There’s nothing more thrilling than your first relationship. But how much do you really know about spotting signs of abuse?
You’ll never forget your first love: butterflies, the constant texting and new experiences. Relationships aren’t always smooth sailing, but that’s normal. What’s not normal is feeling isolated, scared, and pressured – abuse in young relationships is a hidden problem.
as your crush ever forced you to send pictures you didn’t feel comfortable taking? Do you have to ask your new squeeze if you can meet your mates? Is your new relationship making you doubt your self-worth? Are you worried about your safety?
Domestic abuse, unfortunately, isn’t something that is isolated to an episode of Hollyoaks or grown-up relationships – young people are affected, too. Abuse comes in many shapes and forms and it doesn’t always involve physical violence. Emotional abuse is a growing concern and it can take time to realise it’s even happening – especially if this is your first adult relationship.
Knowing the signs and understanding that support is available is important.
In 2017, one young woman’s experience hit the headlines and paved the way for increased education on abuse. After leaving school to study law at Aberdeen University, Emily Drouet committed suicide aged 18. Emily’s death was a result of being in an abusive relationship and her boyfriend blaming her for his violent and emotionally abusive behaviour.
Since Emily’s death, her mother Fiona is encouraging young people to understand the signs of emotional abuse. She has made texts between Emily and her boyfriend public to highlight the nature of domestic violence.
Anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse – women, men, and members of the LGBTQI community – and knowing you’re not alone or to blame is essential. Getting into your first intimate relationship is sure to get sparks flying and can make spotting abuse harder. As they say, love is blind.
Spotting abusive tendencies, or trusting your gut that something is not right, is important for your safety. “Dramatic or extreme changes in behaviour from a partner can often be a sign – for example, receiving presents and compliments to then being verbally put-down and blamed for things. Name-calling, aggression, suggestions or directions about not seeing friends and family, emotional threats and being made fun of can all be signs of an abusive relationship,” explains Andy Doherty, senior supervisor at Childline Glasgow.
Abuse has no guidebook; each experience is different. Physical violence including punching or hitting is what most people understand as domestic abuse, but emotional abuse can be just as damaging. Andy says: “Emotional abuse can have lasting effects on the self-confidence and self-esteem of young people – doubting themselves and their ability to make rational decisions. It can have a damaging impact on current and future relationships.”
Feeling a loss of control, being told what to wear or how to look to suit your partner, or the idea that your partner is the only one who loves you are some, but not all, of the symptoms of emotional abuse.
The impact of emotional abuse is no longer being left unnoticed. The Scottish Government passed The Domestic Abuse Bill in February of this year to challenge psychological abuse. Scotland is the first nation to have a specific offence for controlling or coercive behaviour, and emotional abuse is being heavily targeted.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in a relationship, abuse can happen, and it’s not just for people in long-term romances. Contrary to common belief, there is a higher chance of being emotionally abused in a young relationship than physically.
Harry* was being emotionally abused by his girlfriend before he reached out to Childline – a free and confidential service for those aged up to 19 – for support. “I’ve had experiences of being in an abusive relationship before so I saw the signs, but I still felt powerless to leave. I was getting called names, wasn’t allowed to see my friends, I was either getting yelled at or ignored, I wasn’t even allowed to sleep when I was tired. It was difficult,” explains Harry.
Worried that his girlfriend would end the relationship left Harry scared and unable to talk about how he was feeling. Not being able to talk to his friends left Harry feeling isolated and he began to accept the abuse as normal. Harry says: “It felt like my girlfriend was the only person I had left, to the point I considered suicide if the relationship finished. Having been in an abusive relationship before I knew I needed to end it – especially when I was being emotionally abused – but I was too worried about how splitting up would affect my relationships with my girlfriend’s friends and family.”
Childline counsellors supported Harry during the relationship, providing a safe place for him to speak about his feelings and the situation. Their guidance allowed Harry to highlight his concerns, discuss how to speak to his girlfriend and remove himself from a damaging relationship.
Relationships are a lot of fun, but not if they leave you feeling isolated, hurt, scared, or unsure if what’s going on is normal. Young people can be victims of domestic violence – physical or emotional – and it is important to know you’re not alone. There are people on hand waiting to support you through the rocky waters.