Supporting a Friend

Do you think your friend is in an abusive relationship, or at risk of being in one? Though the relationship may not make sense to you, your friend probably has reasons why she’s sticking it out, and those reasons are real. Try your best to be patient and to provide support without judging. On average, a person is able to leave an abusive relationship after the seventh attempt. As a friend, you hope you can be that 7th time.

You probably wonder why people stay in a relationship. This is a very complex question. Most teens report that they stay in an abusive relationship due to a variety of issues such as social pressure, dependence, fear, lack of support from relatives and friends, low self-esteem, the feeling of love and loneliness, etc.

Signs of Abuse   People react differently to an abusive relationship. Some might seem to be depressed while others might try to hide the abuse and act like everything is ok. Here is a list of signs that might mean that your friend is experiencing an abusive relationship:

  • Isolation: Does your friend avoid you and others to spend time with their BF/GF? Is she/he constantly canceling plans with you?
  • Emotional changes: Do you see your friend as sad and depressed? Does she act differently in front of her BF/GF?
  • Unbreakable Attachment: Does your friend seem to be constantly responding to texts and calls from his GF/BF?
  • Avoid Fun activities: Has your friend quit those fun activities she used to enjoy? Is she no longer involved in school and community activities?
  • Jealousy Issues: Does your friend stop talking and interacting with other people because he believes that would cause him trouble with his partner?
  • Make excuses: Does your friend constantly defend her partner for his/her violence and aggressive behavior? Does she blame alcohol or family situations for his/her partner’s actions?

Be supportive   Time, patience, and respect are necessary in supporting a friend who is experiencing abuse. If you think about it, your friend might be facing several other issues. Your friend probably shares a network of friends with her abuser; there might be pressure from the group for her to stay in the relationship, or she might fear that she will lose all of her friends if she breaks up. Perhaps your friend depends on her BF/GF for transportation, food, or a place to stay.  He or she might have very legitimate fears about their safety.  There are lots of reasons why your friend might feel stuck in that relationship.

  • Be patient as you would like others to be patient with you if you were experiencing the same situation. If your friend trusts you, they will feel like they can reach out to you when they are ready to discuss the relationship. If they feel like you’re just going to bring the “I told you so”, they probably won’t feel like they can come to you for help.
  • Respond to their calls, emails, and/or letter. Be there when they want you to be there. At some point, they are going to realize the harmful emotional and physical effects that the relationship is having on them and on the people around them.
  • It’s really important to respect their life by not sharing any personal information about them with others. If you do that, you would probably be breaking all the trust you have developed and they will no longer feel like you are a safe person that they can turn to for support. In addition, try to respect their decisions and avoid judgmental comments. You can talk to them about their reality without telling them what to do. If they feel you are telling them what to do, they may not reach out to you again.

4 Important Phrases to Say   If you are trying to help your friend, but do not know what to say, please remember these four phrases…

  • I am afraid for your safety.
    Sometimes victims don’t understand the severity of their situation. Telling them that you worry for their safety shows them that they are loved and supported by others. It also helps them to realize they do not serve to be treated that way.
  • I’m concerned that it will only get worse.
    Victims of teen dating violence are trapped in a cycle of violence. During the “honeymoon” stage, they typically receive gifts, affection and an unlimited number of promises from the abuser. However, those promises do not last too long before the abuser harms the victim again. Maybe the victim believes that by sticking it out, she can help her BF/GF change. With the emotional ups and downs and the victim’s hope that things will get better, she may not have considered that things will likely get worse.
  • I am here for you now and if/when you decide to leave.
    Most victims do not leave the relationship due to a lack of support or the fear of facing loneliness. Isolation from friends and activities is a technique that abusers use to gain control in a relationship. By telling your friend that you are there for him you are providing a supportive contact in the context of that isolation.
    Your friend may break off the relationship and then return to it. On average victims of violence go through this cycle seven times before they are able to permanently end things. It may be frustrating and hard for you to understand why your friend returns after leaving the relationship many times. Again, do your best to stay patient with this process; if your friend feels like she has let you down, she probably won’t feel like she can come back to you for support when she is ready to try again to end the relationship. Every attempt is an important part of the process of getting out and it means the final goodbye is getting closer.
  • You do not deserve to be abused.
    If you have a friend experiencing an abusive relationship, make sure you highlight the importance of self-worth. No human being deserves to be treated that way–especially by the person who is supposed to love and respect them.  Talking about the relationship rights might be helpful—emphasizing not just what you think is wrong about your friend’s current relationship (your friend might be hearing plenty of criticism from his family and other friends and a negative critique might shut him down), but talking in a positive way about how people deserve to be treated.

 Your safety   While you are supporting your friend, it’s really important to think about your own safety and emotional well being. Supporting your friend through the process of ending a violent relationship can be hard on you emotionally and we know that these situations are potentially dangerous. If you are feeling overwhelmed or like the situation is over your head, it’s totally appropriate to get some help!

  • Emotional safety: If you are feeling worn out by the experience, you can talk with advocates at the national hotline or online chat to get some self care. Please remember that you are a source of support for your friend, but you are not responsible for her rescue.
  • Physical safety: If you feel like the situation is escalating and your friend is in danger, talk with her honestly about your concerns and ask her if you can reach out to some experts at your school, local domestic violence program, congregation, law enforcement agency, etc to get help. You want to respect her privacy, but if you feel that your friend is at risk of serious injury you will probably need extra help.
    If you think that your involvement in the situation has the abuser coming after you, please consider developing a safety plan for yourself. For more information about how to develop a thorough and realistic safety plan for you and your friend, visit The Safe Space.

Talk to a friend who is being abusive   Have you ever wondered if your friend is being abusive with her partner? Does she put her BF/GF down in front of others? Are they constantly arguing about irrelevant things? Trust your instincts and do what you think is right for your friend. A true relationship is one in which both individuals share respect and affection.

  • Stand for the victim: If you feel your friend is mistreating his partner, tell him that you think it’s a problem. Research shows that peer influence (what our buddies think) really matters to all of us. Let your friend know that you don’t think it’s ok to control or hurt the person that you are supposed to like/love. You can stand for the victim by talking to your friend. Let him know that you are aware of the situation and that it makes your feel really uncomfortable. Please see the bystander intervention section of our website (link??) for lots more advice about how you can safely intervene in an abusive situation.
  • Talk about the consequences of the abuse: After talking to your friend about how uncomfortable her abusive behavior made you feel, you might want to talk about the consequences that she could experience if things continue or get worse. An abusive relationship is bad for everyone; it’s bad for the victim, it’s bad for the abuser and it’s bad for the folks surrounding that couple.
  • Be specific: Be direct and specific on what you saw and how that made you feel. Try to focus on the behaviors that are a problem rather than judging your friend as a person. If your friend feels judged by you, he probably will get angry rather than listening to your advice, and there’s a danger that he will take his anger out on the victim as well as on you.
  • Encourage them to get help: Talk to them about getting advice from a mentor, coach, teacher, or someone they trust. Talk to them about how they are responsible of their actions and help them to take the first steps in changing.
  • Make it a private conversation: Do not confront them in a place and/or around people that can act against them. That would only make them more irritated and ashamed of themselves and the victim might suffer the consequences.
  • Be supportive: As weird as this sounds, abusers also need support from their friends. They tend to be insecure and need to feel they have the power and control. You can try to be clear that the abusive behavior is a problem (lots of people make excuses for abusive behavior including the abuser, the victim, and his friends and you don’t want to enable that), but that you care about them as a person.
  • Understand the limitation of your role: Taking a stand against abusive behavior matters! If all of us took a stand in the abuse that we see around us, there would be much, much less teen dating violence. But remember that the responsibility for change lies with the person who is being abusive. As a peer you might have the ability to influence your friend, but it is NOT your responsibility to fix the problem.

 Please visit our resource  webpage for more information about teen dating violence