I’m worried about my friend

It’s not easy for someone who’s being treated badly to talk about it. What’s the best way to sus it out and talk to them?

So, you’re pretty sure something’s up with your friend’s relationship and it’s not cool.

You might even be surprised that it’s happening and why your friend is putting up with it.

Illustration by Karen Prig

They might be…

  • embarrassed or scared that they will be judged or blamed for what’s happening
  • confused and unsure if it’s really abuse, or
  • afraid that a parent or adult will intervene and make decisions for them, or will punish them for doing something wrong.

Don’t be surprised if your friend doesn’t really want to talk to you or rejects your offer of help.

The most important thing you can do as a helper is to listen, understand and provide non-judgemental support.

If you have a friend who might be being abused, just to talk to them about it….Step in and say something. They might be too embarrassed to talk or feel guilty or ashamed. So talk to them in a non-judgemental way, or just in a friendly way.

Ask them out for a coffee. They could be worried about what you’re going to say or what you think about them.

If you actually go up to them and ask ‘are you okay?’ it’s probably a relief for them. They may not want to talk about it then, but they will remember that you asked them – and they might go back to you one day and tell you.

You can say it like ‘I notice this is happening – are you okay?’…

Read Poppy’s story

Ask about their relationship

Ask them how their relationship is going, like

How are things going with ___?  Are you getting along ok?

Tell them that you’ve noticed that something isn’t right.

Point out what you’ve noticed and let them know your concerns:

I’ve noticed you don’t look happy lately after you’ve seen ____.
Is everything ok?
I’m worried about the way he gets so angry at you. Is he/she like that often?


Listen to them and ask them about the situation. Don’t leap in with your own views – give them time to talk.

Show them that you know it must be difficult for them, like ‘It must be really hard to know what to do when he acts like that.’

See the questions below for some more ideas on what you could ask them.

The main thing is not to be judgemental. My best friend was great. She just listened, she wasn’t imposing any value judgements, or telling me what to do, she just listened to what I had to say.

When…I’d say, “I’ve left” or “Now I’m going back”, she was still there and was someone to talk to. That was really valuable for me. Since then, she’s told me that it was really hard for her during that time to not say what she was thinking – but I said to her that I’d really valued the fact that she wasn’t judgemental about it at all.

She was there as someone I could rely on as being a cheerful person that I could just talk to, like a beacon of light in the darkness.

Read Alison’s story

Let them know you believe them

Many people who have been abused are scared that their friends or family won’t believe them.

Show them that you believe what they are telling you, like

That must have been horrible.


I’m glad you told me this.

Tell them it’s not ok and it’s not their fault

You could say,

He/she shouldn’t treat you like that.
I’m worried about what he could do to you.
Don’t blame yourself.

Don’t judge them.

Don’t ask questions like: ‘What did you do that made him act like that?’ or ‘How can you still love him after the way he treats you?’ because it makes them feel like the abuse is their fault.

Talk about the abusive behaviour, rather than criticising their BF or GF.

Criticising the person who’s being abusive may only make your friend feel defensive and may stop them from telling you honestly how they feel.

When someone feels like everyone is minimising or ignoring the abuse because they’re uncomfortable about it, it makes the person feel like they can’t talk about it at all. It reinforces what the abuser is doing  – because the abuser will be telling that person “oh, you’re worthless, no-one wants to have anything to do with you, look your family don’t even care what is happening to you”.

Read Alison’s story

Don’t tell them what to do

For example, avoid saying “You should leave him/her”.

If the victim isn’t ready to leave, they might feel embarrassed.

They might stop talking to you, making them feel more alone.

Instead, ask them about their feelings and ideas:

How have you been coping with this?

How has this been affecting you?

What have you thought of doing about it?

What can I do to help?


Is your friend safe?

Explain to them that this kind of nasty behaviour is serious and it often gets worse over time.

A person who is controlling or manipulative can become physically violent and could put your friend in danger.

Help them think of ways to protect themselves from violence.


What can you do to make yourself safer?

What have you tried to do already?

Is there anything I can do to help you?

Can your friend avoid being alone with the abuser? Offer to be around when they see the abuser.

Can they call for help if they need it? Do they have a mobile? You could even suggest using a code word they can use so they can let you know when they need help.

Can they get away from the abuser if they need to? Help by offering to pick them up if they are out with the abuser, or make sure they have money for a bus or taxi.

Are there other people who can help to protect them? Offer to talk on their behalf to other people who can help like teachers, work colleagues, friends, parents, or police.

If the person wants to end the relationship, there may be other ways you could help to protect them, like by changing phone numbers, helping them organise somewhere else to stay, getting someone else to answer the door or telephone.

Find out what legal protection is available.

Help the person get legal advice. Find out about Intervention Orders (in Victoria) or other protection orders. These are orders from a court to say, for example, that the abuser is not to hurt or threaten them again, or that the abuser has to stay away from the victim. You could also report any criminal offences to police, and they may be able to charge the abusive person.

If they’re in danger, do something

If someone is in immediate danger, you may need to take action regardless of their wishes: call the police, or if you are a teacher, contact their parents.

Be careful not to put the person’s safety or your own at risk by intervening.

Help them find expert advice

You could offer to find advice for them, or offer to go with them to a visit a counsellor.

You could contact a counsellor on their behalf to see what the service offers.

Help your friend build their confidence

Being treated badly affects your confidence. Your friend might be feeling ashamed or bad about him/herself.

Help to build their confidence. Encourage them to find other activities and areas of life that they enjoy and are good at. This can help them to feel stronger.

Take care of yourself, too!

Knowing that a family member or a friend is being abused can be stressful, frustrating and worrying. It’s important to get support from friends, family, colleagues or a support service. Contact an expert for support or to find out about legal options.

A friend’s experience: Samantha’s story

My friend had an abusive boyfriend.  She and I had been friends for four years so I could tell when something was bothering her.  One day in particular stands out in my mind – this had happened before, but I just never noticed it.  We were at her house working on a class project. He came over and demanded to know why I was at her house.  I heard him tell her to tell me to leave and to say that she had to go somewhere. When she came back upstairs I turned up the radio so she didn’t know I had heard.  She said that he mother had called and made a dentist appointment and she just remembered about it and she had to leave.

This happened about four more times before I said anything.  But when I did all hell broke loose between her boyfriend and I.  We got into a huge argument and he tried to hit me like he did her.

Afterwards, when she and I spoke about it, at first she told me that it only had happened that once. But that’s when I had to tell her I had overheard him a few times when he yelled at her and hit her about me being at her house. I told her he has no right to hit her – if he really loved her he wouldn’t hit her. I also kept telling her it wasn’t her fault.

Eventually she broke up with him and she has moved on. She had a tough time, but she finally realised that the two of them were not good together and she had to leave him before he killed her.

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