There are times when a friendship is put to the ultimate test. It's one thing to claim someone is your BFF; it's another to step up. Same goes with brothers, sisters, colleagues and classmates. Words mean little when a life -- or at least, quality of life -- is on the line. If you suspect your friend, relative, co-worker or fellow student is being abused, you're not powerless. You need to realize that there are things you can do to help.
But before you dive in, understand that it won't be easy and it's not about you. You need to be strong, stable and caring. What you're offering -- true compassion and concern -- must be without conditions [source: HelpGuide.] Victims of abuse already have plenty of conditions placed upon them. Seek to be what the abuser is not.
In addition, seek to be what the victim is not. A victim of abuse, for example, is often unaware she is being abused. She may think she caused the problems in the relationship. Many times abuse victims minimize what they're being put through, whether they realize it or not. It's a very real possibility that you'll be the first person to recognize that abuse is going on [source: Stanford]. You have to be aware, understand the signs and avoid falling into the same trap of saying, "Maybe I'm making too much of this," or, "it's none of my business."
No question, you can help -- but you can also do the victim a disservice. Don't tell an abuse victim to give it another try or do better. Do not offer to be the middleman between the victim and abuser. Suggesting couple's counseling isn't appropriate in an abusive situation, either [source: CRAA].
So let's consider your options in this challenging situation.
Understanding abuse and recognizing its signs are a big first step. Remember, the victim of abuse often doesn't realize she's being abused or else she thinks she's somehow responsible. Read about abuse so you can be prepared to spot it [source: CRAA ]. Talk to a licensed expert about relationship abuse or a specialist with an abuse support group in your area. Maybe a former victim of abuse is willing to share insights. With all of these tools, you can learn about what motivates abusers so you can recognize it in your particular situation.
Since abuse is all about control, you may find that the abuser has so skillfully controlled a message about his relationship that only a knowledgeable outsider can see what's truly going on. You've heard it said that knowledge is power. By learning all you can about abuse, you'll have the power to sidestep manipulation, denial, minimization and the undeserved guilt that your friend, relative or co-worker has had heaped on her.
It takes selflessness and concern to be a good listener. Since a victim of abuse often feels isolated, a good listener can be a lifeline. Let her purge all her emotions -- guilt, confusion, anger and fear. Let her know you're there to help and that you believe what she's saying. But, above all, let her speak her mind and don't interrupt or attempt to direct the conversation.
Resist the urge to provide, what you think are, all the right answers. Listening alone can serve a very important purpose -- it validates the victim [source: HelpGuide]. Once that strength is harnessed, she can see the truth of her situation and start to form a plan for the future.
If a victim of abuse is willing to talk to you, she's demonstrating that she trusts you.
3: Give Clear Guidance
An abuse victim is living in the midst of confusion; you can provide clarity. Let her know that she's not to blame. Remind her that she's not alone. She may happily share that her abuser has said he's sorry and has vowed to never to do it again. Make it clear that those kinds of assurances are simply another form of manipulation [source: CRAA]. She may have bought into the belief that he just needs help and she's the only one who can help him. Assure her that such rationalization only puts her in danger [source: HelpGuide]. Stand firm and help her to stand firm, too. If you waffle, it will be more difficult for her to see the abuse for what it is.
You may think you sound like the proverbial broken record, but your consistent and repeated direction could be the only messages she's getting that don't change. That gives your guidance credibility.
2: Don't Judge
It's easy to look at the life of a victim of abuse and say, "I would never get into that situation." Hopefully that's true. But expressing judgment can do harm. Remember, a victim of abuse is already being made to feel inadequate. She's likely hearing that she's stupid, flawed or even psychologically unstable. She's probably unnecessarily shouldering the blame for the dysfunctional relationship she finds herself in.
If you, as a friend, lash out at her or even shake your head in disgust, you're only reinforcing what she already believes. Withhold judgment or else she may become more isolated than ever. Even if you're frustrated, give support rather than a tongue-lashing [source: CRAA].
Remind yourself that your job is to build her up so she has the strength to follow-through with plans to bring the abuse to an end. Your patience may be running thin, but don't give up on her.
1: Don't Wait
There are a lot of do's and don'ts related to helping a victim of abuse but there's probably none bigger than this one -- don't wait to help. Hesitation could lead to a regret you'll carry with you for a long time. You may feel like you're poking your nose in someone else's business. Perhaps you feel uncomfortable with asking the simple question: "Are you OK?"
Maybe you think it's best to sit back and let her come talk to you when she's ready. Have the courage to reach out and don't hesitate. Trust your instincts and be bold. Remind yourself that an outsider -- a friend, relative, or co-worker -- is often the first person to recognize an abusive relationship, even before the victim of abuse recognizes it herself. This is not a time for procrastination; it's a time for action.
Helping a victim of abuse isn't easy, but with a caring spirit and an informed mind, you can help bring the abuse to an end [source: Stanford].
Lots More Information
- Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness. "Warning Signs of Abuse." (Sept. 23, 2011) http://stoprelationshipabuse.org/educated/warning-signs-of-abuse/
- Hidden Hurt. "Domestic Abuse Information." (Sept. 23, 2011)
- In His Steps Ministries. "15 Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship." (Sept. 23, 2011) http://www.creatingfutures.net/abusive.html
- King, Dr. Jeanne, Ph.D. "Realize it's Not About You." Prevent Abusive Relationships. (Sept. 23, 2011) http://www.preventabusiverelationships.com/emotional_verbal_abuse.php
- Lindsey Ann Burke Memorial Fund. "Warning Signs of Abusive Relationships." (Sept. 23, 2011) http://labmf.org/facts/warning_signs
- Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse and Support at Stanford. "Controlling and Abusive Relationships." (Sept. 23, 2011) http://www.stanford.edu/group/svab/relationships.shtml