It took a while for Matt to realize what was going on with his daughter, Nancy. By 26 years old, Nancy graduated from college, secured a good job, and purchased her first home. She was intelligent, beautiful, talented, and resourceful. So when she met John, who on the surface seemed to match her characteristics, Matt was thrilled and supportive.
But red flags began to appear a few months later. Nancy would bail out of lunches with her Dad at the last minute. She claimed that her black eye was due to an encounter with her dog. She missed family gatherings. She wasn’t spending time with her friends. Her house was neglected. And she had gotten written up at work. It seemed like the longer she remained in a relationship with John, the worse she got physically and emotionally.
Matt’s attempts to confront her and John only caused even more distance. Confused and frustrated, Matt reached out for help from a counselor. After describing the problem, the counselor explained that Nancy might be in an abusive relationship. Matt’s first instinct was to beat the tar out of John, but after realizing that this would only create more problems and distance, he was open to other suggestions.
- Be available. In the past, Matt didn’t like getting phone calls after 10pm. But given the circumstances, he changed his position and told his daughter that he was available 24/7. She tested this out a couple of times and Matt responded well.
- Don’t judge. Even intelligent, beautiful, talented, and resourceful people can fall into an abusive relationship. This is not a sign of weakness. Many abusive people are clever enough to surround the abuse with praise and support. It can be very confusing for the victim.
- Don’t ask why. While in the middle of an abusive relationship, this is not the time for reflection and understanding as to how a person got here. Rather, all energy needs to be placed on finding a way out of the situation.
- Agree as much as possible. The last thing a victim needs is to be fighting with others outside of the abusive relationship. While it is never appropriate to agree with abusive behavior, finding other things to agree on will help the victim feel stable.
- Provide secret resources. Matt opened a bank account in his name and his daughter’s name so he could put funds in it for her to use as needed. He also introduced her to his counselor and told her that she could set an appointment anytime and he would pay for it.
- Be encouraging. Abusive people tear their victims to shreds, then they talk about how great the victim is, and then treat them badly. This push-pull tactic is very effective in generating confusion in the victim. The best counteract is to be consistently and persistently encouraging.
- Be patient. All to often victims leave their abuser and then return back and leave again. Being patient during this time is very difficult but necessary to show unconditional support and love for the victim. The lack of patience from the abuser will be a stark contrast.
- Formulate secret plans. Part of helping a victim of domestic abuse is to give them a way out. Stash a suitcase of toiletries and some clothing for whenever they decide to leave. Decide on a safe person to help and a safe place to stay in advance of any departure.
- Be willing to listen. Victims often feel very isolated and judged by others. The feel like a bird in a cage where everyone is watching them but they have no privacy or way out of the situation. Listening to them without judgement is difficult but this is what they need the most.
- Know the laws. In every country and state there are laws about domestic violence. Matt did his research and found out the procedure for pressing charges, filing a restraining order, and even the laws surrounding stalking charges. He had all the information available for Nancy when she needed it.
- Provide a safe place. Matt realized that his house was not a safe place for Nancy because John would easily find her there. Instead, he worked out an arrangement for Nancy to stay with a distant aunt when she needed to get away and a shelter just outside of town.
- Support the escape. This is more than financially supporting the victim, it also entails mentally and emotionally supporting the victim. All to often, victims return to their abuser because they feel like no one else will help them.
Sadly, it took a couple of years for Nancy to finally leave John for good but when she did, she knew that her Dad would be 100% on her side. Matt’s determination not to give up on his daughter paid off and she is doing well today as a result.