Trouble When He Walked In: Recognizing Signs of Abuse

sadgirlYou’ve probably been there before: your best friend, the Ethel to your Lucy, the Laverne to your Shirley, the veritable light of your life, declares that she has met the man of her dreams. A  stranger would think she was dating the lovechild of Jesus and Leo DiCaprio, the way she goes on about how amazing he is. You, however, find the way he engages in full-blown conversations with his mouth full of food to be less than charming. You’re forced to suck it up, though; after all, no one said the two of you had to click, and your friend’s happiness is more important than the fact that you find her beau to be a bit on the obnoxious side.

There are some things you shouldn’t be so willing to let slide, however, and they can often be much more subtle than drunken antics or a lack of table manners. We’re talking about indicators that your friend is in an abusive relationship. Domestic violence (or intimate partner violence, as it is now being called) is one of the most serious issues affecting women today and is one that often gets overlooked. There’s a reason for that: no one stops, or even likes, to think that their friend is being abused. According to a 2011 study done by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, “more than 1 in 3 women (35.6%)… in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.” That’s a staggering statistic, and it doesn’t even include victims of emotional abuse, which is just as life-threatening in its own way. Victims of intimate partner violence often find it difficult to seek help for themselves, so it’s important to be able to recognize signs in case you believe someone in your life is going through this traumatic experience:

She stops hanging out with you/her other friends/her family. When people enter new relationships, they’re likely to want to spend most of their time with their significant others, especially if the connection they’re feeling is intense. Even though you might miss hanging with your girl, it’s to be expected. It becomes a red flag (and unhealthy) when you can’t get her to hang out with you at all. If she’s spending all her time with her beau to the exclusion of her family and friends, she might be on the road to being completely isolated, which could lay the foundation for an abusive relationship to develop if it already hasn’t. If she feels like she has no one to turn to but him, the mental battle is already half won.

She changes her personality/look completely. We’ve all pretended to like a band or a movie for the sake of pleasing of our significant other. It helps us feel closer to them, which can be important during the initial stages of attraction. If your friend starts dressing like she’s taking fashion tips from Marilyn Manson, and this isn’t the norm for her, you might want to start asking questions. Drastic changes in her style and interests could indicate that this dude is exerting an unhealthy influence on her, or that she feels the need to please him. And if she’s usually a more-or-less “happy” person and you find her acting depressed and distant more often than she’s in good spirits, that’s not a good sign either.

She constantly defends him/his actions. Say she tells you about their latest fight, or  you catch them in an in-person argument and you hear him insult her with a derogatory remark. That’s already a strike; she deserves someone better than a fool who will call her names. But if you confront her about it, as any good friend should do, and she defends him by claiming it was her fault or that she deserved it (and it obviously wasn’t and she obviously didn’t), that’s a clear indication that some kind of mental or emotional abuse is going on. Key phrases you want to listen for are “He’s usually not like that,” “You just don’t get it,” “I should have known better than to…” and variations thereof. It can be hard to judge this one, sometimes; people can do and say things they normally wouldn’t in the heat of the moment. The important thing is to gauge how often these incidences occur. If you’re hearing excuses more than anything, you have an idea of what’s up.

She exhibits bruises/broken bones/injuries. Don’t believe her if she says she’s suddenly developed a case of late-onset clumsiness. Chances are, it’s not a table her eye bumped into.

If you notice any of these signs in your friend, you need to remember the first commandment of the BFF code and be there for you friend. Express your concerns to her, but don’t be judgmental or quick to accuse the guy she’s seeing. That’s a sure-fire way to get her to shut down on you, because it’ll just reinforce the twisted idea inside her head that the abuse is actually her fault. Instead, listen to her side of the story and stress how much you care about her well-being, how you’ve noticed changes, and how much you want to see her happy. She might not be receptive at that moment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try again and again and again until she starts to hear you. Even if she tries to push you away, don’t be so quick to let her do it. It can be tough being shut down constantly, but if she really is in an abusive relationship, she’s going to need as many people in her corner as she can get. And if you suspect that the violence is physical or sexual in nature, stop reading this article right now and go get the local authorities involved.

She’ll thank you for it. Maybe not now, but she will.

For more information on domestic violence and sexual abuse and the steps you can take to help, check out The National Domestic Violence Hotline and the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

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