Teen dating violence awareness is vital. It’s fitting that Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month is February, a month earmarked to celebrate love. Love is an experience that, because it’s such a basic part of being human, isn’t always discussed. It’s just there. It is what it is. It’s an instinct. Unfortunately, while love is an integral part of humanity, it not always easy to know what healthy versus unhealthy love is. This is especially true during adolescence, when teens are pulling away from parents, and friends and dating relationships become important but are new territory. As a high school teacher and counselor, I saw too many teens, boys and girls alike, become stuck in toxic relationships before they recognized what was happening. Here’s a look at some toxic behaviors in relationships.
Teen Dating Violence Awareness: Be Aware of the Nature of Love
Ironically, abusive relationships have love. After all, it’s highly unlikely that someone would become involved–and stay involved–with someone who was blatantly cruel from the very beginning. The love that a toxic, abusive person (male or female) displays, however, isn’t a healthy love.
Abusive love is love that becomes increasingly hollow, twisted and thorny as the relationship progresses. Here are some things to watch for, red flags that the “love” in your relationship could be emotionally abusive and thus not love at all. The examples following each come from the novel Losing Elizabeth.
The abuser says he/she is really glad to be with you.
“I think you’re great, too. I’m glad we’re together.”
The abuser says he/she loves you so much that she doesn’t anything to get in the way.
“I’m really crazy about you, and I don’t want anything to come between us.”
The abuser loves you so much that he/she wants to spend a lot of time together, so much time that you are supposed to give up doing other things you enjoy.
“I don’t want you to be in a play, Elizabeth. We already don’t have enough time together. Now you want to do something else that will take away from us?”
The abuser’s love is full of hyperbole — big exaggerations that indicate feelings that are too strong and unrealistic.
“I’d die if your parents decided that you couldn’t see me anymore.”
The abuser’s love is demanding because he/she needs to see you whenever he/she wants to.
“You know I don’t want you to do this. It’ll just take time away from us.”
The abuser gives gifts, begs for forgiveness, and pleads to stay together after a particularly nasty argument and incidents involving physical violence. The gifts become bigger or more extravagant over time.
“You are worth more to me than I can buy with my dad’s allowance. Please forgive me. I love you so much.” or “‘No! Elizabeth! Please don’t break up with me. I don’t want to lose you! I love you. I need you.’ He tried to shove the ring into her hands.”
The abuser’s love is desperate, sometimes panicked.
“I’m afraid that once you start the play you won’t have time for me or just won’t want to be with me anymore. Marquette Golden Eagles I can’t stand the thought of losing you.”
The abuser’s proclamations of love are often followed by confusing, contradictory statements.
“Liz, I love you, but I don’t think you’re smart enough for these tough classes.”
The abuser makes you feel that you are responsible for his/her own sense of security and happiness.
“You’re the only person I have who is close to me, so I want to be around you as much as I can.”
Toxic Love is Sneaky
Teen dating violence happens sneakily. When someone shows love, caring, and affection, it’s confusing and hurtful when he/she acts in emotionally or physically violent ways. Then, when the apologies, gifts, and professions of remorse and love come, it’s tempting to think of the loving behavior he/she is capable of and give the person another chance.
On the surface, sometimes the abuser might seem loving. However, when “love” is controlling, demanding. changing, contingent upon something else, stifling, or punishing, it isn’t love at all. It’s abuse. One way to stop teen dating violence is to watch for the type of “love” in a relationship.
Discover more about Losing Elizabeth.