Helping a Survivor of Domestic Violence
You’ve experienced your friends navigating through challenging times. Being an observer of those close to you going through devastating events is emotionally painful and even frightening. Yet, you recognize that you’ve got to stay strong so you can be there for your friend.
Perhaps in the past, one of your friends had an abusive partner and you didn’t know what to do to help. The following strategies will enlighten you about how to best help a survivor of domestic violence.
- Acknowledge to yourself what you’re feeling about the violence.
This must be your first step. Otherwise, your feelings, be they fear, disgust, or anger, will literally leak out of you on to your friend who needs you. And you surely don’t want that to happen.So, recognize your feelings and resolve them within yourself before making any efforts to help your friend.
- Prepare yourself that your friend who’s been abused might show physical signs of harm.
Bruised eyes, face, or arms, cuts on the face, and possibly even broken bones or worse can result from a domestic violence incident.Remind yourself that even though your friend might appear to have been greatly harmed, the fact is that she’s alive, walking, and talking. Also, remember that these physical signs will heal and hopefully not leave scars.
- Ask questions that empower your friend.
With asking simple questions first, you can help your friend begin to re-build a personal sense of empowerment. For example, when you first see her and are walking toward her, ask, “Is it okay if I hug you?” She’ll likely say, “Yes.” You can then state, “I’m so relieved to see you.”Ask her another empowering question: “Would you like to talk about it? If so, I’m ready to listen. If not, that’s okay, too.” Avoid asking probing questions.
Instead, ask questions that give your friend choices and require her to say either that she wants to answer or she doesn’t. When you do, you’re helping her resume a position of power and choice in her own life.
- Make yourself accessible.
Your friend may be feeling fear and confusion about where her life is heading. Let her know how to quickly get in touch with you. Give her all your phone numbers and offer to let her stay with you for a few days if she doesn’t wish to be alone at night.Use your own judgment on these issues to recognize whether she’s depending on you too much or not getting better and more self-confident as time passes.
- Suggest your friend call a counselor or domestic violence professional/advocate.
If you see behaviors or signs in your friend that concern you, bring up the notion of getting some professional assistance.The best way is to use gentle honesty. “I’m concerned about you losing so much weight so quickly and you’re crying quite a bit. Have you considered calling a counselor to talk to? It might help you to heal emotionally. I’ll go with you the first time or two, if you want me to.”
If your friend refuses to get professional guidance now, try to secure an agreement with her that if she’s not better in a certain period of time (4 weeks, for example), she’ll agree to seek help after that time passes.
- Check in with your friend regularly.
It’s good for her to know that you’re thinking about her and that you “have her back.” Send her texts, give quick cell phone calls, or even stop by after work to let her know you’re there for her. She’ll most likely appreciate it and acknowledge that fact to you.
Even though you might feel helpless, there are several ways you can help and support a friend who’s a victim of domestic violence. Examine your own feelings first and be prepared to see signs of abuse against your friend. Ask her empowering questions and be easily accessible.
Ask your friend to consider getting professional help if she’s not better and check in with her frequently. You can be a great support and the best friend ever to those close to you who have experienced domestic violence.