Updated: Jun 10
Know the Warning Signs
When someone is in an abusive relationship it can be extremely difficult for that person to even realize they are in one. If you know your friend pretty well then make sure to listen to what they are telling you about their relationship. Look out for these warning signs.
The power and control wheel will give you some extremely valuable insight as to what the abuser is doing and the cycle the abusive relationship goes through.
Start a Conversation
If you know your friend is in an abusive relationship starting a conversation with them can be tricky. But please do not shy away from them because you do not know what to do or how to handle it. There are many resources out there (link this article) to help you. If you are that uncomfortable talking with them about this, you can always refer them to the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE. Another great option is to have them join my Facebook Support Group. It's also for women suffering from depression and anxiety, which are often side effects that come with suffering from domestic violence.
Why a Victim Doesn't Leave
Before we get into how you can help, I want you to try to understand why your friend may not leave.
Fear. She doesn't know how her abuser may react when she leaves or her abuser has threatened her in some way if she does leave.
Believing Abuse is Normal. Your friend may not know what a healthy relationship looks like. They grew up with an abusive parent or have always been in an abusive relationship and think this is what a relationship is supposed to be and/or they feel they deserve to be treated this way.
Shame or embarrassment. Admitting your in an abusive relationship can be completely demoralizing and make the victim feel embarrassed, shameful and guilty. Victims tend to worry that their friends and family will judge them.
Love. This is probably one of the biggest reasons why victims stay. Victims may have kids with their abuser and want to maintain their family. Abusive people can be very charming at the beginning of relationships making it difficult to see how they truly are until you've fallen in love with them. Making it more difficult to get out of the relationship.
Lack of Confidence. When an abusive person constantly puts their partner down it breaks down their confidence and self-esteem. It can be easy for a victim for start to believe these things and believe the abuse is their own fault.
Lack of Money/Resources. Unfortunately, financial abuse is all too common and a victim may be financially dependent on their abusive partner. Without money, access to money or resources it can be extremely difficult to get away from their abusive partner.
Trauma Bond. A trauma bond refers to a complex emotional attachment that develops between two individuals, resulting from a shared experience of trauma or abuse. It involves a distorted sense of connection, where the bond is formed through intense emotional highs and lows, dependency, and a cycle of reward and punishment. The trauma bond can create a strong attachment to an abusive or toxic person, leading to difficulty in breaking free from the relationship. This bond is often characterized by a sense of loyalty, mixed emotions, and a fear of abandonment.
Believe the Victim
This is the most important thing you can do for your friend is believe her. Society has really done a number to women who try to come out about their abuse. People need "proof" of these accusations.
Listen Without Judgement
When she's telling you how her husband gave her the silent treatment for a week because she went out with a few friends, don't judge her. Just listen to her. Take mental notes of each instance she tells you about. While you're listening take note if the abusive incidents are getting worse in severity. Abusive relationships progressively get worse in severity over the course of the relationship. What starts as emotional and psychological abuse can quickly develop into physical abuse.
Validate Her Feelings
While it can be difficult to understand what your friend is going through if you've never experienced something like this, it's important to acknowledge and validate her feelings. She's going to be confused about what she's feeling. This is a man she loves who has hurt her. He betrayed her trust in him that she could be safe around him.
Help Her Make a Safety Plan
Don't try to get her to leave her abuser. That is completely up to her. There are many reasons why she isn't leaving or hasn't left yet (see above). What you can do is help her make a safety plan to get out when or if she needs to. This is for a time when things can get so bad to the point where she has no choice but to leave. Follow the steps I outline in my post How You Can Get Out of Abuse and have her sign up to get the free escape plan checklist. As her friend let her know that she can text or call you in an emergency situation. Use a code word so her abuser doesn't know that she's trying to get out. Help her create a plan from coping mentally, to figuring out what to do with her kids and pets, to starting the legal process.
Check-in On Her Regularly
If you feel like the abuse has been escalating it can be a good idea to check in on her on a regular basis. Shooting her a text, Facebook message or even calling her a few times a week will help her feel looked after. Trust your gut on this. If you feel like things are not going so well, try to meet her in person to talk with her and get her out of the house. Abusers like to isolate their victims. Try to stay connected to her.
Find Others Ways to Support Them
Understand that she may not always reach out to you for help or that she doesn't want to talk about what is going on. That's ok.
It's not your job to be her hero. Your sole purpose in this is to support her in any way she needs.
Look Into Domestic Violence Protection Orders
WomensLaw.org is an amazing resource for legal help for women of domestic violence. Looking into a protection order for her is something that may need to happen to help keep her and her children safe if she does decide to leave.
Get Her Self Protection Items
After leaving her abuser she may be severely strapped for funds. You can help her out by giving money, providing a safe place to stay and getting her protection items.
Because the most dangerous time for a victim is after they leave their abuser, it's important for her to arm herself in the best ways she can to protect herself and her children.
What Not to Do or Say
Don't blame her. Trust me, she is already blaming herself enough and this is exactly what her abuser does to her too. He breaks down her confidence. The abuser blames his own abusive actions on her, telling her "she made him do it". Don't play into that mentality by asking her what she did or how she said something to "instigate" a response. Do not try to make her leave. She already has a controlling partner, she doesn't need a friend trying to control her actions too. Simply offer an ear and support. Do not offer advice. I know it can be difficult not to offer advice in this situation. But if you haven't been through a similar situation yourself, you may not know the right kind of advice to give. What you can do is point her in the direction of professionals, articles and support groups of those who have been through abuse and can offer sound advice. Do not sit back and do nothing. The most important thing here is that if you know a friend is being abused, do not just sit back and ignore it. Start the conversation. It may not be easy and it may take several attempts, but don't give up. You can go to your friend and simply say: "I've been noticing that you seem to be down lately. I don't particularly like how Bob talks to you and treats you. I feel like you could be treated much better. Is anything going on? I'm here for you and you can tell me anything."
Call the Police
If at any time you feel like your friend's life is in imminent danger or you witness any kind of assault yourself. Call the cops.
Your friend may ask you not to do this. In this case, I wholeheartedly believe it's better to save your friend's life than to save your friendship. You can put it to her like this. What he is doing to you is illegal and I have a moral obligation to report any kind of assault.
What if My Friend is Abusive?
It can be very difficult to see those we care about hurting others. In fact, you may even deny it at first. However, when you remain silent or make excuses for them, you're encouraging their hurtful behavior.
Ultimately it is up to the abuser to want to change, but there are ways that you can encourage them to act in a healthier way. It's not easy for an abuser to admit what they are doing and accept responsibility for it. They enjoy having control over their partner and may look to you for validation of their abusive actions. Do not support this abuse in any way. You're not turning against them, you are simply trying to help them have a healthier relationship.
Some Ways You Can Help and Abusive Friend
Understand the signs of abuse.
By knowing these signs you can help your friend recognize what they are doing.
Do not support them in their justification of abuse.
They may tell you how they treated their partner and explain how they "deserved it". Do not feed into it by agreeing with them in any way. Make sure to tell them, that NO ONE deserves to be treated that way, no matter what they did.
Help them focus on the victim's feelings.
Help your friend see it from the other side, the victim's side. Focus on letting them know how much they are hurting the victim. Do not support their effort to minimize the severity of their abusive behavior.
Suggest they get help.
Support them by suggesting they get professional help to change. This can be a delicate task to maneuver, but let them know that you will support them for seeing a professional.
Be a good example.
Being in a healthy relationship yourself can help set the standard of being in a non-abusive and respectful relationship. Show them how to be respectful to their partner.
Don't ignore abuse you see or hear about.
Your silence helps the abusive person deny any wrongdoing. Don't be silent. Speak up and tell them what they're doing is wrong. If you witness any kind of assault call the police and report them. I know this can be difficult to do, but it's the right thing to do.
Be prepared to end the friendship.
I know this could be extremely difficult, but it could be the wake-up call your friend needs to finally take a look at themselves.
If they do not get better and make an effort to change their abusive behavior, then you may need to cut ties with them. Do you really want someone who thinks they're abuse is justified in your life anyway?
After reading how you can help someone in an abusive relationship you'll know exactly how you can get involved. Being supportive to a friend who is going through this is exactly what they'll need to get through this extremely difficult time. Please remember to take care of yourself first so that you are better equipped mentally and physically to help others.
If you know someone who may be in a toxic relationship, please share this post with them. And share this post to help spread awareness.