It can be painful and sometimes, frustrating, to see a friend being hurt in a relationship. Friends may not know what to do or think that they are being neutral by not getting involved, but ignoring it doesn't help. Here are some guidelines for helping a friend who is in a violent relationship:
First, release yourself from the idea that you have to have all of the answers and know the perfect things to say.
Approach the issue of the abuse in a sensitive way. For example, "I'm worried about you because I noticed that..." You may have to talk to her several times before she will confide in you. Let her know that you are concerned, that you want to help and support her. You don't have to know all of the answers. The important thing is to break through the isolation that most abused women feel.
Believe what she tells you. It can be very difficult for someone who is in an abusive relationship to open up. She may feel embarrassed, uncomfortable and be afraid that you will judge her. Again, it may take a few times before she feels comfortable talking with you about the abuse.
Take the abuse seriously. Physical and emotional abuse has no place in a healthy relationship. Any type of physical or emotional abuse is a "big deal" because abuse tends to escalate over time.
Focus on safety, both your safety and your friend's. Help her plan for ways she can keep herself safe, identify resources both on campus and in the community. Remember the Campus Against Violence Program is here to support both you and the person being hurt. The abuser, who may be a mutual friend, won't appreciate you getting involved so be careful about what you do and when you do it. Call your Resident Assistant, Campus Police and the Counseling Center for back-up support when you need it.
Help her to recognize the abuse and understand how it may be affecting her. It is very common for people who are abused to minimize what is happening or not classify it as abuse. Very often, the person being abused has a difficult time noticing the pattern of behavior that is abuse. It may be useful to help her identify relationship red flags.
Believe her and listen without judgment. Listening without judgment is one of the greatest gifts you can provide to someone in an abusive relationship.
Encourage her to talk to a counselor to clarify her feelings and think about what she would like to do. Also, counseling services are available to support you as you attempt to help her deal with the situation. Call the Counseling Center (410-543-6070) to schedule an appointment.
Don't give up on her. The average woman attempts to leave a relationship 7-9 times before she leaves for good. Break-ups and reconciliations are common in the context of relationship violence. This cycle can be one of the most frustrating things to watch for friends of people who are being abused.
Reassure her that the abuse is not her fault and that you are there for her. Remind her of her strengths, challenge her is she puts herself down or blames herself, praise her for every step she takes and let her know she has your support.
Take care of yourself. Providing support to someone who is involved in an abusive relationship is challenging. It is okay, and important, for you to set boundaries when you feel overwhelmed. Remember it is not your job to save your friend. Ultimately, she will need to decide what to do.
Be understanding and compassionate if she is confused or unsure about what to do or if she says still has feelings for her partner. Breaking up is difficult in the best of circumstances and even more so if abuse is involved.
Don't blame her for the abuse. Chances are very good that she is already blaming herself for the abuse. In addition, her partner is probably blaming her too. Place the blame where it belongs - squarely on the shoulders of her partner. Remember, there is nothing that she could do that would justify being hurt by another person.
Don't focus on trying to understand the abusive partner's reasons for being abusive. Concentrate on supporting her and what she can do to protect herself.
Helpful Questions to Ask:
What can I do to help?
What can you do to keep yourself safe?
What are your concerns about staying?
What are your concerns if you leave?
How have you been dealing with the abuse?
Would you like me to go with you to the Counseling Center to set up an appointment?
Do you know about resources in the community?
Resources are available for people affected by relationship violence and their friends at the Counseling Center. Call to schedule an appointment (410.410.6070).