This is by no means an exhaustive list of what you might see or experience, but the following may help you see past what they may be trying to hide. In doing so, you can change your approach in supporting them.
1 – Lying. One of the first things I remember is when I started to lie. In the earliest days, when it’s all new, victims aren’t very good at it (unless they have a history of lying due to previous abuses or experiences). Their stories change and they scramble to fix their errors.
2 – Isolation. Remember how your loved one always wanted to go hang out? And now she never wants to? In fact, you haven’t seen her in weeks, maybe months. Abusers like to isolate their victims. Sometimes they do this by threats, and sometimes they do so by convincing the victim that others don’t really care about them. It’s all about control.
3 – No longer talks about the relationship. Maybe your loved one isn’t being isolated but now they never talk about the relationship they are in. Once they went on and on, maybe about the good, maybe about the bad, but now? Nothing. If you ask, they avoid answering. This is often because they have been forbidden from talking about it, or they have gotten in trouble for sharing even the smallest detail that might have made the abuser look bad, or even they just can’t find it in themselves to lie to you. So they just don’t talk about it at all.
4 – Change in personality or behavior. Your loved one used to laugh all the time. Now she doesn’t. She used to have goals. Now she doesn’t. Once upon a time, she was the happiest person you knew, so brave and full of life. Now? Not anymore. She’s sad, or depressed, or angry all the time. She just isn’t who she once was.
5 – Physical wounds. Bruises, cuts, scars — all unexplained. She has excuses, of course, sometimes really great stories (see #1), but she can’t look you in the eye as she tells you she ran into the wall and that’s how she broke her nose. Or maybe she has several small bruises on her arms, likely from being grabbed or held against her will, and she can’t explain them.
Next time, we’ll talk about ways to approach each of these situations.