Updated: Feb 17, 2019
Several people have asked me for my advice about what to do when you know someone is in harm's way by being in an abusive relationship. In other words, what advice do I have for the friends, family members, co-workers, the confidants? In an effort to answer this question, I have created the following non-exhaustive list of things you can do for someone who’s in a beyond toxic relationship.
Before I get to the list, I would like to thank you for even wanting to try and help your friend or loved one who is suffering. Helping them doesn’t mean rescuing them necessarily but it means guiding them to make a healthy decision for themselves. I know if you’re reading this you’re likely either stressed or in a hasty situation so without further ado, here are the ways I would have wanted to have been helped, or was helped, when I was with my abuser:
10: Watch for Warning Signs
A free guide to red flags of abusive relationships is available in the BTS Bookstore but it’s geared toward the person who’s in the relationship. Red flags from an outsider’s perspective may never be apparent. Abusers are very good about protecting their image and never becoming suspected of who they are; however, take note of someone who shows anger often or steadily, regular outbursts, or isn’t sure of how to handle their emotions appropriately. Other warning signs that aren’t always obvious include isolating their partner, being hypercritical, being hyper-aware, PTSD symptoms of their own (most abusers were abused previously).
9: Be The Example
If you feel your friend may be in an unhealthy and possibly abusive relationship, be the example of a normal, healthy relationship for them. If/when they describe incidents when their abuser was manipulative or too harsh, you can tell them if you feel that’s normal or if it’s not. Many times the abused either hasn’t had an example of what’s healthy or hasn’t had one for a long time and has become used to their relationship which is now their new “normal”.
8: Ask & Listen
One of the best things a close person in my life did for me was ask if I was being physically hurt. Then, she listened. She listened without judgement, without opinion, without a to-do list. Then she asked, “Do you feel safe?” This question makes the victim pause and take stock of the true nature of their relationship. It may be the wake up call they need. Again, though, it is highly important that you listen without an agenda - let them come to their own decision.
7: Send Books
If you don’t feel as though you have a relationship that would give way to an honest heart-to-heart conversation, you can send books anonymously through Amazon. I highly recommend Dr. Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That? or Melodie Beattie’s Codependent No More. Dr. Bancroft is one of the leading researchers and psychologists in domestic violence and his book is a compilation of his answers to common questions from victims. Melodie Beattie is a writer on addiction and Codependent No More speaks to those in relationships with addicts; however, the book also speaks volumes about how to regain your personal self worth. I also wrote a mini book which you can download for free on my About page, Bereft & Rooted, where I detail red flags of an abusive relationship and how things progressed over time. Any of these would be great to send to someone who you know is a victim so they can grow. Please take into consideration the type of abuser, though, because some will not allow their partner to read self-help books.
6: Check Up On Them
This is self-explanatory but it’s super important. When you hear of someone going through this type of a relationship yet hasn’t decided to leave, you may find yourself reluctant to stay in contact for several reasons. One reason could be because they’ve changed - they may be a shell of their former self, or they may have taken on a personality similar to their abuser - or perhaps they always have an excuse as to why they can’t go out, so eventually you may stop inviting them. Please don’t.
I worked with a young woman who called into work with the excuse that her hair was still wet from her shower and she was embarrassed to not be fully ready for work. Naturally, she was told to come in anyway and fortunately she did about an hour later. Come to find out, it had nothing to do with her hair - her boyfriend had just strangled her for the first time and she was understandably distraught.
Do not let their excuses hinder you from being there for them.
5: Ask Them About A Safety Plan
A Safety Plan is a written document that lays out the victim’s plan to leave if they’re in danger or if they want to leave for good. Being as detailed as possible is best: they should write where they’ll go, who they’ll call for help, if they have a safety bag of necessities stashed and where, where their kids will go if applicable, how they’ll get to work and their bank, and what risks the victim will face. It is imperative that this is not kept in the victim’s house lest the abuser finds it. I actually kept mine in an old purse with cash under our bed, fortunately he never found it but I don’t know what I was thinking - must have been trauma brain!
4: Pack A Safety Bag
A Safety Bag plays a big part of the Safety Plan because it enables the victim to steer clear of returning to the home for a predetermined amount of time. The bag should include clothes for at least 3 days, vital papers & identification for the victim and any applicable children (I recommend making copies, too), 3 days worth (or more) of any medication(s), bank account information, pertinent phone numbers (doctors, social workers, psychologists, educators for children, close relatives, etc.), copies of keys, and any other vital non-replaceable items. It is a good idea to get a power of attorney as well, especially if the victim is married, in case things escalate. This bag should be kept at the same house as the Safety Plan, ideally at a house where the abuser doesn’t know the address.
3: Offer What You Can
I think this goes without saying but it’s incredibly meaningful when someone opens up their resources to you during your time of need. So, if you can, offer a place to stay even if temporary, offer babysitting, coffee, meals, or even just a night out if the survivor can get away for the night. A semblance of normalcy is something that really helps a victim during these times.
2: Call Sheriffs for Welfare Checks
When I speak to people about Welfare Checks, often times they aren’t aware that Police Officers and Sheriffs offer this as a service. I didn’t know until I had to use it. If you feel as though your loved one is being hurt, you can call their local station and ask for a Welfare Check. You’ll need to know their address. On some occasions, at the discretion of the officer(s), the cops can enter the premises without a warrant. The officers will show up unannounced and perform a checkup on the inhabitants. If they’re made aware of any abuse, they will ask if the victim wants to press charges. The abused can also do this if the abuser is threatening suicide after the victim leaves but it’s unsafe for the victim to return home (this is actually very common). I know a lot of people don’t like getting involved on this level and there are several stigmas associated with calling the cops, but trust me, it’s not a bad move, and they will never know it was you.
1: Know Leaving Has To Be Their Decision
This is the number one piece of advice I can give. It sucks, yes. It’s not fair. You’re here to help and they return to their abuser. I get it, I have been on both sides of that situation. All you can do is be there for them in the aforementioned ways and then… live your own best life. You can help them think things through, arrive at solutions and conclusions, but ultimately you are only responsible for your own decisions and your own life. While you’re thinking about this crisis, please do think of yourself from time to time, make sure you’re getting rest and eating well, make sure you do things that relax you, make sure you have a confidant. When they’re empowered to make their own decision and they eventually choose to leave, this is when the chances of them not returning skyrockets. Remember, statistics report that a woman will leave 7x before she leaves for good, and that the full cycle of abuse can range from 3 months to 2 years. So, this may take time.
I hope this has been of help to you. By all means, please email me or seek a counselor for yourself while you witness this especially if this person is close to you.
A special thank you to my sister, brother in law, mother, brother, and sister in law for doing almost all of the above so I could make my escape into a healthy life.