How to help someone in an abusive situation.

What can we do to help?

20th May 2022
Image from Danie Franco (Unsplash)

TW: Abuse

When somebody you care about is trapped in an abusive situation, it’s hard to know what the right thing to do is. Sometimes, there may not be an easy way to help; I know this all too well. Growing up, I had the misfortune of jumping from one abusive situation to another, and so did several of my friends. We did all we could to help each other, but it was hard, and it was scary. The only reason I am alive today is because of the support of some very, very good friends.

I can’t speak for all victims, but for me, the biggest thing anyone could’ve ever done for me while I was in abusive situations was this: believe me.

A large part of abuse is gaslighting. A large part of abuse is telling the victim “This is okay. This is normal. This happens to everyone.” The first time someone ever told me, “That’s not okay. That’s abuse,” I cried, and I cry now when I think about it. Abuse makes you think you’ve gone mad; it fundamentally changes your perception of the world around you. It makes you lose your sense of safety, and a lot of the time, you just don’t know why.

So that’s the best thing anyone has ever done for me: tell me that what was happening wasn’t okay. Tell me that I have grounds for how I feel, that I’m not wrong for being afraid. Tell me “that person should not have done that.” Tell me that no matter what society says about forgiveness and acceptance, my abusers’ actions are not justified, and that I’m not the one who’s in the wrong for feeling upset.

Trying to help somebody in an abusive situation is so incredibly complex; I can’t tell you to do this, or do that, or that the right thing to do is X. Abuse is complicated. The right thing to say varies from victim to victim.

What I can tell you is to listen and to believe. Offer a safe space; make it clear that your door is open if they need somewhere to go, that your schedule will be free if they need help, that you can make excuses to pull somebody out of a situation if they need an escape.

Above all, take care of yourself. You are not responsible for somebody else’s actions, and you can’t help a victim if you can’t help yourself.

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