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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Abusive Relationships

As a teen counselor, I find that relationships are one of the biggest topics brought up regularly when dealing with teenagers. Some of these relationships are healthy relationships that will ultimately help a teen establish their identity and learn valuable life lessons. However, some of these relationships are unhealthy and have the potential to emotionally scar a teen (or any other age group) emotionally and mentally. Both emotional and physically abusive relationships take a deep toll on the partners of abusers. Abusive relationships can be in a number of forms. “Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure or wound someone” (The National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2009). One might be in an abusive relationship and not even realize it. The important thing is to evaluate your relationship (this includes non-romantic relationships) to see if they are harming more than helping you. Here are some warning signs of abusive relationships.

Warning signs or risk factors of being in an abusive relationship include:

*Abuser is jealous or possessive toward you.(Jealousy is the primary symptom of abusive relationships)
*Abuser tries to control you by being very bossy or demanding.
*Abuser tries to isolate you by demanding you cut off social contacts and friendships.
*Abuser is violent and / or loses his or her temper quickly.
*Abuser pressures you sexually, demands sexual activities you are not comfortable with.
*Abuser abuses drugs or alcohol.
*Abuser Claims you are responsible for his or her emotional state. (This is a core diagnostic criteria for Codependency.)
*Abuser Blames you when he or she mistreats you.
*Abuser has a history of bad relationships.
*Your family and friends have warned you about the person or told you that they are concerned for your safety or emotional well being.
*You frequently worry about how he or she will react to things you say or do.
*Abuser makes "jokes" that shame, humiliate, demean or embarrass you, whether privately or around family and friends.
*Abuser grew up witnessing an abusive parental relationship, and/or was abused as a child.
*Abuser uses Screaming, physical expressions of anger, violence or threats of violence, sulking, manipulation, emotional blackmail, silent smoldering, and anger to punish when they feel hurt, shame, fear or loss of control.
*Both parties in abusive relationships may develop or progress in drug or alcohol dependence in a (dysfunctional) attempt to cope with the pain.
*You leave and then return to your partner repeatedly, against the advice of your friends, family and loved ones.
*You have trouble ending the relationship, even though you know inside it's the right thing to do (Will H.- Webmaster, 2002).

Abusive people use certain tactics to employ upon their “target.”
Some of these tactics include:

Intimidation- looks, actions, gestures, destroying things, abusing pets, silent treatment, displaying weapons, making physical threats.
Overt Physical or Sexual Abuse- physically assaulting partner (slapping, hitting, pushing, choking, etc...) or sexually assaulting partner.
Emotional abuse- insulting, criticizing, calling names, interrogating, harassing, constantly wanting to know whereabouts of partner, humiliating partner, making one feel guilty, making partner feel shameful.
Isolation- controlling aspects of partners life (what he/she watches, reads, who he/she talks to, etc…), limiting social contact, cutting off partner from social networks such as friends, family, and activities, using jealousy to justify these actions.
Minimizing, Denying, and Blame shifting- making “light” of the abuse that is going on, denying that the abuse happened or saying it wasn’t that bad, blaming their behavior on someone or something else, saying that the person who they abused caused their behavior.
Economic abuse- constantly asking for money, not letting one know what the money is for but demands it anyway, uses guilt to get money from someone or to let them keep the money instead of repaying it.

Now that you know some signs of abusive relationships; let’s talk about healthy relationships. In a healthy relationship, both partners should always show non-threatening behavior. Both should make their partner feel safe and comfortable in things they do and say. Respect is a major factor in healthy relationships. This includes listening to your partner attentively and non-judgmentally, being emotionally affirming and understanding, and valuing opinions (even if you sometimes do not agree). Trust and support is another major pillar of a healthy relationship. Each partner should support each other in their goals in life. Respect of each partner’s right to their feelings, own friends, activities, and opinions is also imperative to build a healthy relationship. In a healthy relationship, each member must have honesty and accountability. One must recognize when he/she does something wrong or hurtful and must be willing to be accountable for their actions and be willing to change the behavior if it is hurting others. When concerning parental relationships, parents should always be a positive, non-violent role model for younger children.

Abuse is serious. Self esteem is destroyed, sense of options dissipates, self-care is compromised, and the power of choice is eroded. Partners of abusers may experience clinical depression, denial, chemical dependency, extreme codependency, and suicidal ideation or attempts. The abused partner frequently clings desperately to the abuser, believing that it's all they deserve or will ever get (Will H. - Webmaster, 2002).

If you think you are in an abusive relationship; there is a way out. It takes two to change the abuse in a relationship. Usually nothing changes without intensive therapy and willingness to change and compromise. If the abuser is unwilling to acknowledge their destructive behavior; the healthy thing to do for the abused is to remove themselves from the situation completely. Detachment with love is difficult, but if you stay in the abusive relationship the cycle will continue and might even get worse!
The main thing is not to isolate yourself from others! Call 911 if your partner physically assaults you in anyway. There is also The National Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 799-SAFE. They can help you find individuals and groups in your community that can help you.

Some helpful websites include: The National Domestic Violence Hotline’s website has a number of resources and information – Liz Claiborne’s teen dating violence website has great information for both, those living with violence and their friends and family. – The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s website contains current information for survivors and those dealing with violence. – The Family Violence Prevention Fund website provides materials which can be ordered, including “No Excuse for Abuse” materials and health care provider brochures. – The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence’s website features various publications and resources for organizations and individuals working to end domestic violence. – The National Center for Victims of Crime information site includes materials on domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault. – Legal information website, including referrals and detailed protective/restraining order information, state by state.

Remember, abuse can happen to anyone. It can happen to any age, race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. Do not feel ashamed if you are in an abusive relationship; get help immediately!


Will H.- Webmaster. (2002). Abusive Relationships. Retrieved from

The National Domestic Violence Hotline. (2009). Get Help. Retrieved from