When you learn that a loved one is the victim of domestic abuse, it’s natural to feel scared and anxious. You will probably want them to end the relationship immediately, but it’s important to know that this doesn’t always happen, for lots of reasons. Supporting someone who is suffering from domestic abuse isn’t easy, and you may find the entire process takes a lot longer than you would expect. Here are a few tips to help you.
Remember everyone deals with things differently
If your friend or family member is refusing to leave the relationship, it can be hard to understand. In many cases they will be too afraid to leave, but it’s also common for victims to feel a sense of loyalty towards their abuser which is known as “trauma bonding”. This happens when someone has been abused for so long that they feel totally worthless and unable to function without their abuser, which can be very difficult for an outsider to deal with. Try not to judge and appreciate that there is no set process for ending an abusive relationship; people tend to do it in their own time. The important thing is for you to be there for them and try to learn as much as you can about how abuse takes hold in a relationship.
Sometimes the best way to support someone experiencing any kind of abuse is by offering practical solutions. Instead of asking questions, which they may shy away from, you can provide information about support organisations who can help as well as helping practically with things like childcare, shopping or keeping a diary of evidence.
Victims of abuse often shut themselves away from friends and family, which can be very upsetting to deal with. Remember that if your loved one is distancing themself from you it’s probably not because they don’t want to see you, but because they don’t know how to cope with the situation. In many cases abusers will actively try to alienate their victims from friends and family, and they may also make the victim feel guilty or disloyal for talking to anyone else. If you feel yourself being shut out, try not to take it personally and let the victim know you will always be there for them. If you leave the door open, they are more likely to come back to you when they’re ready to accept that something’s wrong and do something about it.
Offer somewhere safe if you can
One of the biggest reasons victims stay with their abusers is because they don’t have anywhere else to go. People who abuse their partners are often very controlling, which can create a situation in which the victim has no money or resources with which to make an escape. If you are in a position to offer a safe place for them to stay until they can find an alternative this can play a huge role in the victim’s recovery. If you are concerned about your own safety or feel that the abuser may come to your home, call the police or your local domestic abuse shelter.
Accept they won’t always want to talk about it
Denial is a very complex and frustrating part of abuse that can take time to overcome. Your friend or loved one may not want to talk and may even become angry with you for suggesting anything is wrong. Again, this isn’t about you, it’s part of the process of being abused, so try not to take it to heart and don’t push it – just let them know you’ll listen when they’re ready.
Expect to be frustrated
Supporting someone through domestic abuse can be really frustrating, especially if you feel like you’re being lied to and the victim isn’t taking positive steps to get out. It’s ok to feel annoyed, but try not to take it out on the victim as they’ll already be aware of the situation and dealing with aggression at home. Just be there for them.
Look after yourself
Seeing someone you care about living through domestic abuse is painful, so don’t forget to look after your own mental health. Samaritans Scotland will be there to listen to your concerns and offer confidential support, and it’s important to make sure you eat well and get as much sleep as you can. By providing practical support and letting your loved one know you will always be there for them, you can both live a happier life free from drama.