If you suspect that your friend may be in an abusive relationship, here are some tips to help try to convince them to get out. Don’t be afraid to let him or her know that you are concerned for their safety. Help your friend or family member recognize the abuse. Tell him or her you see what is going on and that you want to help. Help them recognize that what is happening is not “normal” and that they deserve a healthy, non-violent relationship.The number one thing I can say from my own personal experience is DO NOT give up. Under any circumstance, do not give up. This is not a ‘tough love’ type situation where you can just push the person away. Be there for them and do not give up.
- Acknowledge that he or she is in a very difficult and scary situation. Let your friend or family member know that the abuse is not their fault. Reassure him or her that they are not alone and that there is help and support out there.
- Be supportive. Listen to your friend or family member. Remember that it may be difficult for him or her to talk about the abuse. Let him or her know that you are available to help whenever they may need it. What they need most is someone who will believe and listen to them.
- Be non-judgmental. Respect your friend or family member’s decisions. There are many reasons why victims stay in abusive relationships. He or she may leave and return to the relationship many times. Do not criticize his or her decisions or try to guilt them. He or she will need your support even more during those times.
- Encourage him or her to participate in activities outside of the relationship with friends and family.
- If he or she ends the relationship, continue to be supportive of them. Even though the relationship was abusive, your friend or family member may still feel sad and lonely once it is over. He or she will need time to mourn the loss of the relationship and will especially need your support at that time.
- Help him or her to develop a safety plan.
- Encourage him or her to talk to people who can provide help and guidance. Find a local domestic violence agency that provides counseling or support groups. Offer to go with him or her to talk to family and friends. If he or she has to go to the police, court or a lawyer, offer to go along for moral support.
- Remember that you cannot “rescue” him or her. Although it is difficult to see someone you care about get hurt, ultimately the person getting hurt has to be the one to decide that they want to do something about it. It’s important for you to support him or her and help them find a way to safety and peace.
The Many Why’s
As a survivor of domestic violence and someone who has down an incredible amount of studies, the question that never stops is “Why did you stay?” While I would argue that it’s not why the victim stayed that’s really the question at hand but why the person was abusive in the first place, I am going to give a few reasons why someone might stay in such a toxic relationship.
Commitment to the relationship.
- Do NOT overlook this. The abuser is someone a victim/survivor loves. It’s not a stranger, it’s not someone they just met. Leaving the abuser is difficult, especially when you throw in the typical cycle of abuse which adds affection and positive attention on top of the violence. The abuser may be the father/mother of the person’s children. They may also want to end the violence but also preserve the family relationship. Religion may also come into play here.
Lack of self-esteem/confidence.
- An abusive relationship is not always physical. It can be emotional which completely destroys a person’s self confidence and self worth.
Believes it’s their fault.
- A victim/survivor may not only believe the abuse is their fault but that it’s an unavoidable part of their life and that it’s their responsibility to ‘fix’ it.
No place to go.
- There are more animal shelters in the US than shelters for battered women and children. Domestic violence is the cause of half of the homelessness in America’s women and children.
Hope for change.
- Many abusers are remorseful after an abusive incident. This behavior may include promising never to hit again, agreeing to seek counseling if promised not the be left. They may remind the person of how hard they work, pointing out the incredible stresses they’ve been under, acknowledging the wrongfullness of the violence to the children and asking for help to stop it. (This is a facade)
- There may not be a support system for the victim/survivor. The abuser may prohibit the person from using the phone, may humiliate them at family gatherings, may insist on controlling the only vehicle in the household, censor mail/phone calls/texts. Abusers are often highly possessive and excessively jealous. They believe that they own the person and are entitled to every bit of attention. The abuser also knows that if the truth is known about their conduct, friends/family will encourage the person to leave the abuser. Therefore, isolation is their best ammo.
- Sometimes the person doubts that anyone would believe that they are, in fact, being abused. The abuse may be kept within the family behind closed doors. Many people and agencies may also trivialize the impact of domestic violence. Such as, a doctor prescribing valium for coping, ministers may recommend more accommodating behaviors of the victim and therapists may advise for better communication with the abuser to resolve the issues.
- Even when the person decides to leave, the abuser may threaten to seek custody of their children, to withhold financial support, to interfere with the person’s employment or housing, to kill them, their pets, the children and/or other family members or to commit suicide themself.
Danger of leaving.
- Many victims/survivors believe that leaving is not going to make their life or their children’s lives any safer. Many of them are killed by their partners after they have left the abuser. Leaving itself can be a dangerous process. Many abusers escalate their violence in order to to coerce the person into reconciliation or to retaliate for the person’s departure. Leaving requires strategic planning and legal intervention to keep the person and/or children safe.
- The most likely indicator of whether a person will permanently separate from their abuser is whether they have the economic resources to survive without the abuser.There are other economic supports, job training and employment opportunities that exist to help them.
Leaving is a process.
- Most victims/survivors of DV leave and return several times before permanently separating from the abuser. The first time they leave may be a test to see whether the abuser will get help or stop their abuse. The person may leave temporarily in order to gain more information about the resources available to them before leaving. Most leave eventually. When they do stay, friends family and those that surround them need to look to see what they are doing to hinder the process of leaving and make changes to facilitate leaving.