What is intimate partner abuse and why are teens so vulnerable

You may not be aware that intimate partner abuse, or intimate partner violence, has been rising among all ages during the Pandemic. Do you know someone at risk right now? if you have been abused yourself, you are not alone. CDC statistics reveal that 20 people are abused every minute. That’s 10 million people. When there are guns in the home the risk for death is much higher. Do you take this issue seriously. You should be aware of it if you have children in high school or college.

What does that intimate partner abuse look like? It occurs in a close relation and can happen in marriage, dating ,and with former dating partner or spouses. It can range from one episode of violence with lasting impact to chronic abuse over many years.

Abusive relationships are difficult for college students to understand and see

College students are particularly vulnerable to intimate partner abuse especially now during the pandemic. They are in transition, learning about themselves while at the same time choosing classes and meeting new people. One in four women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence. Avoiding intimate partner abuse means knowing what’s really happening in the relationship. In dysfunctional families, teens don’t have the roles models to know what a healthy relationship is like.

If you are adult children of alcoholics, victims of domestic violence, or have survived dysfunctional parents, you are more likely not to have the skills to identify emotionally abusive boyfriends or girlfriends. 

3 reasons people put up with partner violence

  1. Neural pathways If something feels familiar, we will repeat it without questioning why it feels right. Our years of neglect and abuse whether physical, emotional or verbal have solidified our neural pathways; thus the “brain’s default response would be to find relationships that fit this similar pattern.” – Zoe Reyes, LMFT 
  2. To gain mastery Many times we choose partners or friends that are similar to abusive parents in an unconscious effort to change the outcome. But without the skills to recognize our actions, we only repeat the same patterns.
  3. Blaming oneself Many children have been conditioned to blame themselves for suffering caused by the adults in their lives. Later, they repeat these patterns in abusive relationships, believing they can help their partner and make the pain stop. 

Abusive relationships are widespread on college campuses

43% of female college students experience violent or abusive dating behavior and 57% of college students don’t believe they could identify it or help someone going through it. Also 81% of parents don’t believe teen dating violence is an issue. Without the necessary training, the majority of college students, both men and women, will miss the early warning signs of abusive personalities in relationships. 

The 10 most common red flags for Intimate partner abuse

  1. The Perfect Soulmate. These charming, effusive people will proclaim their undying love on social media, be attentive to your every need, and mold themselves to fit your view of what the perfect partner should be. They will engage in “love bombing.“ They’ll declare that you understand them like no one else. And shower you with tons of gifts to prove their intentions. They will move so fast to snag you that you won’t have time to think or actually get to know them.
  2. The Use of Sex. Many character disordered people (narcissists, sociopaths or psychopaths) will engage in sex immediately to cause their target to fall in love with them. Young men will be excited to find a partner who will sext and engage in deviant situations . But what they don’t know is that sociopaths and psychopaths are highly sexed and seek out thrills with multiple partners of all genders. They hate boredom. Because sociopaths’ and psychopaths’ brains do not register danger as neurotypical brains do, they do not think of consequences. They thrive on controlling and duping others to prove their superiority. So if any potential partner brags about the number of partners or risky situations, or pushes you to have sex, don’t. No matter how attractive they are. 
  3. Fairy dust. For many young women weaned on fairytales – Cinderella, Gone with the Wind, Twilight, or even 50 Shades of Grey, they believe that they can “reform” their “bad boy.” You can’t. And dishonest people use this fantasy to their advantage to date you. Don’t be blinded by the fairy dust. The romance book industry makes more than $1 billion a year and you could easily buy into the fantasy that a wonderful man will sweep you off your feet and make all your problems disappear. Life doesn’t work that way. It takes time and effort to get to know someone and to work through problems.
  4. Pathological Lying.  People with character disorders, addicts and abusers lie to cover their tracks and control their victims. They employ gaslighting, where you will doubt your own perceptions and wonder if you are going crazy. If you catch anyone lying to someone else in front of you or tells you more than two lies (and I don’t mean the little white lies to make someone feel better), cross them off your list.  Deception is incompatible with intimacy.
  5. The Use of Pity. If anyone uses pity to gain your sympathy, RUN. According to Martha Stout, Ph.D., you are probably dealing with a sociopath. They will tell their sob story, blaming every single person in their life for their problems. They will shift blame to their parents, their siblings, their school, their ex-boyfriend, their ex-girlfriend, anyone except themselves. They never accept responsibility for their actions. By using pity, they engage our sympathy and slip by our defenses easily. Beware. You are not responsible for helping or fixing them.
  6. Reckless behavior that is potentially self-destructive — substance abuse, gambling, shoplifting, risky sex, reckless driving, binge eating, overspending. Impulsivity exposes their lack of self control. Something you definitely don’t want in an intimate partner. 
  7. Jekyll and Hyde behavior. Notice how a potential partner treats you in public and in private. If they are sweet and attentive in public but ripping you to shreds in private, get out. Verbal abuse behind closed doors is still abuse.
  8. No empathy. Abusive people just don’t care about anyone else. They will not understand your pain or share your feelings. They will claim that what “you’re feeling is nothing compared to what happened to them.” They will not only disregard you, ignoring your point of view but also anyone else who doesn’t agree with their reality.
  9. Innocent Insults. I find verbal abuse  very common on college campuses. Potential partners may belittle you and then say, “I was just kidding.” They are not. This is the first step in testing your boundaries to see what they can get away with and how strong or not your self esteem is.
  10. Controlling behavior. Does a potential partner tell you what to wear? That a dress or jacket makes you ugly or fat? Do they tell you what to eat or how much to eat or where to eat? Do they try to separate you from your support system? Do they tell you that your friends are stupid and could never know the real you like they do? If so, get out.

Hopefully these tips help you avoid potentially abusive partners. But if you do find yourself in an abusive relationship and are having trouble leaving it, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1−800−799−7233. Ask for help through Student Counseling Services, Campus Police, and your advisor. Know that intimate partner abuse can happen to both young men and women. 

What to do about partner abuse

If your partner threatens your life or threatens to lie about you, take this seriously. For example, they may say you raped them or hit them when they are the actual perpetrators. Document any abusive correspondence – text, email, voice messages, social media.

  1. Document any physical abuse through photos.
  2. Document hacked accounts.
  3. Take detailed notes.
  4. Document if they appear at your residence without being invited.
  5. Be prepared to change telephone numbers, email addresses and even your residence.
  6. Let as many people know what is happening as possible.
  7. Do not be ashamed.
  8. Do not worry about the abuser’s feelings. They count on that to control you. 

Remember, it’s your life. And no one absolutely no one should ever hurt you. National Domestic Violence Hotline  1−800−799−7233 Loveisrespect.org


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Alexis Azria

Alexis Azria, a dedicated mom and passionate humanitarian, writing about the parenting issues and ethical dilemmas we face daily.

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