Helping Someone else
What are the signs someone is being abused?
An unhealthy or abusive relationship may not always have obvious signs, like broken bones. But if you are worried about a friend or family member’s relationship, here are some things you can look for:
You are never able to spend time with your friend or family member alone (as in: their partner is always present).
Their partner constantly calls and/or texts to check in on where they are and who they are with.
Their partner calls them names or puts them down.
They apologize for their partner’s behavior.
They frequently cancel plans.
They worry constantly about upsetting their partner.
They stop doing activities that they enjoy.
Their weight or appearance changes.
They use substances (such as alcohol or drugs) more than they used to.
Their partner is extremely jealous.
They cannot make decisions (such as how to spend money) without talking to their partner first.
They have become withdrawn, quiet, or anxious or have other personality changes.
They are reluctant to leave their children alone with their partner.
They have unexplained injuries (or the explanations they give don’t make sense).
There may not always be obvious signs that abuse is happening. If you are still concerned for someone in your life, you should listen to your gut and check in with them.
How do I help?
It’s important to remember that abuse is about power and control. All relationships have rough patches, arguments, and disagreements. In a healthy relationship, all people involved have equal power and are able to safely state their opinions, feelings, boundaries and make their own decisions.
In an abusive relationship, one member (typically a partner or family member) controls the other through threats, violence, intimidation, criticism, and manipulation. One person makes most of the decisions and holds most of the power in the relationship. The other person is often afraid to state their opinions, feelings and set boundaries with the abuser.
The victim of the abuse may feel like the abuse is their fault or that they should stay because the abuse could be worse (i.e., “At least they don’t hit me”). They may excuse the abuse (i.e., “They only act this way because they were abused as a child,” “They have a mental illness,” “Their ex was terrible,” “They’re just having a rough time right now and it’ll get better,” “They’re not like this all the time,” “If I leave, they will hurt themselves.”)
It can be very upsetting and difficult to watch a friend or family member go through an abusive relationship. You may be tempted to rescue them or even become frustrated with them for staying in an abusive relationship. Abusers make it difficult for their victims to leave and victims may return to their abuser many times after leaving.
What you can do:
Stay connected. Abusers isolate their victims to make it hard for the victim to seek help so don’t be afraid to reach out to them.
Be supportive and listen to them. It can be difficult to talk about what they are experiencing so letting them speak freely is important.
Believe them. Research shows that false reports of domestic and/or sexual violence are uncommon. Believing victims is the first step to helping them.
Be non-judgmental. Victims of violence blame themselves for the abuse and there are many reasons why it is hard to leave an abusive situation. Try not to guilt them or criticize their decisions. Don’t imply that they have caused the abuse.
Focus on your friend or family member and not the abuser. Even if they do not leave, or they return to their abuser, stay connected and let them speak about their experiences.
Let them know that the abuse is real, abuse is not normal, and the abuse not their fault. Everyone deserves to feel safe in their relationship.
Do not contact the abuser yourself. Do not post publicly about the abuse or negative things about the abuser. This could be dangerous for the victim or cause the abuser to further limit the victim’s contact with you and others.
Connect them with local resources (Becky’s Place can help)
Encourage them to see a therapist or counselor (SEARHC or independent counselor).
Offer to go with them to local resources.
Help them develop a Safety Plan.
If you feel comfortable, offer to keep an escape bag in your home in case they need to leave their abuser suddenly. This escape bag should have important documents, spare keys, medications, spare clothes, and cash. (You can learn more about escape bags on the Safety Plan page.)
Encourage them to participate in activities outside of the relationship (encourage them to continue doing things they enjoy, such as working, attending classes, attending church, volunteering, connecting with friends and family, or working out).
Offer practical support, such as offering to watch children, cook a meal, or give them a ride.
Help give them reasons to get them out of the house (offer to go for a walk with them, take them to the movies, accompany them shopping). This can make it difficult for the abuser to isolate them.
Consider creating a code word so you know you are speaking to your friend or family member (especially in text messages); or create a code word the victim can use to ask you to call the police for them.
Encourage them to document the abuse (i.e., save verbally abusive voicemails; save abusive text messages, social media posts and emails; take photos of injuries; write down dates and descriptions of violent episodes).
Keep in mind that even little things are helpful. Even if you feel like you are not helping, just by staying connected to someone experiencing abuse, you are doing a lot by letting them know people outside the abusive relationship still care about them and their well-being.
Take care of yourself. It is hard to watch someone you love be hurt. Maintain your own support system and maintain your own boundaries. Be realistic and honest about what you can do to support your friend or family member. Remember that you are not responsible for the abuse.