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KidsHealth > Teens > Your Mind > Relationships > Abusive Relationships

When Brian and Sarah began dating, all of her friends were jealous. Brian seemed like the perfect guy: smart, sensitive, funny, athletic, and good-looking. For the first couple of months, Sarah thought she had never been happier. She started to miss her friends and family, though, because she was spending more time with Brian and less time with everyone else. That seemed easier than dealing with Brian's endless questions. He worried about what she was doing at every moment of the day.

Sarah's friends became concerned when her behavior started to change. She lost interest in the things she once enjoyed, like swimming and music. She became secretive and moody. When her friends asked Sarah if she was having trouble with Brian, she forcefully denied that anything was wrong. What was going on? Read this article to find out how to tell if you or a friend is being abused and what you can do about it.

What Is Abuse?

Everyone has heard the songs about how much love can hurt. But that doesn't mean physical harm: Someone who loves you should never abuse you. Healthy relationships involve respect, trust, and consideration for the other person.

Abuse can sometimes be mistaken for intense feelings of caring or concern. Sometimes abuse can even seem flattering; think of a friend whose boyfriend or girlfriend is insanely jealous. Maybe you've thought your friend's partner really cares about him or her. But actually, excessive jealousy and controlling behavior are not signs of affection at all. Love involves respect and trust; it doesn't mean constantly worrying about the possible end of the relationship.

Abuse can be physical, emotional, or sexual. Slapping, hitting, and kicking are forms of physical abuse that can occur in both romances and friendships.

Emotional abuse, like teasing, bullying, and humiliating others, can be difficult to recognize because it doesn't leave any visible scars. Threats, intimidation, putdowns, and betrayal are all harmful forms of emotional abuse that can really hurt — not just during the time it's happening, but long after too.

It's never right to be forced into any type of sexual experience that you don't want. This type of abuse can happen to anyone, anytime.

The first step is to realize that you have the right to be treated with respect and not be physically or emotionally harmed by another person. But how can you prevent becoming involved in this type of relationship? How can you help a friend who is in an abusive relationship?

Signs That You Are Being Abused

Any type of unwanted sexual advances that make you uncomfortable are red flags that the relationship needs to focus more on respect. Phrases like "If you loved me, you would . . . " also should warn you of possible abuse. A statement like this is emotional blackmail used by people concerned about getting what they want. Trust your intuition. If it doesn't feel right, it isn't.

Important warning signs that you may be involved in an abusive relationship include when someone:

  • harms you physically in any way, including slapping, pushing, grabbing, shaking, smacking, kicking, and punching
  • tries to control different aspects of your life, such as how you dress, who you hang out with, and what you say
  • frequently humiliates you or making you feel unworthy (for example, if a partner puts you down but tells you that he or she loves you)
  • coerces or threatens to harm you if you leave the relationship
  • twists the truth to make you feel you are to blame for your partner's actions
  • demands to know where you are at all times
  • constantly becomes jealous or angry when you want to spend time with your friends

Signs That a Friend Is Being Abused

In addition to the signs listed above, here are some signs of abuse to look for in a friend:

  • unexplained bruises, broken bones, sprains, or marks
  • excessive guilt or shame for no apparent reason
  • secrecy or withdrawal from friends and family
  • avoidance of school or social events with excuses that don't seem to make any sense

A person who is being abused needs someone to hear and believe him or her. Maybe your friend is afraid to tell a parent because that will bring pressure to make him or her end the relationship. People who are abused often feel like it's their fault — that they "asked for it" or that they don't deserve any better. But abuse is never deserved. You need to help your friend understand that it is not his or her fault. Your friend is not a bad person. The person who is being abusive is at fault and needs professional help.

A friend who is being abused needs your patience, love, and understanding. Your friend also needs your encouragement to get help immediately from an adult, such as a parent or guidance counselor. Most of all, your friend needs you to listen to him or her without judging. It takes a lot of courage to admit being abused; let your friend know that you're offering your full support.

How You Can Help Yourself

What should you do if you are suffering from any type of abuse? If you can't love someone without feeling afraid, it's time to get out of the relationship — fast. You're worth being treated with respect and you can get help.

First, make sure you're safe. A trusted adult can help you. If the person has physically attacked you, don't wait to get medical attention or to call the police. Assault is illegal, and so is rape — even if it's done by someone you are dating.

Avoid the tendency to isolate yourself from your friends and family. You might feel like you have nowhere to turn, or you might be embarrassed about what's been going on, but this is when you need support most. People like counselors, doctors, teachers, coaches, and friends will want to help you, so let them.

Don't rely on yourself alone to get out of the situation; the people who love and care about you can help you break away. It's important to know that asking for help isn't a sign of weakness — it actually shows that you have a lot of courage and are willing to stand up for yourself.

Where to Get Help

Many resources are available to help you. Your local phone book will list hundreds of crisis centers, teen help lines, and abuse hotlines. These organizations have professionally trained staff to listen, understand, and help.

Ending abuse and violence in teen relationships is a community effort with plenty of people ready to help. Don't forget about those in your neighborhood: religious leaders, school nurses, teachers, school counselors, doctors, and other health professionals are all sources of support and information.

Remember, abuse has no place in love.

Reviewed by: Richard S. Kingsley, MD
Date reviewed: December 2004