How to Help Someone You Love
One of the questions most frequently asked of Womencare Shelter
advocates is “What can I do for a friend or family member who is being
abused?” At first glance, the answer to that question seems
simple. The best thing you can do for someone who is a victim of
abuse is be supportive. However, being supportive of someone you love,
who is experiencing abuse from a partner or ex-partner is no simple
task. When you come to the realization that someone you care about is
being abused, you are likely to feel a great deal of concern for her.
You may even fear for her safety.
- Offer support:
Find out if the victim wants to talk or share his or her
feelings. Don’t pressure them, but let them know that you are
there if they need you.
Listen and believe: Listen to the
victim’s story without judging their actions. Listen for denial or
minimization of danger. Focus your concerns on specific behaviors that seem abusive, controlling or violent. Name the abusive behaviors without “trashing” the abuser.
Example: “Never being allowed to spend your own money
without your partner’s consent sounds like you are being controlled to
me. What does it seem like to you?” -OR-
“It is emotionally abusive to belittle someone. Being called names
or told that you are stupid is emotional abuse.” -OR-
“Being threatened with weapons is dangerous in any circumstance. I am
really concerned for your safety when you tell me physical abuse like
that is happening. Do you have a safety plan?”
- Understand: Maintain respect for the
fears, pressures and needs that may hold the victim in the
relationship. Recognize and respect that she or he may love or feel
committed to their partner in spite of the abuse. Remember that it isn’t
helpful to judge the victim’s reasons for loving, leaving or staying.
- Provide information: Take some time to learn more
about domestic violence yourself. Then, let her or him know where she or
he can find help. Tell the victim about shelters, domestic violence
help lines and support groups. Suggest reading material like Getting Free by Ginny NiCarthy and offer to let her leave those materials with you if taking them home is not a safe option.
- Focus on safety: Ask if
you can help the victim plan ways to keep her or him self and their
children safe if the abuser does become physically, sexually or
emotionally violent. Remind the victim that domestic violence is a crime
and that the police can be called at any time.
- Be patient: Remember that the
victim’s situation isn’t awful all the time. She or he may leave or
reach out many times before deciding to leave permanently. Ending
any relationship takes time; ending one where controlling behaviors are
present takes even longer.
- Acceptance: Be prepared to respect
where the victim is in the relationship. You don’t have to like
it, but criticizing her choices will only alienate her or him from you
and increase the victim’s sense of isolation. Let the victim identify
her own timeline and focus. Trust that she or he can and should
make her or his own decisions when ready and able to do so.
- Take care of yourself: Understand
that it will be a painful experience for you as you watch her or him go
through their own process of acknowledging and dealing with domestic
violence. Call a domestic violence help-line to receive support for your
experience of the situation. Advocates expect to provide support to
family and friends and are trained to help you work with feelings like
anger, helplessness, and fear. Remember that you don’t have to be the
victim’s only source of support. Encourage the victim to make use
of domestic violence resources and domestic violence program advocates
by calling crisis lines or attending support groups.