How to Recognize Signs of Abuse in Your Friend

December 4, 2012 Kellie Jo Holly

You can see signs of abuse in your friend if you know what to look for in both your friend and her partner. Here are signs your friend is abused. Look familiar?

Kasandra Perkins and about ten other women died at the hands of their partner on December 1, 2012 (4000 women killed by partners/year divided by 365 days/year = 10 - 11 dead women per day). Yet today, Internet news sources remember Kasandra Perkin's boyfriend, the man who killed her before killing himself, and the jest of the commentary is, "We didn't see this coming. He was such a great guy!" Typical.

Newsday reported "Friends of Perkins have said there was tension between the two that escalated after the birth of their daughter, now 3 months old, and a police source said the two argued about money." Abuse escalates or begins after the abuser feels that the victim cannot separate from them. For example, after the birth of a baby.

Kasandra's friends and family will undoubtedly look back over the past three months (at least) and say to themselves, "I should have noticed..." They will undoubtedly blame themselves for not seeing the truth, but it is not their fault that Kasandra is dead. It is her boyfriend's fault. As the truth dawns on those who loved Kasandra, they may go through a personal hell of if only thoughts. Let's keep them in our prayers.

Along with our feelings of sympathy, let's do something else, too. Let's get our heads out of the Internet news and gossip and focus on the people we love. Who among your group of friends could be on Kasandra's path? Do you know the signs of abuse in your friends?

Signs Your Friend Could Be Abused

Coincidentally, also on Saturday, I asked my Facebook friends to brainstorm signs of abuse from the outside looking in. How might you know if your friend was being abused? They came up with very insightful tells, and I want to share them with you.

Keep in mind that these signs of abuse occur not only after beginning a new relationship, but also when a relationship moves to a different level. Pay attention to the signs very closely if your friend's relationship just changed in some way: engagement, marriage, pregnancy/child, moving in together, or any other change that shows the relationship is becoming more serious.

Signs of Abuse in Your Friend's Actions

  • acts overly happy, suspiciously happy; you have a sense that they smile on the outside, cry on the inside (abuse victims can be very good actors)
  • questions their sanity or behavior while asking for your advice
  • asks partner how they feel about absolutely everything, can't seem to make a decision without consulting their partner
  • avoids eye contact, especially if you press your friend for "what's wrong" or try to talk to them about your suspicions of abuse
  • blames herself for partner's behavior or makes excuses for them
  • calls the police to the house but denies there was an issue; says s/he overreacted or denies the call was for domestic violence (police reports are public record... just sayin')
  • doesn't have time to meet with you
  • excuses the things their partner does/says
  • explains partner's possessive behavior, sees it as abnormal, begs you not to say anything to him
  • tells you of the horrible relationships in partner's past or how the partner has one or more "crazy" ex-es
  • asks partner for money all of the time; rarely has cash or debit card to use
  • "freaks out" or makes an ass of themselves in presence of partner and you, but you can't figure out why
  • begins using illegal substances or alcohol becomes a problem
  • minimizes what goes on at home
  • seems almost delusional, you think your friend could be making up problems where there are none (that you can see!)
  • seems defensive, thinks you judge them, explains things that need no explanation
  • seems to see their partner through rose-colored glasses, has unfounded optimism for the outcome of their last fight or for the relationship

Signs of Abuse in Your Friend's Demeanor

  • appears nervous or anxious, can't relax; irratible or edgy
  • can't "find the right words" to explain what is wrong
  • checks the time constantly, expected to be home at a certain time, constant texting/phone calls with partner when they're apart
  • reports to partner before making a move
  • distant when you are able to communicate with them
  • partner's jokes cause your friend pain; pain can show as contempt, sudden tears but no crying, over-the-top laughter and then quick withdrawal from partner's presence, or any combination of emotions (you know your friend's "normal" behavior - their reaction will not be "normal")
  • loses interest in her hobbies or activities
  • develops low self-esteem, depression
  • sadness out of nowhere, sudden crying or anger
  • says nothing is wrong when there obviously is something wrong
  • your friend appears distraught or "off" but their partner appears vibrant and charming when arriving at your party
  • shrinks when partner enters the room
  • side conversations: partner speaks about how the children disappoint "them" and your friend apologizes on the side as if the children's behavior is all their fault.
  • adheres to very traditional sex roles (especially if that's not what your friend wanted before the relationship)
  • consoles and tends to sulking or angry partner instead of enjoying the party or going to the party
  • defensive of any suspicious behaviors you point out
  • gets nervous if partner drinks or uses other substances
  • goes overboard to make abuser look good
  • seems vulnerable, defeated
  • stops taking care of their own mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs
  • has visible bruising or marks or wears clothes that could hide bruises
  • withdraws from friendship, no calls or visits, cuts off communication
  • withdraws from social events and family gatherings
  • friend hates their partner one day and wants to leave, then makes partner out to be a saint the next time you talk

Signs of Abuse in Your Friend from Work

  • doesn't attend company parties; avoids socializing with most people (especially the opposite sex)
  • often appears upset at work, you can tell they've been crying when they exit the restroom
  • spends much of the workday whispering into the phone
  • partner shows up at work and friend reacts strangely
  • work day interrupted by "family emergencies"
  • becomes overly anxious about leaving work late, especially when it is a last minute decision by the boss to stay late
  • quality of work isn't as good as it used to be
  • seems forgetful, distracted, as if she isn't really at work
  • takes more sick days from work

Signs of Abuse in Your Friend's (Abusive) Partner

  • "steals the show" when victim has chance to shine or on victim's birthday, favorite holidays, anniversaries, etc.
  • exhibits unfounded jealousy, paranoia
  • makes comments that belittle your friend, lies about your friend, attempts to make your friend doubt themselves or says "No, dear, this is what happened…" and changes your friend's story ever so slightly (or completely)
  • makes openly derisive comments about your friend
  • may talk as if s/he rescued your friend from their last job, last relationship, themselves … and your friend may incomprehensibly agree
  • mentions your friend's new substance abuse problem derisively but does not act in a compassionate, caring way - uses the addiction to blame your friend for most anything
  • seems too good to be true
  • comes on to you, will deny doing it
  • plys your friend with drinks and purposefully pushes their buttons
  • image is very important to them
  • confides in you about "problems" with your friend that you just can't imagine existing

Trust Your Gut If There Are Signs Your Friend Is Abused

After reading those lists, you may find the clues that your friend is being abused to be "circumstantial evidence". Even if your friend shows marks from physical abuse, you cannot prove they are abused. Talk to a judge and I believe most of them would share your frustration. Your friend must realize they are abused for themselves and confide in you - you cannot make them tell you anything.

Sometimes, simply bringing domestic abuse out into the light will be enough to make a difference. Your friend, if they are being abused, may think that they are "crazy" and distrust their own perception. You broaching the subject of domestic abuse may be just what your friend needs to feel sane and safe enough to open up. When that happens, you can help them end the abuse.

Check here for more information on how to help an abuse victim.

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2012, December 4). How to Recognize Signs of Abuse in Your Friend, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

October, 4 2018 at 8:38 pm

I exhibit many of these behaviors during my three year relationship. I wish the people close to me had notices and that they had said something. Presenting medical definitions and signs of abuse like these might have helped me wake up.

Kofi Gyan
March, 23 2018 at 12:49 am

Well,I have friends, 2 girls they sisters ,the older 1is always on what's app,always listening to music, she does have friends but I usually see her alone or with her sister.I think her and her sister are being sexually abused by a dad or step dad. Cause like l love them they like sisters to me,and the thought just came to me like yesterday and I'm thinking of asking them but scared they'll get angry.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Elizabeth Brico
March, 23 2018 at 9:42 am

That’s a really tough situation, especially if they are minors. I was physically and sexually abused as a minor (though not by a family member) and I can attest that if people approached the subject too directly or in an aggressive way, I would get very angry and push them away—but you could try asking indirectly, maybe just that you’ve noticed something is wrong and that they can talk to you about it. But if you do have a very good reason for this suspicion (beyond social isolation and social media use, which could also indicate depression) you can make an anonymous report to Child Services. In adult DV situations I don’t normally recommend calling the authorities unless you yourself have irrefutable physical evidence—if she’s not ready to come forward she’ll likely defend her abuser and the accusation could put her in danger. When it comes to the sexual abuse of minors, especially if two are involved, creating a situation in which they can speak in private could be helpful. Again, though, it’s a serious accusation and definitely not one that should be made lightly. I realize this is a blog comment and that your basis for this suspicion probably goes beyond what you described here, but in case it is mostly the What’s App use and social isolation, a gentle conversation is a good first step before jumping to a report. You can also tell a teacher or school counselor that you trust if you aren’t comfortable or certain enough to call Child Services yourself. I’m so sorry that you and your friends are going through this.

December, 6 2017 at 11:44 am

I have a friend and she has been asking me this stuff. Maybe she's been on here...

June, 4 2017 at 12:13 pm

My friend shows signs of being abused, she is pushing all of us away refusing to part take in any gatherings or drinks, she is extremely anxious and nervous about being around new people and is overly sweet to her friends asking us not to unfriend her as she can not come out as much as she likes. She had to ring her partner before she does anything and does not have any money of her own to spend. Recently, her balehaviour is worrying us because she is telling us stupid little white lies that she always gets caught out on, we are getting rather worried about her as she is pushing us away and not wanting to join in with kids events also. Last week one of her friends went to her house to pick her up to go to a kid disco that has been planned for a while, she has continously stated she would be coming on the Wednesday, the friend turned up at her house and no answer the curtains were drawn and also the back gate, back door and back windows curtains were all closed. The friend walked slightly to the end of the street to walk home when she went back to check and the previous items I listed were wide open;back door, back window and curtains. I just want some advice on what to do next to help my friend, everyone has seen the change in her and we are worried.

May, 19 2017 at 7:34 am

I am not sure if my friend is abused, she says that her parents yell at her and insults her and insults her family and makes her feel unwanted and uncomfortable. I am scared she is being mentally abused and she hasn't told me but physicall abuse too.

September, 9 2016 at 11:12 pm

Not sure if she's telling me the truth or not. I was physically and mentally abused and something just seems off.

December, 30 2015 at 1:51 pm

I don't know if I have been abused or not but I don't feel like I'm safe when I'm with my parents! My mom likes to call me names like I'm a witch or I'm useless, she even once said that I wish that when you were in my stomach you died before even you were born, she hit me because I lost my bike and I had to hide my scars when I went to school, I put on a fake smile on my face everyday! My dad doesn't even care about me all he wants is for me to come back home with straight A's and if I even get a B he gets angry, he make me clean up his mess and if I talk back he yells at me! I have a young sister and she gets anything she wants, she gets toys, clothes, money and I I ask for something I have to do something to get it! I'm not aloud to go to any parties, I can't meet my friends after school and when we have school projects i can't go to my friends house to work on it.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Jo Holly
December, 31 2015 at 7:06 am

Anonymous, I suggest you go talk with your school counselor. If you don't like the one assigned to you, ask to speak with one you do.
Home should be a safe-feeling place. I'm sorry yours isn't.

December, 29 2012 at 9:26 pm

It makes me sad to read this list, there are so many things that I can say describe my life and the way I got through on a daily basis. It is 18months since I left with my two boys from 14years of living with someone who constantly told me I was not social enough, had a fat butt, and was crazy in the head. Still he mucks his boys around when they are ment to be going to spend the weekend with him, and if I step in and say no they are not going then i receive more abuse. I sometimes think I am still walking the victim shoes so that others do not notice I am still suffering.

December, 8 2012 at 1:57 am

mine is a street angel (everybody loves him) and a house devil (not sure i do anymore). manipulative liar around "his" family. my family live far away.
he would deny he has a problem while trying to make my mistakes seem like deadly sins. the children's problems are all my fault. really? where was he? oh, that's right, NOT HERE! starting to see this is not ALL MY FAULT. BULLSHIT! wish me luck for the holidays. they make it all worse.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
December, 8 2012 at 2:06 pm

Judith, be very careful over the holidays. This time of year with all the presents, visits, and upcoming tax returns can spawn violence even if its not occurred before. Keep control of yourself and leave his presence if you must. I wish you luck and peace.

Leave a reply