If you have concerns that your daughter has already been hurt by an abusive boyfriend or has become enmeshed by a professor/coach/pastor, I have listed red flag indicators so you are able to move forward with some of the advice noted in the blog, Protecting our Daughters (2). At the end of this blog, I have also noted the importance of therapy and ways to discuss this with her.
The following symptoms and signs may indicate your daughter is in an abusive relationship: In short, she will appear depressed and this can be indicated by the following observable changes:
- A sudden loss in her passions and interests.
- Grades might be much lower or drop suddenly.
- Disordered eating—compulsive overeating, anorexic (under eating) or obsessive calorie counting, vomiting or over-exercising after eating.
- Sudden drop or gain in weight.
- Sudden changes in her sleep pattern—she is unable to sleep (insomnia) or she is unable to get out of bed (hyposomnia).
- Peer relationships suffer due to the time spent with her boyfriend, who may also be disparaging of her friends.
- Unkempt appearance: perhaps dresses with less feminine flair or stops wearing makeup.
- Obsessive about appearance to the point of changing fashion styles, hair and makeup.
- Lowered immune system making her sick more often with viruses, infections, headaches and stomach problems.
- Hopeless about future or stops planning her future and may want to withdraw from classes or may stop attending class in the middle of the semester.
- Drugs and alcohol are suddenly used and/or they are being used in a more prevalent way.
- Blames and shames others for not understanding her or meeting her demands.
- Self-injury such as cutting or burning her arms, legs, and stomach area.
- Addicted to the relationship and avoids other responsibilities or relationships.
- More secretive/deceptive about her time and where she is going.
- Suicidal due to a sense of responsibility for abuse experienced in the relationship.
As parents, you always have the right to ask your daughter whether she is in an abusive or controlling relationship. If she’s unwilling to talk with you, use your leveraging power to have her discuss these observable concerns with a therapist. In other words, you may need to say something like this:
“You are not achieving and living life the way I know you can. You have the right to be loved and supported. I want you to visit with a therapist. I want to share with the therapist the things that I am concerned about—either with you present or before you speak with him/her. Your ongoing communication with a therapist is up to you. However, I will not continue to pay for your phone, your courses at school, fund your hobbies or sports until there is an agreement that you will be in therapy until this is resolved.”
If you introduce the need for therapy and your child shows no resistance, I still urge you to see if there is a way you can speak with the therapist about your concerns prior to your daughter’s session.
As a former abuse victim, my decline was subtle so I wasn’t able to grasp the ways I had been malfunctioning. I was knee deep in shame, confusion and fatigue. Providing a therapist a comparison of your daughter’s former functioning to what you are seeing in her now would give that therapist an optimal understanding of what might be happening in this abusive dynamic.
Former Shelterwood Academy Therapist: