I wrote this guest blog for the American SPCC and it was published on their site August 9, 2018.
My parents didn’t understand why their quiet, helpful child turned into a withdrawn and angry teen. I didn’t understand either. I became suicidal for years before marrying an abusive man I barely knew shortly after my nineteenth birthday.
The abusive relationship almost destroyed me, but I was able to escape after a year and a half and put my life back together. This time I married an amazing man and eventually uncovered dissociative amnesia covering ritualistic abuse, childhood sexual abuse, and every type of rape perpetrated by at least fifteen abusers.
There are three paths a victim might take after being separated from their current abuser- getting into another abusive relationship, becoming an abuser, or breaking the cycle of abuse. I learned firsthand what helped me overcome and found that the same thing helped others as well. Now I am an Abuse Life Coach and help others who have been abused take charge of their lives. These are the things you can do to help someone you know who is being abused.
- Share Truth- Don’t Control
The victim is being controlled by their abuser. When a well-meaning friend or family member uses control to try to help them, such as “I’ll tend your kids if you leave the relationship,” it creates the same feelings within the victim as the abuser gives them. As a victim I had to choose the lesser of two evils, I did what my abusers wanted so they wouldn’t hurt me in far worse ways.
What helped me escape was counseling as a teen and the support of a good friend. My mother and my therapist tried to help, but I wasn’t ready. However, it laid the foundation for my ability to escape. My abuser cut me off from my family, but I was able to maintain minimal contact with one person from my past who listened without judgement and gave little bits of truth. He told me I didn’t have to do whatever my ex-husband told me to do. He told me he would come pick me up immediately if I ever decided to leave. He helped me see that I had choices, rather than trying to control me to do what he knew would be best for me. Even though I got upset at the gentle suggestion to leave, it remained in my head. I held onto it, and I began planning how to get out. It took me six months, but I did it. I was the only one that could get myself out of the situation, no one else. In deciding that I didn’t want to be in an abusive relationship, I made sure not to escape one situation just to jump right back into another one.
- Be Supportive, Don’t Save Them
Leaving an abuser is scary and hard. I had no self-esteem, few skills, and no money of my own. My parents let me move back home with no judgement and no conditions, though I knew there were certain things they would not allow such as alcohol, drugs or men. They gave me space and quietly took care of me in any way I would allow them to. Many people don’t have that type of safety net to allow them to deal with the pain of leaving while still having boundaries that help them stay away from harmful coping mechanisms. There will be sadness in ending a relationship, even one that was abusive. Just like anyone else, they need to grieve the loss.
If someone in an abusive relationship wants to leave but doesn’t see a way out, that is the time to let them know what resources there are to help them. Let them know you are there for support, and what community resources are available. Be clear what you can and can’t do for them. They need an example of someone who has boundaries. They need to know that you will support them, not tell them what to do, but not save them either. To be effective, this must come from a place of love, not judgement.
Listen if they want to talk without telling them how they should feel about it, what they should do about it, or to forget it and move on. Validate their feelings, don’t dismiss them or tell them it couldn’t have been that bad. If someone listened to me, I let myself talk a little more. Those who judged, refused to accept what I had to say, or told me how I should feel or act, got the wall of China. Once I knew they heard what I was saying and accepted it, I was open to suggestions. You can give them options as long as you let them choose for themselves. Sometimes I let the victim talk through the possibilities and give them the truth of the consequences, but I always make it clear that it is their choice.
- Be Patient
The hardest thing is to go on with your own life while you know someone you love is being hurt. Change takes time. Sometimes lots of time. Don’t give up. Keep loving them within your own healthy boundaries. Keep sharing truth, being supportive, and listening. Know that the person being abused sometimes lashes out. Let them know you still love them, but don’t allow them to turn into an abuser by offering up yourself as their punching bag. Be firm, be loving, and be patient.
There is hope and healing. Encourage your loved one to seek out the things that will help them overcome and become strong. It might be more traditional forms of therapy, meditation, hypnotherapy, or spirituality. There is no right way, only the way that works for the individual.
No one saved me. I did that myself. But I couldn’t have done it without help. I needed to lean on the strength and wisdom of others I felt safe with. In making choices myself I became strong, learned who I was, and what I wanted out of life. Now I tell people that I am no longer a victim, but more than a survivor. I am a thriver.
For me surviving was the first, steep climb. Then I wanted more. I wanted to be happy, live life to the fullest, and heal every part of my body and soul. I kept pushing forward, doing what I needed to achieve the healing I knew I could find with enough time and hard work. Now I wake up every day grateful and excited to participate in my life and help others heal and learn to become thrivers themselves.