It is important to learn the signs of unhealthy relationships. As you read through this section, it may bring up difficult emotions. It may be helpful to talk to a friend about your feelings. You can also use the resources page for more help or reach out to a trusted adult.
Unfortunately, dating abuse is common. One in three high school students and one in five middle school students will experience some form relationship abuse—physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse.17 If you have experienced abuse, you are not alone, and it is not your fault.
Many people are afraid to report, ask about, or tell friends or family when their relationships may be unhealthy or abusive. It is really important to get help so you can feel good about yourself physically and emotionally.15
Power and Control
When one person tries to have power and control over another, it is unhealthy.
Sometimes it can be hard to tell if someone is being controlling, especially if that is someone we really care about. It is easy to take responsibility for problems in a relationship and blame yourself.
A pattern of unhealthy, controlling behavior becomes abuse. This abuse can take many forms:
- Peer pressure. Threatening to expose someone's weakness. Spreading rumors. Telling mean lies about an individual to peer group
- Digital abuse. Hacking into someone’s accounts, controlling what they do on social media, stalking their profiles, sending persistent unwanted messages
- Emotional abuse. Putting someone down, making them feel badly about themselves, name calling, making them think they’re crazy, humiliating them, making them feel guilty
- Isolation. Controlling what someone does, who they see and talk to, where they go. Using jealousy to justify these actions, convincing them no one else is good for them
- Using social status. Making all the decisions, treating them like a servant, and defining roles and what's "acceptable" in the relationship. Using a higher status to convince them no one would believe them or help them
- Controlling information. Keeping information from someone by lying, misleading, distorting, or hiding. Sometimes used to make the other person look foolish or be more dependent on them
- Intimidation. Making someone afraid. Could use looks, actions, or gestures. Could smash things, destroy property, abuse pets, or show a weapon
- Minimize/deny/blame. Not taking concerns about it seriously. Saying the abuse didn't happen. Shifting responsibility for abusive behavior, saying the other person caused it
- Threats. Making threats to do something to hurt another. Threatening to leave or commit suicide. Making them do illegal things, threatening to report them to the police or another authority
- Physical abuse. Pushing, grabbing too hard, breaking or throwing things, blocking someone from leaving, hitting, choking
- Sexual coercion. Forcing, manipulating, or making threats to get sex. Refusing to use protection, purposefully getting them pregnant without consent. Getting someone drunk or drugged to have sex. Threatening or actually releasing sexual photos or videos of them
If you are LGBTQ, you might be at risk for additional forms of abuse. If someone threatens or actually outs you, that is a form of control. If they try to control how you present or insult you for not presenting “correctly,” that can also be abusive. Find more LGBTQ resources here.
How do I help others?
It's important to listen to your friend or person you wish to help. Try to be aware of judgmental thoughts that might limit your ability to help, support, or listen to them.
It is normal to feel overwhelmed when a friend shares painful experiences. It might be best to help them find professional supports. You can offer resources like those listed on this site. They include phone numbers where people are available 24 hours a day to talk, listen, and help.