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How to help someone who is experiencing domestic violence

Most of us don’t really know how to support someone who is a victim of domestic violence. Our society doesn’t do a good job at protecting the victim, and often stigmatizes and judges them. Educating ourselves is the first step to make sure whoever shares about their experience with us doesn’t feel alone.

Check in with yourself

It is important to be honest with yourself about the thoughts and feelings you have about domestic violence. This will help understand your biases so that you can manage them when speaking to your friend/loved one.

How do you feel about domestic violence?

Do you believe the person should just leave?

Do you feel it is your responsibility to stop the abuse?

Do you feel worried, sad, concerned?

What does it feel like to know your friend/loved one/colleague is in an abusive relationship?

What does it feel like to know that they are still in that relationship?

Know the signs of abuse.

Do your research and learn about the signs of abuse. Most people think of abuse as solely a violent act, but this isn’t accurate. Abuse includes a variety of nuanced behavior that might not be immediately apparent to most. Get well acquainted with the power and control wheel, as well as the cycle of abuse, both of which can be found online.

Understand the reasons why it may be difficult to leave the relationship.

It is important to recognize that leaving an abusive relationship isn’t an easy decision; it’s often filled with fear, sadness, and grief. Some of the reasons why someone might stay include:

- Fear of violent retaliation by the abuser

- Grief over the loss of the relationship they thought they would have

- Sadness over the relationship that they do have now

- Protecting the perception of the relationship to kids, family, and friends.

- Fear of judgment and fear of being stigmatized

- Concern for the abuser’s wellbeing if the relationship ends

- Lack of confidence to leave

- Lack of resources to live without the financial support of the abuser

If your friend/loved one does come to you for support, make sure they feel heard and validated. This is not the time to give them a lecture, nor is it the time to say “I told you so.” It is also very important to tell them you believe them. It takes an incredible amount of courage and strength to share something so personal and difficult, so let them know! Gently educate them on the signs of abuse and ask them what they want to do moving forward. Help them find any appropriate resources and services.

It is also helpful to ask them questions to help them express their inner feelings and thoughts. Be curious and non-judgmental. Examples of questions you can ask are:

- What concerns do you have should you decide to leave?

- What concerns do you have should you decide to stay?

- Do your children know?

- What do you need from me?

- What is the next best step you can take?

Talking about this is not comfortable and it is not easy. What’s important is that you are willing to educate yourself so that you can better support your friend/loved one.

Witnessing someone we care about go through this can be really emotionally difficult. If you find yourself struggling to manage the emotions that come up, it might be helpful to get additional support. Click here to schedule a free 15-minute consultation to see if we would be a good fit.

If you know someone who is a victim of domestic violence who might be seeking resources, download this free safety planning guide.

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