So this is post 5 of what will be 10 of a series on violence against women. I’ve tried to concentrate on a variety of different issues, so I thought that today I would write on how to support a friend in an abusive relationship. Statistics currently show that 1 in 3 women globally will be in this situation, and it can seem hard to know what to do or how to help. I honestly don’t know whether what I’m writing is oging to help very much – but I’m writing from a position of what helped me.
1. Recognise that you cannot “rescue” your friend.
I’m putting this first for a reason. When I was in a difficult situation, I had lots of friends who recognised what was going on and who tried to help. I am incredibly grateful for that – but the thing is, for a very long time, I wasn’t ready to accept their help and support. If they know that you care and that you’ll support them, whatever their choice, that sometimes is all you can do. It’s also one of the most important. If all you can do is tell your friend that you love her, you are already doing the biggest job. It might take a lot more to get her to make a decision to leave the relationship. But I promise, you will already have done the first and more important thing.
2. Be honest
Be honest. Tell her about times when you were worried about her. Help her see that what she’s going through is not right. Let her know you want to help. It’s so easy to get into a place where you think that what’s happening is normal, or, worse, must be your fault. Sometimes what really helps is to hear the reaction of a friend, and to know from someone you trust that this isn’t right, and it isn’t normal. When your sense of reality is screwed beyond recognition, sometimes relying on someone else’s is a lifesaver.
3. Help her make a safety plan.>Safety planning includes picking a place to go and packing important items. This might be hard to do and to think of, but if your friend has a plan in place, she may find it a lot easier to leave.
4. Encourage your friend to talk to someone who can help.
This can be completely terrifying. It’s something, for example, that I never did. But offer to go with them, encourage them that they can do it, and they might just.
5.If your friend decides to stay, continue to be supportive.
Your friend may decide to stay in the relationship, or she may leave and then go back many times. It may be hard for you to understand, but people stay in abusive relationships for many reasons. Be supportive, no matter what your friend decides to do. You will probably want to shake her. That’s understandable – you love her and you’re worried. But it’s hard to explain why this is such a hard and difficult situation – it just is.
6. If your friend decides to leave, continue to offer support.
Even though the relationship was abusive, she may feel sad and lonely once it is over. It sounds mad, but the relationship, however bad it was, was part of her. Leaving it can leave a massive hole, and that’s scary. She also may need help getting services from agencies or community groups.
I don’t know if that helps at all – it’s written from a very personal perspective, and what’s useful for me might not be useful for others. The most useful thing of all for me though was knowing I had other people who loved and believed in me. Eventually, it gave me the courage to realise I was worth so much more.