You may know someone who is experiencing abuse, and it may be very hard for them to talk to someone about it. As their friend, you may be the one that they confide in about what is going on in their life. When someone tells you that they are being hurt, it may be hard to listen to what is happening. You care very much about the person and you think you need all the answers to help them. What may be more helpful is not to give the answer, but instead listen and be supportive of the person.
Your goal is to help your friend realize that they have inner strength that they have been using to get to this point in their life. They can build on their strengths to continue doing things the same way or to do them differently, depending on their desired outcome. They have the capacity to influence their lives to go direction they desire. Affirmation of real strengths helps your friend see the positive things they have done in their lives.
Here are some guidelines to support a person who is experiencing abuse:
Listen. Listening is the first step. You may be the first person to hear about the abuse your friend is experiencing. Believe your friend; they may think no one will believe or care about what they say.
Support getting help. Support your friend in getting help with a crisis situation.
Don’t give advice. As hard as it may be, don’t give advice. It’s their life and they are the expert. If you give advice, it comes with the expectation that they will follow your guidance, not their own strengths. You also encourage them to make decisions based on making you happy or avoiding disappointing you. Instead of advice, offer choices about what your friend could do:
- Call a crisis hotline and talk with someone. Let your friend know that their conversation is confidential unless it involves abuse of someone under 18.
- Talk with another trusted friend about what is happening.
- Let the friend know they can talk with you again about what is happening.
No one deserves to be hurt. Let your friend know that they do not deserve to be hurt. Empower them to make informed choices. People make choices based on their actions, feelings and emotions.
Support choices. Support the choices your friend makes. It may be hard to see a friend stay in a situation where they are getting hurt. Yet, remember that everyone has the right to make choices. It is hard to talk about working on the relationship or deciding to leave a person who is causing harm. There is a part of your friend that cares about the person, and they may hope that the abusive person will change or feel that the person needs them. Your friend will decide to leave or get further help when they are ready.
Take care of yourself. There are a lot of feelings you and your friend may have about an abusive situation. It is important that you also talk about your feelings and get support. Call someone at one of the shelter hotlines if you feel the need to talk to someone. Don’t forget that your friend is making the best choices based on available resources, and they are capable of making choices and decisions.