Today’s blog post is not a typical one. It’s definitely a sensitive issue, and I hope that you are able to get some good info without having to go through any additional discomfort from the topic. The reason I’m posting this is because I did an interview today with Pattie Godfrey Sadler, and what she said made me think about this difficult topic and what I would recommend if a friend came to me. You can watch the interview here.
Life is imperfect. People are human, and humans have issues. You’ve probably experienced your friends navigating through challenging times. Being an observer of those close to you going through devastating events is emotionally painful and even frightening. Yet, you recognize that you’ve got to stay strong so you can be there for your friend, and be there for yourself.
Perhaps in the past, one of your friends had an abusive partner and you didn’t know what to do to help. In the past, people just assumed that only women were victims of domestic violence, but please know that the partner can be male or female. Be ready to help your friend either way. The following strategies may help enlighten you as to what you can do to help.
The first thing you need to do is to acknowledge to yourself what you’re feeling about the violence. This must be your first step. Otherwise, your feelings, be they fear, disgust, or anger, will literally leak out of you on to your friend who really needs the support of a calm, reassuring, supportive friend. You surely don’t want your unresolved or out of control feelings to be added to the burden your friend is already experiencing. This is why it is extremely important for you to recognize your feelings and resolve them within before making any external efforts to help your friend.
Prepare yourself that your friend who’s been abused might show physical signs of harm. Bruised eyes, face, or arms, cuts on the face, and possibly even broken bones or worse can result from a domestic violence incident. Your friend may also show emotional signs that you haven’t seen before. Realize what you see is not directed at you. Help with medical assistance if needed, and just be there for your friend.
Remind yourself that even though your friend might appear to have been greatly harmed, the fact is that your friend is alive, walking, and talking. Also, remember that these physical signs will heal and hopefully not leave permanent physical and emotional scars.
If you feel it is appropriate, ask questions that will empower your friend. With asking simple questions first, you can help your friend begin to rebuild a personal sense of regaining their control. For example, when you first see your friend and are walking toward him or her, ask, “Is it okay if I hug you?” Your friend will most likely say, “Yes” but if not, that’s okay. If your friend is not ready to be hugged and tells you no, don’t take it personally. What led up to your friend coming to you was most likely something horrific so honor the space. Reassure your friend by saying, “I’m so relieved to see you.”
Ask another empowering question: “Would you like to talk about it? If so, I’m ready to listen. If not, that’s okay, too.” Avoid digging too deeply with your questions. Instead, ask questions that give your friend choices and reassure her or him that it’s okay not to answer if it’s too hard to discuss right now. When you do, you’re helping him or her resume a position of power and choice in her or his own life.
Make yourself accessible. Your friend is probably feeling fear and confusion about where life is heading. Let your friend know how to quickly get in touch with you. Give him or her all your phone numbers and if it is possible, make your home available to stay with you for a few days if it’s too dangerous or if your friend doesn’t want to be alone at night.
Set healthy boundaries to ensure you and your friend are both safe. Suggest your friend call a counselor or domestic violence professional/advocate. If you see behaviors or signs in your friend that concern you, bring up the notion of getting some professional assistance. The best way is to use gentle honesty. “I’m concerned about you losing so much weight so quickly and you’re crying quite a bit. Have you considered calling a counselor to talk to? It might help you to heal emotionally. I’ll go with you if you want me to.”
If your friend refuses to get professional guidance now, try to secure an agreement that if she or he is not better in a set period of time (two weeks, for example), he or she will agree to seek help after that time passes. Make sure it’s understood that you are looking out for his or her best interest.
Check in regularly. It’s good for your friend to know that you’re thinking about her or him and that you “have his or her back.” Send texts, give quick cell phone calls, or even stop by after work to let your friend know you’re there when needed. Don’t worry if you don’t feel appreciated or acknowledged in the moment. Remember – this is not about you.
Even though you might feel helpless, there are several ways you can help and support a friend who’s a victim of domestic violence. Examine your own feelings first and be prepared to see signs of abuse against your friend. Ask empowering questions and be easily accessible. Keep the number for the Domestic Violence Hotline handy in case it’s needed: 800.799.SAFE – and if you have a local organization that can help, have their number on hand as well.
Remember to ask your friend to consider getting professional help if needed and to check in frequently. You can be a great support and the best friend ever to those close to you who have experienced domestic violence.
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Did you find a few more ideas of your own? If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments, and as always please reach out with your thoughts.