Episode 50: Helping a Friend Series - "Should I Get Involved with My Friend's Toxic Relationship?"Support the show
Today, we’re answering questions from teens about whether or not to get involved when a friend is in a toxic relationship. Plus, we’ll look at exactly what the bystander effect is and how it affects all of us.
This is Jessica Skultety, Community Outreach Associate at Safe+Sound Somerset. We are Somerset County, New Jersey's lead domestic violence response organization, providing services at no charge for survivors of dating and domestic abuse for over 40 years.
Today's question from local teens is: Should I get involved with my friend’s toxic relationship?
Should you? YES! Whether you feel safe or unsafe to do so, there are options, which we’ll be talking about on both today’s and next week’s episodes. The power to act rests on you.
The bystander effect is a real thing, so let’s take a look at what that means. This is when something that is clearly wrong is happening and, since other people are around, we don’t intervene or help in some way.
For example, let’s say you pass your friend and their dating partner at their lockers at school. They’re clearly in an argument, and your friend’s partner slams the locker hard in your friend’s face when they’re upset. This can feel scary or intimidating. Do you get involved? Should you? At what point? And HOW?
First, let’s talk about the reasons people hesitate.
Maybe there’s a lot of people in the hallway, and everyone else is walking by, so we follow the crowd. In fact, someone is more likely to get help if there are fewer people around, because there’s more responsibility on those people to do something. As another example, let’s say someone falls their bike and looks pretty hurt. If you’re getting the mail and you’re the only one on the street, you’re likely to run over and ask if they are okay. You might help them get back to their house, call an ambulance, etc.
If you’re on a busy street in a bustling city and the same thing happens. You see it and lots of other people see it too. You’re actually less likely to help the person because there are so many other people around. Someone else will definitely help that person, right? Maybe you feel that you won’t be good enough to help them, or that somehow you’ll make it worse, so you let others deal with it. This is the bystander effect.
Here are some other reasons we don’t get involved in situations.
Let’s go back to the locker example with your friend and their dating partner. You might “freeze” because the situation scares you, or that you don’t know what to do, because you might do more harm than good.
Sometimes we think it’s not our responsibility to get involved. You may believe that what happens in your friend’s relationship is your business, but your friend may NOT want you to get involved. Maybe they’ve been threatened, or they believe that they’re partner is acting out of love. Maybe you’ve already spoken up to your friend about their partner’s behavior, and your friend is now mad at you.
Maybe you have class in a few minutes, and you’re worried about being late. Even though it’s your friend, you think, “I’ll talk to them about it later.” Sometimes we don’t get involved at the moment because something else is pressing.
It could be that a situation makes you feel unsafe. This is a good reason not to DIRECTLY intervene – physically or verbally. If you feel unsafe, you can get someone else involved, like an authority figure nearby. If it’s an emergency, you can call 911 or ask someone nearby to call 911 if you do not feel safe doing so yourself.
To sum up this whole episode - situations that we witness might make us feel guilty or bad. And guess what? There ARE ways we can intervene in every situation. Should we intervene? Yes! If you ignore the behavior, like in the locker example, you’re sending the signal that you think it’s okay for the partner to act this way. Plus, if your friend is in an abusive relationship, they may be isolated from other people, meaning you might be the only one to speak up.
Toxic relationships often get worse, and if you intervene in some way, you can help keep your friend safe. Tune in to Ask Ava next week when we look at the many different options for intervening. Hint: you don’t have to directly get involved physically or verbally to help your friend, as we gave a couple examples of above. We’ll talk about it more next week, too.
Call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset 24/7 confidential hotline at 866-685-1122 for supportive listening and information.
Want to “Ask Ava” a question? Visit our website at www.safe-sound.org/ask-ava. Thank you for listening today. Join us next time here on Ask Ava.