Recognizing and Responding to Teen Dating Violence Toolkit

4.2 Could You Be a Victim?

student flinching from shadow pointing

We may not even realize that what we are experiencing is dating violence. Many relationships don’t have labels like “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”. It can be friends who are physically intimate with each other but do not consider themselves to be in a relationship, also known as “friends with benefits.” Or it could be an open relationship, where those in the relationship also date and are physically intimate with other people. Dating violence occurs even if there aren’t labels like boyfriend or girlfriend to describe the relationship.

Dating violence is the physical, sexual, verbal, or emotional abuse by a person to harm, threaten, intimidate, or control another person in a current or former dating relationship. Abuse can occur in all relationships, including those that are heterosexual, same-sex, or gender nonbinary, and the relationship does not have to be a sexual relationship. The relationship may be casual, serious, short-term, or long-term.

Each of us is at risk. According to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, nearly 1.5 million high school students are victims of dating violence each year, and nearly 1 in 3 females in the U.S. is a victim. Experiencing dating violence in adolescence increases our risk of using substances, developing eating disorders, and becoming a victim of dating violence in college and adulthood. This means that getting out of an abusive relationship as soon and safely as possible is critical to our health and safety.

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Am I abusive?

It is difficult to recognize when we may be the one who is the problem. We see the motives behind our actions, and it can be easy to view ourselves as the victim. We feel misunderstood and can justify why we said what we said or did what we did. As a reminder, the ONLY person who is responsible for abusive behavior is the person exhibiting abusive behavior. There is nothing that a person did, or did not do, to cause their own victimization.

More examples can be found in Section 1.2

If you think you may be abusive, get help. A licensed mental health provider can help you with tools to manage your anger so that you aren’t taking it out on your loved ones. Lashing out and blaming others for how you feel and behave is wrong, you will lose friendships and partners, and it feels awful to often feel angry and irritable.

We all feel angry, jealous, and insecure at times. It is what we do with those feelings that matters. We are responsible for our own feelings and actions. No one can “make” us angry, jealous, or hit someone. It is how we think about something that determines how we feel about it. For example, a person swerves in front of our car, almost sideswiping us. It feels as if we are immediately angry when this happens. If we slow down our thoughts, however, our feelings don’t automatically happen. It is what we think about that driver that causes us to feel angry. We tell ourselves “Who do they think they are?,” “They think the world revolves around them!,” or “You jerk!” If we change what we tell ourselves, then our feelings about the situation change. For example, “She is rushing because her mom is dying in the hospital and she wants to say goodbye before she passes,” or “His wife is about to give birth and he wants to be there in time,” or “She is late for work and doesn’t want to lose her job.” We can calm ourselves down rather than feeling anger or a sense of injustice just by changing what we tell ourselves. While this tool is useful in recognizing when our anger is rising and to prevent it from escalating further, it is never okay to be abusive towards ourselves or others.