When someone you love is in an abusive relationship, the impact of that relationship affects everyone in their circle, including you. You may not see the abuse or even realize that what you do see is abuse so much as you feel that something is “off.” It is particularly difficult to spot an abusive relationship when the abuse they are experiencing is emotional abuse, especially in its covert form. But with proper education and awareness, you can learn to recognize the signs of potential abuse and begin to empower those around you and yourself to address it in healthy ways. There are many signs that may alert you to the fact that your friend is in a harmful situation.
Today, we focus on four signs that someone you care about potentially is in an abusive relationship:
1. Your Friend Seems More Insecure
Overtime when one is in an emotionally abusive relationship, a victim will begin to lose their confidence and sense of self-identity around their partner. As their friend or family member, you might notice that they are withholding their voice when they have not usually acted that way before. Or, perhaps they seem unable to make decisions and unsure of the wisdom in any decision they do make. You may even notice that they are self-degrading, making regular derogatory comments about themselves even jokingly. For example, they might say, “I don’t trust my opinion.” Or, “I might screw this up.” “I can’t say anything right.” If this is happening, there’s a good chance they are receiving abnormal amounts of criticism and attacks to their self-confidence.
2. Your Friend’s Partner Publicly Berates Them
You notice that whenever your friend and their partner are together in public, the comments and jokes their partner makes can be cutting, scapegoating, or embarrassing to your friend. Your friend might laugh them off as if they are a joke, but inside may feel as if they have been punched in the gut. Or you might see your friend overreact because they have been absorbing significant criticism behind the scenes. Other times, you might notice that your friend seems deeply hurt by the comments but works extra hard not to show their pain to anyone especially their partner, and does nothing to stand up for themselves. As an observer, you may feel uncomfortable about the exchanges taking place but you can’t quite put your finger on why.
3. Your Friend Seems To Be Withdrawing From Social Situations
It is not at all uncommon for people who are dating to desire more time with their romantic partners than with their friends, especially in the beginning of the relationship. Usually, this does not last long as the couple becomes more comfortable with their relationship and they begin to balance out their lives. When a person is dating an abuser, however, over time their partner gains control over them by limiting the victim’s willingness, or even ability, to see or communicate with their friends or on social media. For example, perhaps every time the victim wants to spend time with friends, their partner acts depressed telling them that they don’t feel loved by them, or their partner might get aggressive. In an effort to appease their partner, your friend may opt to stay home and go out with you another time. Or, perhaps the abuser says things about the friends that make the victim feel like maintaining friendships disrespects their partner. The abuser may be saying things such as “they don’t like me”; “they want us to break up”; or, “I don’t like the way you act when you are with them.” “Keep the phone on speaker. If you don’t, you must be hiding something.” It’s not at all uncommon for an abuser to become very angry at their partner or give them the silent treatment when they come home from a visit with a friend, making the cost to the victim too high to bear. In the end, over time, the victim stops seeing their friends, becoming more and more isolated from the very people who can help them the most.
4. Your Friend’s Partner Gains Increasing Access to Their Private Accounts
Our ability to maintain healthy boundaries of personal privacy within our relationships – even when you are married – is critical to your sense of safety and emotional well-being. Of course, we all choose to share many private things with our friends or partners as a natural course of a healthy relationship. Where covert abuse is occurring, the person causing harm may believe that they are entitled to unrestricted access to all areas of their partner’s lives, such as to their financial records and accounts, email, social media, journals, and other things that many of us consider private. The victim may be made to feel guilty for not wanting their partner to have access to those things. Or, the abuser might make them feel it is a way for them to earn their trust. As their friend, the victim might say, “Just so you know, my partner reads my texts so don’t write anything confidential in there.” Or, maybe they share with you a fight they had because their partner saw a charge on their personal account from a restaurant they went to with a business colleague. Or, maybe you hear your friend’s phone exchange with their partner who is clearly tracking their geographic location and it strikes you as odd.
These are just a few signs that might alert you to the fact that your friend or family member is in an abusive relationship. Once you see the signs, what can you do?
Start by reaching out to them. Pick up the telephone and speak to them person to person and ask them if you can get together with them. Avoid using modes of communication their partner has access to, such as texting, social media messaging or email. Tell them you miss them and want to spend time with them if you can. Offer to meet them for their lunch break from work, or to join them on their walk or jog. All of these things can be done with social distancing in mind. Pick times where they will realize their partner might not know they are connecting with you – this will make it easier for them to say, “yes.”
When you do spend time with them ask them how they are doing; tell them you have noticed some changes and you are concerned about them. Then, just listen. Be a safe place for them to share. Do not judge them, or offer advice. Listen and let them know how much you care. By taking these very simple steps, you’ll begin to provide a safe place for your friend to open up. You may be the catalyst for much-needed change in their lives.
Before meeting with them, review The M3ND Project’s Healing Model of Compassion to help guide your response. To find this and other helpful support documents check out our resources section below. Take some time to also learn more about Covert Emotional Abuse and how it looks in a relationship. You might even download the terms and definitions which describe these behaviors in simple terms and provide them to your friend.
For those who are interested in learning more from The M3ND Project, join us on 1/28 for a free training. We also have a 4hr Intro training on 2/4 and ⅖ for Intro Training. Links are in the resources section below.
The Healing Model of Compassion – https://themendproject.com/i-want-to-help-someone-being-abused/how-can-i-know-if-its-abuse/#the-victim
Covert Emotional Abuse Terms and Definitions- https://themendproject.com/am-i-the-victim-of-emotional-abuse/you-are-not-crazy/#definitions
Being Treated Unkindly PDF- https://themendproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Significant-Not-Kind.pdf
Free Training Registration: Does it Help or Does it Harm?: Facts about Couples Therapy with an abuser or narcissist.- https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87656564044?pwd=cnM2bEFRVjlQc3pnK21Jc0FHNDlSUT09
Intro Training Registration- https://secure.givelively.org/event/m3nd-project-inc/the-m3nd-project-introductory-training/the-m3nd-project-introductory-training-february-4-5
Support the M3ND Project
The M3ND Project would like to thank you for your constant support. The M3ND Project is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that relies on charitable contributions to educate, equip, and restore those impacted by abuse. We educate on covert emotional abuse and train individuals and organizations on the frontlines who are addressing and responding to victims. Please consider helping us continue our work by making a small monthly or one-time donation here: https://secure.givelively.org/donate/m3nd-project-inc/become-a-m3nder-2020