It may be heartbreaking to know the teen you love is in an abusive relationship. You might feel helpless as you watch your child fall under the spell of somebody who mistreats her…
Watching your teen tiptoe around the needs of another person can feel terribly worrying. This can be more concerning if there are power imbalances within the relationship, such as when her partner is an older adult.
Assisting your child to leave an abusive relationship can be tricky. Speak out Loud explains that abusive people can be hard to challenge.
“He would blame me for all our problems”
Jamie, who was in an abusive relationship with Neil, eighteen years her senior, explains that Neil would blame her for any problems within the relationship.”
“This included his own emotional reactions. If he lost his temper because she visited friends, he would blame her for not messaging him enough during the day. Jamie would end up apologizing for Neil’s terrible behaviour. Neil saw any attempts to visit family or friends as a disloyalty to him. Jamie felt obliged to do what Neil wanted.”
While you might feel helpless if your teen is in this kind of situation, there are ways to be there for your child. Start quickly, as it is harder to get a person out of an abusive relationship after a long period of time.
Look after yourself first
Umesh Bawa, from the department of psychology at UWC, explains the importance of looking after your own mental health while dealing with a stressful situation. He compares this to putting on your oxygen mask on a plane.
Whilst it may seem as though you are being selfish to place the mask on yourself first, you won’t be any help to your child if you pass out. By taking care of yourself and ensuring your own needs are met, you will be able to reach out to your child effectively. Acknowledge your own feelings, seek support and take time to enjoy yourself.
Make yourself available to your child
An abuser will often try to isolate their victims from gaining support. Provide your child with constant love, kindness and compassion. Let her know that you are always there to listen. Do fun things together like go to the movies or out for coffee.
Let your child feel free to enjoy life. Let your child talk to you. Jamie remembers sitting with a friend near the lake and just sharing how demanding and rude Neil could be. It was one of her first stages in self awareness. Accept what your child says without judgement.
Remind her of her strengths, talents and goals
Abusers try to make their partners dependent on them. This happens by creating self doubt. Cape Town psychologist Kerry Magnus explains that abusive men break down their partners in tiny steps.
By questioning what she wears, how she writes, how she carries out her work life and who she connects with, he makes her dependent on him. Encourage your daughter in making her own individual choices.
Remind her of her talents and encourage her goals. Ask her what she would like for herself and encourage her to find ways to meet her goals. Remind her of what she has achieved so far. By returning the focus on herself, she might be able to regain her own voice.
Ask her for her point of view
Abusers dominate and often present themselves as right and as the only ones with insight or opinions. Your daughter might not question the abuser. If you question him directly, he will see you as a threat and shut you out. You can, however, encourage your daughter to find her own voice by asking her what she thinks.
“Neil says I must always wear red/ should study this after school / should not go to the beach with Florence.”
“Mmmm, that is interesting, what do you think?”
Support her decisions
Very Well Family explains that because abusers sap power from their victims, your role is to encourage your daughter to regain her voice and not to tell her what to do.
Allow your daughter to make decisions on what she wants to do with her life and the plans she would like to make. Don’t impose answers upon her. A
llow your daughter to find her own feet again and make her own choices in life. This will enable her to trust her own dreams, insights and intuitions.
Help her to see that vulnerability is not an excuse for abuse
If your daughter speaks to you about any difficulties in her relationship, never justify the abuse. Yes, the abuser might have had a difficult childhood. He might have undergone terrible trauma. He might have recurrent migraines or a chronic illness.
This does not mean he can hurt anybody else. As Gary Koen explains, most abusers will often present themselves as victims, despite displaying terrible behaviour. Let your daughter know that vulnerability is not an excuse for abuse.
Many people involved within an abusive relationship often see their abuser’s vulnerability as well as the nastiness which takes place. Explain to your daughter that it is sad that the abuser has suffered. But. This. Does. Not. Mean. He. Can. Hurt. Anybody. Else.
Let her know that it is not her fault
Explain that while you can understand her feelings for him, the abusers behaviour is NOT her fault. Explain that while she has concern for his feelings, it isn’t helpful to enable abusive behaviour by forgiving him over and over again. He is behaving badly.
Emphasise the behaviour and not the whole person. Explain that while he is vulnerable, it is not her fault if the nasty side of his personality continually takes over. Over time, it is likely to escalate and get worse.
Empathise with her confusion, sharing that it must feel disconcerting to see the vulnerable boy and then face the nasty part of his personality. Share that abuse is never loving and his feelings are not her responsibility.
Ask for help
If you feel your daughter is withdrawing from you, ask for help. Call a professional in your area with experience in trauma, family relationships or abuse.
Jamie’s mother, family and friends all expressed deep concerns over her relationship with Neil. Neil was able to convince her that her mother was merely prejudiced and intolerant. Her friends were concerned but didn’t have the language to dislodge her from the relationship.
Visiting a trained professional for anxiety enabled Jamie to exit the relationship. As the therapist began to focus on Jamie’s needs and goals, she began to regain her own voice. Her therapist also had the knowledge to work with the manipulation and control present within the relationship. Jamie explained that the safe space within the therapy room provided a strong contrast to her relationship with Neil. Over time, she began to take her own opinions and needs into account. She eventually left Neil behind.
Some resources include (but are not limited to):
*Names changed to protect the individuals’ identities