Psychologist Dr. Karen Caraballo – “My Best Friend Is In An Abusive Relationship. What Can I Do To Help Her?”

QUESTION: Hi SoLatina. I have a friend who’s been in an abusive relationship since I met her back in high school. What advice can you give me to help her understand that she deserves more then what she receives. Just recently she and her boyfriend have been fighting more and it got to the point where he knocked down the front door to her apartment while the kids were home. Can someone please help me so I can help her? She’s my best friend and I dont want to see her hurting like this anymore.

DR. CARABALLO’S ADVICE: Your friend is very lucky to have you. It appears that she is trapped in an abusive relationship. This can happen to anyone. Unfortunately, domestic violence and abuse are very common.

Domestic violence has many forms including physical aggression, emotional and sexual abuse. It is a pattern of controlling and coercive behaviors that might interfere with the victim’s autonomy and safety. Abuse get worse and more frequent over time; especially when families are going through transitions (ex: adjustment as a couple, children returning to school, managing finances, etc.). It’s important to realize that both partners have a role in the abusive relationship.

The abusers think that they are entitled to control their partners’ beliefs, behaviors, and feelings. They encourage the victim’s isolation, so they have more control over them. Domestic violence is a learned behavior. Research indicates that abusive men were exposed to violence and were abused as children.

Women engaged in abusive relationships usually suffer from low self esteem and dependency issues. Unconsciously they feel that they are defective, and they do not deserve any better. Generally, they grow up in an environment where the adults did not have a healthy relationship. Their role models solved their conflict either with a pattern of aggression or passivity.

In your friend’s case, by tolerating the abuse she is giving ownership of her values and esteem over to her boyfriend. She is also allowing the abuse to affect her child’s development.

Your friend has to make the decision to get out of this relationship for her well being and her child’s socio-emotional development. Children who grow up in an environment with violence and aggression have a tendency to suffer from low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and are more likely to engage in high risk behaviors. There is also a high probability that they will wind up in an abusive relationship themselves.

No one deserves to be abused, and no child deserves to grow up in that kind of environment.

As a friend, you can support her by listening unconditionally. Validate her fears, and provide a new mirror to show her who she really is. Your kindness and support might help to improve her self esteem and self image. Hopefully, she will realize that she has a voice and deserves to be in a relationship where she is valued, respected and treated as an equal.

Good luck!

Karen Caraballo, Psy. D, ABSNP


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