Tips to recognize it and Help a Co-Worker – or to Prevent It from Ever Starting
As professional women, we are focused, driven, and ready to take on the challenge of being at the top of our game. When it comes to the next “big” thing we can accomplish, we often project having the “eye of the tiger.” We are strong, we work out, and we smile at each other as we pass one another in the hallways of our office buildings, in our staff meetings, and at our lunches – relaying that our life is smooth sailing! But for some of our work colleagues, that is not the case. For some, life is anything but smooth, and their office persona merely covers up their pain as a subject of domestic violence in their personal life.
How do I know this? At the very height of my profession as a highly sought-after Celebrity Nutritionist and Lifestyle Coach, I was living as a punching bag for my spouse. But as much I was hurting both physically and emotionally, my professional smile was permanently glued-on. I didn’t want anyone to ask me if I “was okay,” and although my ex-husband didn’t touch my face or other areas of my body where people would see evidence of his abuse, I was emotionally scarred and terrified.
Spotting the signs that someone is in domestic trauma — which impacts roughly twelve million women and men across our country alone — isn’t always apparent, and even if you suspect that a friend, family member or co-worker is being traumatized personally, it can be difficult to know how to help. But you can help, if that individual wants to be helped.
As we focus on Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, I am sharing my top tips for recognizing signs of abuse; how to help yourself, a family member, friend or a co-worker stop the abuse; and how to prevent you and/or another person from being in a relationship with a potentially abusive partner.
Why This Makes Good Business Sense: As executives, it is in the best interest of your company to ensure that you, your employees and co-workers are healthy, both physically and mentally. Victims of domestic violence lose up to eight million days of paid work each year, and the estimated cost of healthcare is $8.3 billion a year. Below are some signs of abuse that employees can look for in a co-worker they believe is being abused:
What to Look For?
- Indifferent to conversation and interaction
- Repeated withdrawal from social situations and events
- Receiving constant texts and calls from spouse/partner throughout the day
- Easily startled by office noises or people talking to them
- Bruises, cuts and scrapes that can’t be explained for their location on the body
- Changes in clothing styles (either to cover abuse evidence, or as a result of the abuser’s direction to look a certain way)
- Consistent sick days (with lack of catch-up performance)
- Inability to focus attention on work projects (worsening with time)
- Slow increased lack of appetite or severe increase in appetite
- Hair loss and brittle/broken or bruising of nails and nail beds (classic sign of nutrient deficiency and stress)
- Dark circles under sullen eyes (due to the lack of sleep, nutrition and healing)
- Periodic and sudden crying (in part due to hormone imbalance as a side effect of trauma to the endocrine system)
- Slowly deteriorating cognitive ability and reaction time (due to lack of sleep/healing)
When approaching a co-worker or another that you suspect is being abused, it’s important to remember that people will usually admit to being abused only when they have made the choice to leave. Even then, they might take their time in making a move, out of fear and shame. So approach with caution and concern, but be prepared for denial, and a possible rejection of your offer to help. When they are ready, they will take the risk of reaching out.
How You Can Help Encourage an End to the Abuse:
- Don’t wait to ask your co-worker about the abuse simply because you don’t want to be rude or offend them – instead, ask the question in a private setting where they will feel safe should they decide to tell you (take them to lunch, go on break with them, and create an opportunity to build a relationship of trust with them)
- Casually mention stories of people who overcame abusive situations in your conversation — it can be subconsciously motivating and reassuring to the abused individual.
- Compliment the individual on the things they are doing well at the office
- Reassure them that they are worthy of being loved by going out of your way to do something nice for them (writing a positive note card, sharing uplifting image quotes/videos/podcasts with them, or going out of your way to ask how they are doing every day). This small act can once again build that relationship of trust for the future.
- Call the Domestic Violence hotlines to ask for their expert advice in other methods to approach an abused co-worker. They can offer a lot of support for co-workers, family and friends trying to manage the stress of outreach and help.
- Encourage the individual to reach out to a local shelter that can offer physical protection during recovery.
How You, Your Family, Friends, and Co-Workers Can Help One Another Avoid Being in an Abusive Relationship
Remind yourself or your family member, friend and/or co-worker to really listen to the partner in the early stages. Use the following questions, and if you or someone you know is uncomfortable with any answers — in even the smallest capacity — then it’s time to end the potentially abusive relationship.
- Do they respond with anger or jealousy when you/co-worker/friend/family member casually talk to others of the opposite sex?
- Does the individual monitor the daily who, what, when, where and why of you, your family member, friend or co-worker?
- Does the partner publicly or privately humiliate you or another individual, only to apologize with the promise they’ll never do it again?
- Does the partner want to have sole control the finances?
- Does the partner demand that you, your friend, family member or co-worker dress a certain way?
- Does the partner dictate the personal schedule in the relationship?
- Do you, your family and friends have good feelings when they’re around the partner or potential partner? (This matters so much)
- Does their family have a history of domestic or even verbal abuse?
Combining the tips above with what your instincts tell you about a person is always the right thing to do. As professional sisters, we spend the bulk of our day together in a career environment, and we can help each other. The key to helping one another is willingness to seek help if we are being abused, willing to offer help to an abused person, and willing to do the hard work to fight the situation as individuals. Remember that you are not alone — you are much stronger than you think you are, both as a supporter and a survivor. If we educate one another both personally and professionally, we can win the fight before it even begins!19