Domestic abuse is stereotypically portrayed on TV and in movies as physical violence, but it can take many different forms and affects millions of people. From physical or emotional to sexual and psychological, it affects individuals in every community regardless of age, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race or religion.
If you think a friend or loved one is in a dangerous relationship, know what red flags to look for and how you can help them—and even save their life.
Warning signs of domestic abuse
You may be unsure if your friend or loved one is experiencing abuse. To see the signs, you may feel like you need a sixth sense, and other times, there will be clear indicators of abuse. You can help identify abuse by addressing changes in a loved one’s behavior.
- Suddenly distant and withdrawn: Victims stop seeing friends or family, cut phone conversations short and withdraw from normal activities. They become anxious and depressed and are unusually quiet.
- Inconsistent explanations: They give inconsistent excuses for the causes of their injuries.
- Alcohol or drug abuse: Victims use alcohol or other substances as a means to escape.
- Visible aggression and fear: They are fearful of their partner, and their partner often criticizes or humiliates them in front of others.
What you can do to help
If you think someone you love is in a dangerous relationship, Michael Weinberg, PhD, licensed professional counselor at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, shares several ways you can help them.
1. Let them know they are not alone. The first and probably the most important thing you can do is to let your friend know they are not alone. “Isolation is one tactic abusers use,” Dr. Weinberg said.
Unsure of what to say or how to say it? Dr. Weinberg says anyone can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. They have trained advocates on hand 24 hours a day who can coach you and answer any questions or concerns. “There is also a wealth of local domestic violence organizations where you can go in person, too,” he said.
2. Be direct but nonjudgmental. See something – say something. Don’t dance around the topic. Say something like, “I’m concerned about your safety …” or “I’m worried about you because.” Don’t judge them for being with someone who could be abusive. This can only solidify their feelings that they may be at fault.
“Some people worry that they may be butting into their friend’s business or afraid the topic will make their friend angry or upset,” Dr. Weinberg said. “But you need to ask yourself, ‘do I want an angry friend or a cemetery visit?’”
3. Offer support. If they have not spoken to anyone else, encourage them to speak with a local domestic violence organization or someone on the phone. You can even offer to go with them for support.
“Although you want to support your friend, don’t try to coach them out of their relationship,” Dr. Weinberg said. “There may be many reasons they have chosen to stay. But by all means, do let them know that help does exist, and people care about them very much and want them safe.”
4. Don’t ever stop supporting them. “Keep coming back to your friend as long as the symptoms are there,” Dr. Weinberg said. “Remember, you are their friend and will never give up on them.”
Leaving takes a great deal of strength and courage. Focus on supporting and building up their self-confidence, acknowledge their strengths and help them keep up with outside contacts. Be patient. It can take time for them to recognize their abuse and even longer to take the steps to leave. Be there and be a strong friend.
Are you a victim of domestic abuse or know a loved one who may be in an abusive relationship? You are valuable. You are worthy of love. We are here to help you in whatever way we can. Our licensed professionals at Banner Health’s behavioral and mental health intensive outpatient services are here to help you. You can also reach out to our Banner Helpline at 602-254-4357 or toll-free in Arizona at 1-800-254-4357. Both lines are open 24/7.