Helping a Friend
If you believe that a friend is in an abusive situation, you may not know how to help. If the friend hasn't told you that the situation is abusive, try asking him or her directly, and talking to her or him about different forms of abuse.
There may be an innocent explanation for what you have observed, but it is also possible that your friend hasn't known how to talk about what's happening and needs support.
What about if you suspect that a friend is in an unhealthy relationship? How would that friend act? Ask yourself if your friend:
- Constantly cancels plans for reasons that don't sound true
- Always worries about making his or her boyfriend or girlfriend angry
- Apologizes for his or her significant other's abusive behavior?
- Seems overly worried about upsetting or angering his or her significant other?
- Gives up things that are important?
- Shows signs of physical abuse, like bruises or cuts?
- Tells you that he or she gets pressured into having sex, or talks about feeling like a sex object?
- Has a boyfriend or girlfriend that wants his or her significant other to be available all the time?
- Has become isolated from friends or family?
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Helping Your Friend Cope
If a friend confides in you about abuse, the most important thing is to listen and be supportive. Listen to your friend without judging him or her. Remember that the abuse is not your friend's fault.
Try to help him or her leave the abusive relationship. Sometimes an abuser will try to isolate his or her target from friends, but try to keep your connection with your friend. This connection may be the first step towards getting out of the relationship, and it can be vital for your friend's safety.
Below are some suggestions for helping a friend deal with an unhealthy or violent relationship:
- Help your friend recognize that feeling bad about himself or herself is not normal and that he or she deserves a healthy, non-violent relationship.
- Encourage his or her strength and courage.
- Do not make your friend feel bad for his or her choices – even if you think these choices are wrong.
- Offer to go with your friend to find a counselor or support group, or to talk to his or her family, friends, or a teacher.
- Remember that you cannot rescue them.
Your friend may ask you to keep the abuse a secret, but – for her or his safety – it is very important to talk to a trusted adult. It is important to respect your friend's privacy by not telling other friends and acquaintances, but you should tell an adult.
Even if the abuse seems minor, remember that abuse escalates; telling an adult now may save your friend from a dangerous situation in the future. Although your friend may be upset at first that you let an adult know about the abuse, protecting his or her safety is the most important thing you can do as a friend.
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What can I do about abusive relationships?
If you are being abused, you should consider how much you care about the relationship. If you really care about the relationship, try to work it out before you end it. Maybe you should spend some time apart, and then figure out what went wrong after you have cooled off.
However, if the relationship is violent, it will be better to end it now. Reporting physical abuse can help protect you in case the abuser pursues you after you leave the relationship.
If a friend is in an unhealthy relationship: talk to him or her, explain why you think it is harmful, and offer to help him or her get help. There are also hotlines, Internet sites, and counselors dedicated to offering teens advice and support.
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- Julia Ransohoff
- Christina Jeffery
- Nancy Brown, Ph.D. with:
- Katie Ransohoff
- Joanna Yang
- Anna Rafferty
- Leigha Winters
- Nigel Anderson
- PAMF Education Division
- Youth Venture
- National Domestic Violence Hotline:
- Break the Cycle:
- Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network:
Reviewed By: Nancy Brown, Ph.D.
Last Reviewed: October 2013