When You or Someone You Know “Disappears”

28, April 2011 at 8:55 PM (solution-oriented) (, , , , , )

I write this from the experience of seeing a friend “disappear” and finding out a few years later that she was in an abusive relationship with a controlling partner, and also from friends telling me now that I have gotten out from under an abusive and controlling partner that they did notice I disappeared when I met him, but they– just like I with my friend– didn’t know what it meant:

+ If you have a friend who starts a new relationship and you notice they seem to have “disappeared”, especially for a very long time, please do not assume they are simply caught up in enjoying their new partner; they may be in an abusive situation. It is typical, especially in the beginning of a new relationship, that someone and their new partner would indulge in being alone together; however, in a healthy relationship, couples eventually resume normal social habits and contacts with friends, often integrating their social circles (introducing their partner to friends and family, taking their new partner to their favourite places, etc). This should go both ways, with both people in the relationship inviting each other into their social lives. If you become concerned that someone you know is not maintaining normal social activities, especially after a very long time, beware: it is very likely the case that your disappeared friend is in a relationship with an abusively controlling partner. Reach out to them. If they do not respond, try again, keep trying. Be especially concerned if your friend says they will call you but doesn’t, accepts invitations to meet you but fails to show up, or seems to explain their withdrawal from their normal activities and friendships by blaming themselves (eg, “I guess I’ve just become flakey”, “I wanted to go but at the last minute I wasn’t in the mood”, etc) or making excuses for their partner (eg, “He just doesn’t like to be around people”, “He had a bad day at work, and I didn’t want to just leave him at home by himself” etc. A partner who doesn’t like to be around people or who had a bad day at work should not be preventing someone from going out themselves or otherwise maintaining normal social relationships). Any sudden change of character in a friend is cause for concern; for instance, if your friend has always been reliable but suddenly starts flaking out, there may be something wrong in their life. Call them up, ask them how things are going, ask if everything’s ok. Listen closely to them, as it may not be safe to tell you what is really going on, or they may be worried what you will think of them or their partner if they tell you the (whole) truth. Reassure them that they will not lose your respect if something is wrong. If they are with a person who is especially emotionally abusive, they may be themselves very confused about whether what is going on is “normal” or their own fault. Trust your gut instincts and what you know about your friend. If something seems wrong or out of the ordinary, reach out and help.

+ If you are in a new relationship and your partner never leaves your side, calls constantly to see what you’re up to, abandons all of his own usual social habits and contacts, never asks you meet his friends and family, does not invite you to go out with him or to his favourite places, refuses to meet your friends/family, refuses to go out by himself, or sulks, pouts, complains (before, during, or afterwards) while amongst your friends or if you go out by yourself, or otherwise exhibits anti-social or other behaviours which make it difficult or uncomfortable to maintain your normal social activities and contacts: do not interpret his constant presence and attention as “he just really likes you”– even if he tells you this– you may be with an abusively controlling partner. In a healthy relationship, your new partner would want to become part of your life which includes friends, family, and activities/interests outside the confines of your relationship. A partner who is always in your presence or who “doesn’t want to share you with anyone else” is not loving you more than someone who maintains his normal social habits and activities, he is supervising you. Beware that abusive and controlling partners will always blame-shift and claim to be the victims of their relationships. They say things like, “We abuse each other”, “We just have a bad relationship dynamic”, or “She always makes me feel like ____, so I can never ____.” An abuser’s first agenda item is to do everything possible to isolate their victim, so that they can control your activities, and manipulate others’ impressions of you. They do not invite you to meet their friends or family, so that they can never form their own impression of you. This comes in handy when your partner attempts to discredit or blame you for all or most of the problems in the relationship– his friends and family are entirely dependent on his perspective. He gets rewarded with sympathy and support, and you get punished with isolation and the inability to get support or hold him accountable for his abusiveness. He may also interfere with your own relationships that you had prior to meeting him, such as calling your friends out of “concern” for you or to “get perspective”. Some partners can and do look to your friends and family for perspective and to get to know you better; but you know an abuser because he will speak about you negatively and actively campaign for your friends’ sympathy and support in an attempt to drive a wedge between you and anyone who may be a support to you when needed. I cannot stress this enough, if this is what is happening in your relationship, do not be afraid to reach out to your friends or family. Remember, your friends love you and will help you. Anyone who does not believe you and help you, or who judges you for being in your situation, or who is skeptical of you because of what your partner has told them, these people were not your friends to begin with– do not waste your time feeling bad about it, keep looking and you WILL find support.

+ No matter what your current relationship status, whether you are single, in a new relationship, or even if you have been in a healthy and enjoyable relationship for some time, tell your friends and family now: “If I ever disappear, there is something very wrong. Please make contact with me, don’t give up.” Discuss this in advance with your most trusted friend(s), you can even have a code word that only you and they know, so if you are unsafe or so confused that all you can tell them is this word, they will know you need their help and support.

Trust and take care of your loved ones, trust and take care of yourself, don’t give up.

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