I get message after message from family members and friends of people who are experiencing abuse, wondering what they can do for their loved one. (I know men and women experience abuse, and I also believe in choosing a different word than victim to label the person who is experiencing abuse, therefore, for this post, I will use ‘she’ to refer to the person experiencing abuse).
Being the concerned friend or family member who sits on the sidelines and watches is a tough place to be. I get it, you want to help, you want to swoop in, you want her pain to end, you want your friend or sister or daughter back.
The crazy thing is, the more you step in and try to help, the worse things actually can become for her.
Here are some things you actually can do to help.
Prepare yourself before you talk to her. Maybe to some reading, I highly suggest Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft. It will help you understand abusers, and those who experience abuse and why the abuse happens.
Pray. Pray for her. Pray for her kids. Pray for her abuser and pray for you. I know there is power in prayers and I have seen miracles happen from bold prayers with trust in God and believing that He wants what is best for each of us.
I also have found a lot of power in letting go of your attachment to the outcome. I know you want the best for her, but coming in with too much passion will often times turn her off before you even begin. A great resource I have found to help in letting go, is EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) surrogate tapping. Seriously it’s like magic.
2. Give Her Information
Often her abuser watches everything she does, checks her phone, texts, Facebook account, email, browser history, or doesn’t even allow her to have any of those things. Find out where her local shelter is, give her their number and address.
Make sure you also reassure her that shelters and police officers are her friends. She can stay in a shelter or safe house and truly be safe from him. He’s not allowed in. There are other people there including legal advocates who will help her file custody papers, divorce papers or restraining orders. She can kick him out of the family home and she can have police officers be present in the home while he moves his things out.
Here is the number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) They are trained well and perfect for her to talk to. I know I called them before I left.
3. Talk to Her
Take her out to lunch. Be there for her. Start with small talk, ask about her kids, her life, just don’t push or pry. Trust that as you give her support and show her trust, she will open up to you when she is ready. Here’s a great tip, if the conversation starts to go deep, and she begins avoiding eye contact and looking down, be patient with her, be there for her, eyes looking down is a body language tip that she is searching down deep for answers and deciding whether or not she can trust you with what to her is her deepest darkest secret. Allow her this time. Let her look down. And most importantly, give her all your attention, don’t look away from her, don’t check a text, don’t sigh or move. Wait. Be still. And when she looks at you again, she will be more likely to trust you and open up.
When she does open up, just listen. Just hear what she’s telling you. It’s not your job to fix things or tell her what to do. She needs to make that choice for herself. She may be looking for someone to tell her what to do (after all she’s spent so much of her relationship being told just that) and it won’t work if someone else makes this choice for her. It will most likely be hard for her, but I promise making this choice will be the best thing for her. Leaving or staying has to be her choice.
This one might be the hardest for you, and it is also the most crucial. We have all heard, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’. Same concept applies here. You can give her all the information and love and support she could need and still she’ll stay.
I promise leaving is much more complicated than you may think. Especially if there are kids involved. She may be afraid he will get custody of the kids or even keep her from seeing the kids. She will be scared and unsure. In fact the risk of violence dramatically increases when she leaves.
This is not the time for you to take matters into your own hands and tell her abuser to ‘shape up’ or stop treating her a certain way. Most likely he will take it out on her and punish her for it somehow.
Just let things flow and allow them to happen. Be ready to be there for her. She’ll need you whether she leaves or not to love her, support her and believe in her.