounts of survivors who endured similar forms of abuse. This will help them understand what they are experiencing while providing them with the knowledge that they are not alone.

What To Do If They Return To Their Abuser

On average, it takes about 7 times to leave an abuser for good. If you have helped them leave their abuser in the past and they return – whether it’s one time or ten – do not judge their decision. Abusers will make grandiose promises and employ guilt trips, playing on the victim’s feelings, to get them to return.

Do not threaten to cut off your support if they return. You may be their only lifeline, and it’s imperative they have someone to reach out to for support. If you disconnect from them when they go back, it will reduce the likelihood that they will reach out to anyone again for help in the future. Let them know you are concerned for them, but make sure you tell them that you will be there for them if they choose to leave.

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