Recognizing Signs of Domestic Abuse — and What to Do About Them

Many people deal with abuse in their relationships, yet they put on a different face for their friends and family. Often, a person in an abusive relationship feels trapped and doesn’t know how to leave the situation.

Having a supportive network of friends, family, and trusted coworkers or people in their religious organization can help the person leave the relationship, but many victims keep the abuse secret, leaving many unaware. Here are some types of abuse and what you can do if you suspect someone is abused.

Physical Abuse

Disagreements in relationships tend to happen, but when things get physical because of a fight, this is definitely abuse. However, physical abuse may not just come about because of an argument but could be a way to control a partner. Often, the physical abuse goes only one way and seeing someone with consistent marks on them can be a sign they’re being physically abused.

The signs of physical abuse tend to be more obvious, like a black eye, red marks, bruises, cuts, and other bodily marks. Sometimes, a person may try covering these marks with makeup or long clothing, even if it’s out of season.

Another sign of physical abuse is that the person suffering the abuse may have recurrent marks appear on their body in different places, and has inconsistent reasons as to why they’re hurt each time. Their stories may be contradictory, and they may seem defensive when being asked about the marks.

Emotional Abuse

Abuse is not just physical — emotional abuse can be equally hurtful, if not more so at times. Some abusive partners don’t need to use their fists to control their partner, but instead, they will use their words. From threats to shaming to stonewalling, emotional abuse has many sides.

Emotional abuse can be harder to detect. Someone who is emotionally abused tends not to think very highly of themselves and will apologize profusely, despite not doing anything wrong. They may look scared all the time. They may look sleep-deprived or sleep too much. They may withdraw from once-close social circles or connections and may use excuses as to why they cannot go out or attend family or friend events.

Those experiencing emotional abuse are likely to develop depression or anxiety. They may lose interest in what they used to love or have a drug or alcohol addiction.

If you notice a sudden change in someone’s behavior after they’ve started a relationship with a new significant other, or they mention things are changing in their current relationship and have been exhibiting different behaviors, they may be experiencing emotional abuse.

How to Help Someone Who is Abused

If you suspect someone is being abused, you can be put in a difficult situation. You may be unsure of how to bring it up, intervening could make the problem worse, or the person being abused may not even recognize they are being abused. Here are some things you can do if you suspect someone is being abused.

Talk to Them

This is by no means an easy conversation. Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for talking to them, and research some resources to have available. If you may be able to talk to their family or other close friends about your intent for having a conversation with them, they may also be willing and helpful resources for the person being abused as well.

Tell the person that you think they are a victim of abuse and that you are worried about them. Talk to them about getting help, and be supportive. Don’t talk down to them, and if they get frustrated, be empathetic and stay steadfast in your support. Even if they don’t want to take action right now, be persistent in following up with them and being there for them if they are in need.

Usually, one of three outcomes will happen:

1. They will admit they’re abused and need help. In this case, help them with resources and come up with a plan. Give them the resources you’d researched, or research some together. Offer a support network if they decide to leave and need someone to help. Reach out to their friends and family, if they are willing to include more people in the conversation.

2. They will admit abuse, but won’t ask for help. Being adamant or forceful about helping them could be reminiscent of their abuser’s behavior. Instead, acknowledge their decision and tell the person you are available to help if they change their mind, and reinforce that you care about them. Ask them what they want to see happen with their relationship. Asking questions that aren’t condescending can open up a person to get the help that they need. Sometimes, with the knowledge of consistent support, an abused person may change their mind about receiving help.

3. They will deny it. This can be tricky: could you have been wrong, or are they denying it because they are scared? Either way, acknowledge their point of view and what they have to say. If you feel strongly they may be being abused, tell them if they are ever in an abusive relationship, you support them and are there for them if they need help.

What to Do if They Return to Their Abuser

Sometimes, someone leaves an abusive relationship, only to return to the abuser. This can be frustrating, but you have to remember that it may take a few times before someone leaves their abusive partner for good.
The abuser may have claimed to have changed, but that’s usually not the case, and the abuser may eventually return to their old ways.

Don’t get frustrated or express disappointment to the person that is being abused. Instead, acknowledge that it is their decision, but if they need any help, reassure them that you are there for them.

If you’re in a relationship, it may be worth it to speak to a relationship counselor every now and then to ensure your relationship is healthy and both parties are doing well. Healthy relationships should be free of fear and physical or emotional harm.

If you are in need of help, below are a few resources to get help immediately:

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 | 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network): 1-800-656-HOPE

This is a featured post by site sponsor Better Help.

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