October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Family Tree wants our community to be aware of not only the prevalence and impacts of domestic violence, but how you can help in our mission to help people overcome domestic violence, child abuse and homelessness.
Supporting a friend or family member who is experiencing abuse by a current or past partner can be difficult. You may feel unsure of what to do or say, and experience sadness, fear, frustration, anger, or a variety of other emotions. These are common reactions when supporting a loved one in an abusive relationship, and you are not alone! Family Tree’s Domestic Violence Outreach Program is here to help. We are always happy to chat with friends and family members about ways to support their loved one who is experiencing abuse.
Additionally, as a place to start, here are some tips that can open dialogue and communicate that you care:
Open a dialogue with your loved one outside of the presence of their partner/others. “Are you ever afraid of ______’s temper?” “Can I ask you a little bit about ______?” “How have you been feeling in your relationship?”
Ask questions. The questions should focus on the survivor’s feelings and not press for decisions or use sarcasm. It’s helpful to say “That sounds scary. How did that make you feel?” rather than “So, what are you going to do about it?”
Listen without judgment. This is hard to do! Often we say “no judgment” but then proceed to offer our opinion. Try saying, “If you ever need to talk, I promise to just listen and not give advice.” Then follow through and don’t give advice!
Show concern. “I am afraid for your (and your children’s) safety.” Make honest but non-judgmental observations about changes you’ve noticed in them. “I’m worried about you. You don’t seem to laugh as much anymore.”
Respect your loved one’s desire to leave or stay with their partner. If you find yourself struggling to accept their decision to stay or leave, feel free to reach out for support for yourself as well! There are many reasons why survivors stay in abusive relationships, and Family Tree’s Domestic Violence Outreach Program is happy to discuss that with you. A survivor may leave and return to the relationship many times. Do not criticize their decisions or try to guilt them. They will need your support even more during those times.
Know your own boundaries, and offer to help in ways that you are comfortable and will not later become resentful about. (i.e. financial help, baby-sitting, a place to stay, transportation, etc.) Set clear and fair boundaries. Don’t offer it if you can’t follow through.
Avoid blaming the survivor for their attempts to protect themselves (and their children) that were not successful. It is not possible to predict exactly when and how a partner may escalate their behaviors. Do not say, “If you had just ________, then this would not have happened.” Only the person using abusive behaviors is responsible for the abuse.
Offer information about other resources who can provide help and guidance. Family Tree provides individual advocacy and support groups. If your loved one has to go to the police, court or a lawyer, offer to go along for moral support if you are comfortable doing so.
Remember that you cannot “rescue” them. Although it is difficult to see someone you care about get hurt, ultimately they are the one who has to make the decisions. It’s important to support them no matter what they decide.
Encourage self-care and practice it yourself. Self-care means taking care of yourself in a way that feels good to you and brings you comfort. A person who experiences abuse may sometimes not take care of themselves because they are made to feel like they don’t deserve love or care, or because their (ex)partner prevents them from doing so. You can remind your loved one that self-care is important for everyone. And, by practicing self-care yourself, you can enable yourself to continue being a source of support for your loved one.