If you have a female friend or family member who you believe is showing the signs of domestic abuse, don’t just stand back and let it happen. There are many ways you can help them.
Firstly, one of the main aspects of domestic violence in any form is its ability to erode the self-esteem of the victim. If your friend or family member is being abused, the chances are that they will be feeling quite helpless, inadequate and have very low self-confidence. The first thing you should do is try to make them feel more confident. This will help them to deal with the issues that they are facing, and help them to see that they do not deserve to be abused in such a way.
Depending on how severe the abuse has become, you may have difficulty in coaxing your friend or family member away from their partner even for a little while. Abusers have a tendency to make their victims feel completely dependent on them, so much so that they can actually become afraid of being out of their company. It all depends on the individual situation, however. Some victims may be looking for a way to spend time with someone else. Either way, invite your friend or family member to do something away from their partner. Invite them for a drink, a coffee, or a shopping trip; anything that involves getting to have a good, long conversation.
Try to give them a few compliments at the start of the occasion; it may have been a while since they received any. Make sure to make positive statements about their appearance, personality and life choices. This will often reveal an extreme contrast with their partner’s comments, which may lead your friend to question the validity of what he or she is telling them. Don’t confront them about your suspicions about domestic violence, however. This often causes victims to become defensive or perhaps embarrassed; they may feel that the suggestion that they have allowed themselves to become a victim is a criticism. Rather than causing a defensive shut-down mechanism, you want to encourage your friend to discuss things freely with you.
Hopefully, by making your friend feel confident and comfortable in your presence, you will be able to coax them to talk about the situation with their relationship. This will allow you to help your friend to realise that what they are suffering from is domestic violence, and that it is not to be taken lightly. Simply by talking about the situation, you are bolstering your friend’s independence and self-esteem by huge amounts. For anyone to free themselves of the domestic violence cycle, it’s very important that they have a good support network to rely upon, so remind them that they have friends and family who will always be there.
It is difficult to advise someone on what to do if they are in a violent domestic situation. However, if the situation has become physically violent, it is usually a good idea to tell them to stay away from their partner from the time being. They can have contact over the telephone or by email, etc., but they should not be allowed to be alone together in a situation where physical violence could occur; especially not if your friend or family member has confronted her abuser about the situation. Depending on the severity of the situation, you may have to advise your friend not to go back home unaccompanied. If you do not feel comfortable accompanying her (and there is probably good reason not to) to collect her things, get another friend or family member to go along with you. There is strength in numbers.
However, if your friend is in a situation that is not physically violent, and she hasn’t quite decided what to do about the situation, all you can do is be supportive of her choices while always reminding her that there is an alternative. Simply by gently reinforcing her freedom and independence, you may gradually give her the strength to break out of the cycle of abuse.
Do not give up on her, therefore. Ending an abusive relationship can be difficult, and can be a long process. Even if you do find it difficult to understand, your friend needs your support so make sure you keep meeting up with her on a regular basis, and don’t be drawn into viewing her as she perhaps views herself at the moment – as somehow incapable or deserving of victimhood. Remember, the abuse she has suffered has caused her to question herself greatly, so she needs someone like you to stand by her side and remind her that no one deserves domestic violence.
Whatever the form of abuse present, advise her to speak to a professional counsellor who specialises in domestic violence.
A counsellor will help her to recover her self-esteem and will help her to recognise negative spirals of thought. A large percentage of people who have suffered from domestic abuse go on to suffer from clinical depression, so it’s very important that she deals with the mental fallout of the abuse as soon as possible.
A counsellor will also be able to advise if relationship counselling is viable, or if it is in her best interests to end the abusive relationship.