Recognizing Abusive Relationships


Lee Cline, writer/reporter/editor

1 in 3 young people will be in an abusive or unhealthy relationship. According to the Pew Research Center, 14% of teens are currently in a relationship they consider to be serious with a boyfriend, girlfriend, or significant other. That brings the question: what makes a relationship unhealthy or abusive? There are many ways to tell if a relationship is abusive, and it isn’t always physical. 

There are many different types of abuse. The most common among young people are physical, emotional, and sexual. Oftentimes the hardest one to perceive is emotional. It isn’t always clear to the victim they are being abused, especially if they have a strong bond with their abuser.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, warning signs of an abusive or unhealthy relationship include:

  •  Insulting, demeaning, or shaming you, especially in front of other people.
  • Showing extreme jealousy of your friends or time spent away from them.
  • Preventing or discouraging you from spending time with friends, family members, or peers.
  • Preventing you from making your own decisions, including about working or attending school.
  • Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol.
  • Pressuring you to have sex or perform sexual acts you’re not comfortable with.
  • Going through your personal belongings such as your cellphone or journal
  • Attempting to control what you wear, including clothes, makeup, or hairstyles.
  • Blaming you for their abusive behaviors.
  • Accusing you of cheating, or cheating themselves and blaming you for their actions.
  • Telling you that you’re lucky to be with them or that you’ll never find someone better.
  • Calling you names, insulting you, or constantly criticizing you.
  • Acting jealous or possessive or refusing to trust you

One of the most commonly used kinds of manipulation is gas lighting. Gas lighting is a type of psychological manipulation intended to make the victim question their own judgment, memory or perception. An example of gas lighting would be victim-blaming.

“You made me do this.”

“Can you not take a joke?”

“The problem isn’t with me, it is in you.”

Clinical psychologist, Anita Sanz describes the phenomenon perfectly: “being gas lighted overtime effectively disconnects you from yourself, your feelings, your ability to know what you want and don’t want, what you know to be true about yourself, others, and the world. It can eventually strip a person of their core sense of themselves, leaving them feeling dependent upon the gas lighter to define reality and provide approval and confirmation of what is real” 

Abusive relationships aren’t only between romantic partners, they can also be between friends or family members. Dr. Fran Walfish, family and relationship psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, California, shares a few signs that a friend may be emotionally abusive toward you:

  • Your friend lies to you. “If you catch them repeatedly lying to you, that’s a problem. A healthy relationship is based on trust,” explains Walfish. 
  • Your friend constantly ghosts you or doesn’t include you. “If you confront them, they become defensive or point the finger saying it’s your fault. Ask yourself, why aren’t they owning up to it?”
  • They pressure you for large gifts, like money, and then gaslight you into thinking it was a “gift” for them rather than a loan.
  • Your friend gives you the silent treatment or makes you feel bad by criticizing you. This is the abuser’s way to control the power dynamic, Walfish explains. “You do not want to be in a close relationship where you feel put down or less than the other person.”
  • Your friend doesn’t respect your boundaries or time.

Partner violence is a crime. It’s not your fault if you are being abused, so don’t blame yourself; no one deserves to be abused. One in four women and one in nine men in the United States are victims of partner violence at some time. Partner violence can happen in any type of couple—married, dating, heterosexual, or same-sex. People of any age, ethnicity, or income or education level can be in an abusive relationship (AAFP, 2011). If you find yourself in an abusive relationship it’s important to reach out to people you trust for support. Parents, teachers, friends, guidance counselors, or pastors.

It’s recommended that you should set boundaries to put your happiness and well being first. Cutting off all communication is an important step to healing, as well as seeking professional help from a licensed counselor or therapist. 

If you believe that your friend is in an abusive or toxic relationship you should calmly start a conversation on a positive note. Find time to talk with them privately and voice your concerns with them about their abuser’s behavior. Be supportive of your friend and remind them it is not their fault.