By Samantha Stuefer –
Relationships in general can be a challenge for anyone, especially for people in their teens. But what a lot of people, including myself until recently, don’t know are the signs of an abusive relationship. There are many different forms of abuse and abusive behavior. There is physical, emotional, sexual, and sometimes it even goes as far as stalking.
“I think a lot of people very narrowly conceptualize abuse in relationships as always being physical,” educator and advocate at Voices of Hope, Morgan B. said. “That can be present but there are all of these other forms of abuse. It could be emotional abuse, verbal [abuse]. It [abuse] could be psychological, it could be some sexual abuse happening in relationships.”
There are many red flags that can help someone indicate if they are in an abusive relationship.
“Extreme jealousy is a big red flag,” B. said. “And if someone’s calling you names and making you feel bad about yourself, that’s a big red flag.”
Those are not the only signs that you or someone you know may be in an abusive relationship. There are many different behaviors, three significant one’s being belittling, controlling and violent and threatening behavior.
When it comes to belittling behavior, which can be hard to recognize, the partner may yell at you or try and humiliate you, put you down and criticize you. They may pay no attention to any of your accomplishments and might even bash on you for them. Typically, the abuser will blame you for all their nasty behavior and may go as far as to see you and treat you as property (like a sexual object).
Controlling behavior is one that a lot of people don’t recognize right off the bat, just like belittling behavior. When a partner is controlling, they may act excessively jealous of you and of the people you associate yourself with and become possessive, maybe even going to the extreme of controlling where you go, what you do, and who you associate with.
“So, typically what I see, especially with teens that I work with, [is] their controlling behaviors that maybe somebody wouldn’t perceive as a red flag,” B. said. ‘So like saying, “I don’t really like you wearing that [skirt] outside the house. It’s too revealing, so go change your outfit before you leave.” Or controlling what friends they hang out with, or wanting to go through their phone or something like that.”
Controlling partners will attempt to keep you from your friends and family and may limit your access to your phone and in some cases things like your car and money. They may also check up on you constantly, B. said.
“Constantly calling somebody, texting somebody, following their Facebook account or their Twitter account to keep tabs on them; that’s abuse, too,” she added.
Don’t get me wrong, your partner should check up on you and let you know they love you, but there is an extreme way of doing it, like calling you excessively to see where you’re at and needing to know what you’re doing at every minute of every day.
Then, there is also violent and threatening behavior. This is the kind of behavior that gets into the news and sends people to jail. This kind of behavior is a lot easier to spot, even by someone outside the relationship. A violent partner may have a bad and erratic temper. This doesn’t mean you or your partner is abusive, but it is quite a common sign in most abusers. Threatening behavior could include threatening to hurt you or kill you, threatening to take things you love away, or threatening to kill themselves if you leave. A violent partner may hurt you physically, like punching or scratching or beating up, as well as sexual violence, where they will force sexual acts upon you. Just because someone is in a relationship, doesn’t mean the partner is incapable of raping or sexually assaulting the other.
But, when a person is in an unhealthy relationship, people ask, “why don’t they just leave?”
“There are so many reasons, and so many barriers in place that prevent somebody from leaving,” B. said. “The number one barrier is financial dependency.” When it comes to leaving an abusive partner you live with, most times you come to depend on them if the abuse is severe enough. They may keep you from leaving the house or having a job. According to helpguide.org, the abuser may even keep money away from you or give you an “allowance.” At this point, homelessness becomes a huge factor in leaving an abusive relationship.
More with teen victims, they may try and defend their abusive partner, making excuses for their behavior or trying to convince themselves it’s a rough patch. Most even begin to believe their partner’s behavior is their fault. And like any other victim, it may be hard for someone our age to leave an unhealthy relationship.
“It’s [unhealthy relationships] so important that the Lincoln Public Schools now has a policy that is in our [staff] handbook about what we’re going to do when relationships are unhealthy,” Lincoln High School social worker, Sue Dutton, said.
At Lincoln High, we have developed a “contract” that people can sign, agreeing to stay away from each other at school. This contract is usually used by teens that were in an unhealthy relationship.
Being in abusive relationships can have huge mental affects on the victim.
“We know that it takes an extreme toll on the victim,” B. said. “There’s a lot of reactions to trauma, to abusive relationships, but a lot of the times the victim or survivor will withdraw from a lot of things he or she typically really liked to do.” Withdrawing from things a victim liked to do would be like if they really loved being in choir, and all of a sudden they just stopped enjoying it and stopped participating in it.
Being in such a relationship can cause the victim to have depression or anxiety, and low self-esteem. Someone who was outgoing may become isolated and withdrawn after suffering abuse.
“We like to use the acronym ACT,” Dutton said. ACT stands for Acknowledge, Care, and Tell.
Therefore, if you notice any of these signs in a loved one, speak up and ask them about it. You could also say something along the lines of, “When I see your significant other do this, it makes me feel this. Maybe you should talk to somebody.”
B. said to be there for the victim, let them know you care about what’s going on with them and that you believe what’s going on with them. Even if you have to hear it every day and you’re growing tired of it, stay and listen to them. Suggest that they go tell someone, recommend resources. You could even go with the victim to seek help.
And there are many people you or the victim could talk to. There are school counselors and a school social workers, like Dutton. School staff, even teachers, are always willing to help.
If you want to talk to someone outside of school, Voices of Hope is a great place to go, as well. Voices of Hope deals with victims of abuse and sexual assault. They have a 24-hour Crisis line, and the establishment itself is at 2545 N Street, not too far from Lincoln High School.
Also, another great resource around Lincoln would be the Friendship home. They have support groups and an emergency line. They also offer shelter to get away from a victim’s abuser. There are also Advocates that work at The Friendship home that can help victims process their feelings and provide advice to help that victim make decision while keeping everything confidential.
Voices of Hope:
Crisis Line: 402-475-7273
Emergency Line: 402-437-9302