- Signs of emotional abuse can be hard to spot because they don’t leave physical scars.
- Also, victims are very good at hiding what is happening to them.
- But there are a few changes in their behaviour you can look out for, such as them becoming increasingly isolated.
- The best thing you can do to help is be unconditionally supportive until your friend comes to a decision themselves.
- If you’re too aggressive with your advice, you may end up making things worse.
Domestic abuse of some kind affects 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in their lifetime. Those odds mean it’s pretty likely one of your friends has either been abused by their partner, or will be in the future.
According to Katie Hood, the CEO of One Love Foundation, it can be extremely difficult to tell if someone is in an unhealthy or abusive relationship because usually they are doing everything they can to hide it.
One Love was started by Sharon Love after her daughter Yeardley Love was killed in 2010 by her ex boyfriend. In the months after her tragic death, Sharon realised that if anyone had known the early signs of abuse, Yeardley’s life could have been saved. The foundation now educates young people about healthy relationships, and how to help people who might be in dangerous, unhealthy ones.
Hood told Business Insider people in abusive relationships often post pictures on social media about how happy they are, while on the inside they’re going through turmoil.
“Because all abusive relationships start out as the best relationship you’ve ever been in, it’s easy when it turns south to keep focusing on what it used to be and wanting to get back to that place,” she said. “That being said, there are signs that someone you know might be in trouble.”
Pulling away from friends and family
The first stage of an abusive relationship is isolation, so you may notice changes in your friend’s pattern of behaviour. They may pull away from friends or family, and be spending excessive time with their partner.
“They are no longer doing things they love or hanging out with close friends,” said Hood. “It can also be a sudden move with a new partner to a town or city that just doesn’t make sense given where your friend’s goals were before.”
If your friend is being emotionally abused, Hood said they are essentially being controlled. They probably feel completely out of control of their own life, and feel really confused a lot of the time, especially if they are being gaslighted.
“Someone who is experiencing emotional abuse may have lower self-esteem, causing them to act less confident than they used to,” said Hood. “If you notice that your normally outgoing friend suddenly seems withdrawn or not fully present, it can be a sign that something isn’t right.”
Not being ‘allowed’ to make decisions
You may notice they need to text their partner all the time, or check in with them in an excessive way. They may struggle to make plans without asking their partner first, or often break commitments with you with very little notice. These are all signs they aren’t “allowed” to make their own decisions.
Also, if their relationship seems very volatile, this doesn’t simply mean they are highly passionate. It could be a sign your friend is in trouble.
Unconditional support is the best thing you can offer
In each of these situations, it’s difficult to know what to do. You may think interfering in some way is the best course of action, but Hood said it is really important your friend comes to a decision on their own. In that time, you should give them unconditional support, speak to your friend, and ask them questions without being too invasive – even though this is likely to be incredibly hard to do.
“It is possible your friend will deflect your questions or dismiss your concerns, but it’s critical that you not be overly forceful in making them listen,” Hood said. “In dictating and ordering your friend around, you will likely only be mimicking the behavior of the abusive partner. The most important thing is to keep the communication lines open and make your friend feel supported and heard.”
Suggesting they leave their partner isn’t advisable, because the time immediately after a break-up is the most dangerous for victims, Hood said. If you really believe your friend is in imminent danger, you should contact the police.
Conversation is the most valuable tool at your disposal, and eventually your friend will probably open up about what’s happening. In the meantime, you can talk to their other friends and family to see what they’ve noticed about the situation – you may find you are all on the same page, and you can work together to better protect your friend from further harm.
The worst thing you can do, Hood said, is give up.
“Do not abandon your friend, even when you are frustrated that they are not listening,” she said. “They need you now more than ever.”