Everyone has their own view of domestic abuse victims. Some of the misconceptions are:
- She could leave if she wanted to
- He/She must like the abuse/attention
What people fail to understand is, even the strongest of us are brainwashed by our abusers. I cannot explain the fogginess of living in constant turmoil. Imagine your worst possible day. Nothing went right. Your boss yelled at you, you missed your kids recital, you ran out of gas because of how busy you were trying to please your kids and your boss and you just want to go home and sleep. You can’t think straight. Your mind is numb. That is every day life in an abusive relationship but you must add other things onto that feeling:
- Embarrassment and shame
- No self worth because of the brainwashing. A feeling that you cannot do anything right and no one would want you anyway because that is what they tell you.
The most important thing you can do to support a victim is not to preach. You want to because you see their self worth and you know it isn’t right but it won’t help her or him. It will only make them feel worse because in their heart, they know they shouldn’t be treated that way but there are so many other factors keeping them there.
Listen to the victim and validate them with words of support. “You don’t deserve this.” “This is not your fault, no matter what happens, his response is not normal.” “I believe you and I want to help.”
If you think the victim might be in danger, tell him or her so. Give them numbers for the domestic shelter in the area and tell them to hide the numbers. If an abuser sees those numbers, he or she could be in more danger.
Whatever you do, do not tell a victim what to do. They are already being controlled by their abuser and they will shut you off in an attempt to control even a small part of their world.
Ask them if they have an escape plan and if not, would they like help devising one. Explain that even if they are not ready yet, having one in place could ultimately save their lives.
Your response can make all the difference down the road and in the near future. If he/she feels supported and encouraged, it may help them to feel empowered to leave. If he/she feels criticized and and judged, they may shut down and not speak of the abuse again leaving them alone and isolated.
If you know someone who seems afraid of her partner, has stopped seeing her friends, she seems anxious or depressed, she won’t have lunch with you because she is afraid to leave her children with their father, her partner openly humiliates her in front of company, these are just a few signs, there is a good chance she is in an abusive relationship.
My mantra is Validate, Investigate and then educate. Validate the victim, Investigate what has been communicated and educate him or her on their options. Have an open door policy free of judgment and accusations. Until they are ready to handle the break up, all you can do is be a good friend or parent. Be the person who empowers him or her! With your words, with your love and with non judgmental actions.