How to Help a Loved One

How to help an abused loved one

So, you think someone you care about may be being abused? Maybe you’ve never seen a black eye or a busted lip, but something just doesn’t seem right.

As you surely know, there’s much more to abuse than black eyes and swollen lips.

When I was being abused, I did everything I could to keep my family and friends from knowing about it. I lied, covered, avoided, and hid the bruises.

Why?

Several reasons.

  • I was embarrassed. Ashamed. Didn’t want to burden anyone with my problems. Didn’t want to hear, “I told you so,” from people who had warned me he was bad news. Didn’t want people to judge me.
  • What if they also believed it was my fault or that I deserved it?
  • What if I tried to get help and no one cared? I couldn’t take that kind of rejection.
  • As things progressed, it seemed there was nothing anyone could do to help me anyway. No one could stop him. He’d really hurt them if they tried. After all, he told me that’s what he would do.
  • I was afraid for the people I loved and cared about.
  • Besides, my mom once told me I had made my bed, so I had to lie in it. It was my problem, and no one else deserved to suffer at his hands.
  • He told me he’d hunt me down and kill me if I ever left him. If I told someone about the abuse, they’d want me to leave. I was too afraid for that.

My only option seemed to be to fix things. If I could just be a better wife, things would get better.

If you suspect someone you care about is being abused:

If you suspect someone you care about is being abused, you need to get her to open up. Even just a little. You need to let her know she can trust you.

Don’t be afraid to talk to her. Let her know you are concerned and want to help.

How do you do that when some or all of the above things could be going through her head?

  • Before you talk with her, think of ways you can help. Financially? Go to court with her? Give her a safe place to stay? Babysitting? Take care of her pets? A place to store her things?
  • A local shelter may be able to help. Many offer counseling for friends/family of abuse victims. Gather information for when you talk with your loved one.
  • Be ready to listen. Be supportive and patient. Remember, this is extremely difficult and scary for her.
  • Don’t put her loved one down. Even if he’s abusive, she loves him. Putting him down or saying he’s worthless or bad will most likely just shut her down. And if she stays with him, it will make her feel like she can never talk to you again. Instead, focus on her and how much love and concern you have for her. Let her know everyone, including her, deserves a non-abusive relationship.
  • Don’t be judgmental. She has already judged herself enough. Feels ashamed, responsible, and afraid. Let her know you don’t blame her and she’s safe talking with you.
  • Acknowledge she is in a very delicate and difficult situation. Let her know it’s not her fault. Don’t point out the things she’s done wrong.
  • Focus on the safety of her children. This is one area she will most likely listen to.
  • Assure her she’s not alone. Plenty of people care and want to help. Offer to go with her to a shelter, a lawyer, or a police station.
  • Help her develop a safety plan. Encourage her to set aside money and important documents.
  • Let her know physical and sexual abuse are crimes.
  • Encourage her to keep a diary/journal about any abusive incidents. Pictures are especially helpful. If she’s injured, make sure she goes to the emergency room and that they take pictures of her injuries.

So, what are some indications your loved one may be being abused?

  • Their partner belittles, puts down, embarrasses, or insults your loved one.
  • Your loved one cancels plans frequently, usually with half-hearted excuses.
  • She apologizes for his behavior.
  • You’ve seen him yell or curse at her, or break or hit things.
  • She has frequent bruises or injuries she either can’t explain or gives lame excuses for.
  • She stops doing things she enjoys.
  • Her appearance dramatically changes, especially large weight losses, to indicate depression or substance abuse.
  • When she’s not with him, he constantly calls or texts to check on what she’s doing.
  • She seems nervous or jumpy, especially around him.

What if your loved one is the abuser?

  • Don’t condone their behavior. Don’t even hint you think it’s okay.
  • Don’t let them justify their behavior by putting blame on the victim.
  • Don’t ignore their behavior. Your silence helps them believe it’s okay.
  • Convince them to seek professional help. Let them know they can have a healthy, happy relationship.
  • Support their victim any way you can. Let her know you don’t blame her.
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