Supporting Friends in Abusive Relationships
We understand. Sometimes, problems with romantic relationships, friendships, career or family life get you down. And we want to help. That’s why JET is working with therapist, Jinnie Cristerna, who will take your questions and offer some sage, sanity-restoring advice every Tuesday.
You can submit your own question via our contact form and don’t fret, we’ll keep your name and identity confidential. Now we have a question from a reader we will call “Traumatized and Torn”
QUESTION: I have a friend who is in a physically abusive relationship. I love her and want to be there to support her, but I don’t know if I can keep going through the abuse with her. I want to support my friend, but I am feeling traumatized by seeing what she is going through. I don’t think she will ever leave him. What should I do? Would I be wrong if I told her that I can’t be her friend if she stays in this relationship? ~Signed, Traumatized and Torn
Dear Traumatized and Torn,
This is one of the toughest positions a friend could find themselves. It is hard to believe that we or someone we love could be in an abusive relationship and even harder to imagine that we might end our friendship because they will not leave.
DONT FORCE THEM TO LEAVE OR STAY
After discovering that one of our loved ones is being abused, we may experience the desire to give the abuser a taste of their own medicine and then sweep our friend to safety. More times than not, we do not succumb to this impulse and instead choose to empower our loved one to leave the situation.
Sometimes, this approach doesn’t work and our loved ones choose to stay. It’s tough to understand why someone would stay, however, we must respect their choice. If they choose to stay, you can support them by talking with them, letting them know you love them and giving them numbers to domestic violence organizations.
There are a number of wonderful organizations across the country and locally that can help them deal with the affect of the abuse and/or prepare them to leave the situation. For a list of resources, please visit my previous post on domestic violence.
While you should not try to force them to leave, it is also important not to encourage them to stay. Refrain from telling them: 1) how good they have it; 2) how bad things are ‘out there;’ 3) it could be worse; or 4) he really loves you.
These types of statements evoke fear and guilt and those emotions limit the ability to think clearly and further oppresses them. It also prevents them from developing of courage to create a better situation for themselves. Since fear and guilt are often tactics used by the abuser, we want to avoid using the same tactic and cause further trauma to our loved ones.
Instead, we want to have our loved ones come to that decision for themselves so they can own it and reduce their chances of returning to the abuser. If we are witnessing the abuse or if there are children involved, authorities should be called to intervene.
AFTER YOU HAVE DONE ALL YOU CAN DO
If you have done all you can do and your friend chooses to stay, then you have a choice to make – just like your friend does. You can choose to leave or stay in that relationship with her and she must respect your choice like you respected hers.
Being friends doesn’t mean that you have to repeatedly expose yourself to her trauma, especially if that is a choice they made for themselves. Sometimes their choices can have a devastating impact on us.
Making a choice to take care of yourself doesn’t mean you’re a bad friend, it just means that the choice she is making for herself poses a threat to your emotional and/or physical well being. If it has gotten to the point where your overall health is affected, then it is time for your to have a heart-to-heart with your friend.
Let her know that you love and care for her deeply and that watching her go through this is starting to take a toll on your well being. Share with her your concerns and willingness to re-connect when she is no longer with the abuser or in a better place emotionally. Again, give her some referrals to organizations that specialize in helping women in abusive relationships and may be able to help her.
For even more clarity, check out my High Achiever Minute on Anger Management.
Do you have a question for Jinnie? Submit it to us via the contact us form. You can also learn more about our “Moment of Clarity” JET therapist via:
Her site at International High Achievers.
Facebook: Like Jinnie’s Page!
You can also subscribe to her High Achievers email list here!