Welcome to DVAM Challenge 9. We’re keeping it short and simple today. Understand your importance as a friend. What you say and do can really make a difference in someone’s story. If a loved one confides in you that they are experiencing abuse, believe them and be there for them. This doesn’t mean you have to “fix” their situation for them. They may just need to feel that they are not alone. You can do so much just by listening and not judging them.
Watching someone you love experience domestic violence can be very disheartening. If the person you care for is not reacting the way that you want them to — for example, leaving the situation – it’s easy to become frustrated.
One of the most common reasons that friends and family members of victims become frustrated is because they witness or hear about abusive behaviors happening repeatedly, but don’t see any action being made by their loved one. Witnessing repeated offenses can make it difficult for you to maintain a positive outlook on your loved one’s situation.
Unfortunately, this can have a very negative effect on the victim. Your disapproval may make them feel as if they are helpless and are doing nothing for themselves. They may feel as if they cannot turn to you in times of crisis because you will judge them — if they feel that you aren’t supportive, they might distance themselves from you.
A lot of people lose relationships because of domestic violence.
Remember that abusive relationships are very complex. Abusers often manipulate their victims into believing that they will never be successful, that they will be unsupported or that they will be harmed if they leave the relationship. That can be very scary. Furthermore, abusers often follow fits of rage with periods of kindness in which they are very sweet, apologize and promise not to commit that violence again. That can be very confusing for the victim. Sometimes victims even blame themselves for the abuse that they suffer, telling themselves that if they hadn’t said or done something, their partner wouldn’t have been set off.
Before you pass judgment, try to understand what’s happening in their relationship.
The most important thing that you can do for your loved one is to be there for them when they are in need. Supporting them through tough times will maintain the relationship, but will also provide the victim with a network of care outside of the relationship.
In the spirit of supporting a loved one even when it’s tough, today’s challenge highlights ongoing friendship. DVAM Challenge #8: please acknowledge someone who has always been there for you and shown you support. Say thank you to them and share with us how they have helped you. This doesn’t even need to be related to abuse. If you are sharing your story about abuse, please make sure you do so safely. If you feel that speaking out jeopardizes your safety, please don’t share publicly but rather thank your friend.
Helping a friend or family member who is in an abusive relationship can be challenging. If you have noticed that your loved one’s relationship is unhealthy, remember that they need your support. Understand that you can’t fix or change their situation. Only they can choose what to do. For example, if they aren’t concerned for their immediate safety, then you have to respect that.
When talking to your loved one about their relationship, be honest about your concerns, but stay focused on their needs and avoid being judgmental. Say things like, “When you said that your partner did this, that scared me,” and “I’m really concerned about your safety.” Avoid statements like, “Your partner is no good,” or “They need to treat you right.” Don’t talk about the partner directly and avoid attacking your loved one’s actions. Doing this will show your loved one that you care for them and will help to prevent them from feeling defensive.
Ultimately you have to let your loved one make their own decisions about their relationship — even if it means that they choose to stay in an unhealthy relationship. Sometimes it’s difficult to do when you feel that they aren’t making the right choice, but you have to respect them. Try to remember that their abuser is probably controlling them at home and the last thing they want is to have their friends and family try to tell them what to do also.
Regardless of their decision, support them. If they choose to stay in the relationship, help them keep documentation of abuse. You can take notes on a calendar, save a file on your computer or take pictures of injuries. Documentation can be used in court if your loved one ever decides to take legal action against their abuser. You can also help them to find resources in their community or to develop a safety plan.
If your loved one decides to leave, know that the road ahead for them will be difficult. They will need your support more than ever. You can even help them to connect with counselors and survivor’s groups to help them as they move forward.
We often refer people to a book called “Helping Her Get Free” by Susan Brewster. It is a guide for family members and friends of people in abusive relationships. This can be an excellent resource for more in-depth information and tips.
If you have any questions please give us a call at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). We can help you to find resources, safety plan and give you more information about what your loved one is experiencing.
For today’s DVAM Challenge, practice active listening. You can do this for any of your friends or family, no matter what their relationship status is. Truly listen to a friend or family member and concentrate on what it is that they’re saying. Rephrase what you hear them say so that you are deeply engaged in what they are sharing with you. For example, you could say, “I’m hearing you say _____, is that right?” By practicing active listening, we can give better support to those we love.