(Note: For the purpose of this article, I am going to use female pronouns for the victims of abuse. This is done for simplicity sake. Please do not take this to mean that victims of abuse are not or cannot be male.)
How do you help a friend who is in an abusive relationship? Should you bring up the fact that you believe she’s being abused, or should you let her tell you on her own? Whatever you do, refrain from the following:
People in abusive relationships have had enough control in their lives, and what they need to get out of their abusive situation and heal is the following:
In order to be a supportive friend it is important for you to realize a few things about victims of abuse. While you may not understand why they stay with someone who treats them terribly, they have reasons that need to be validated and respected. This is not to say that you should ever co-sign to abuse. It is to say, that victims of abuse need to be treated as adults who are capable of thinking and making healthy decisions.
If you suspect that your friend is in an abusive relationship, make all efforts to just be a safe person for her to talk to. No one can escape from an unhealthy relationship without healthy ones to take its place.
How to do this:
- Be open and honest.
- Be real.
- Offer yourself as a non-judgmental presence.
- Listen well and validate your friend’s feelings without criticism.
Do not fall in to the assumption that victims of abuse are weak, pathetic, masochistic codependents. Victims of abuse are often strong people, capable of making healthy choices and wise decisions. The best thing you can do as a supportive and healing friend is to remind your friend of her value and capabilities. In other words, believe in your friend. Tell her that you trust in her ability to make good choices.
Understand that people in abusive relationships are often told that they are incapable of thinking right, that they are crazy, incompetent, weak and pathetic. Do not fall in to the trap of believing those lies along with your friend. Remind her of her worth and her value; her ability to make good decisions; her intelligence and her strength.
Remember, she suffers from an emotional injury – one that has affected her self-worth. Her abuser has been brain-washing her into not believing in herself. She may be damaged, but she is not broken beyond repair. Point this out to yourself and to her. Let her know that she needs to heal from emotional wounds and that this will take time, patience, and effort.
Remind her of her rights:
- To be herself
- To be loved
- To live free from abuse
- To set personal boundaries
- To have personal agency
Another way to help a victim of abuse is to offer her practical help. Be willing to step in to her world and get your hands dirty. She may need a place to go, help with her children, a temporary living arrangement, transportation, groceries, or clothes. She may need someone to go to her house and step in when the going gets rough. She may need help with an exit strategy. Or she may need someone to call in the middle of the night. Whatever it is that she is lacking may be an area of support that you can supply.