How To Help Someone Leave An Abusive Relationship
There are ways to help someone leave an abusive relationship. You have to be careful though. Leaving an abusive relationship is very difficult, and if you are not careful, your loved one may turn on you. They may not see themselves as trapped in an abusive relationship at all. However, there is also no harm in attempting to carefully guide your loved one into realizing their partner abuses them. And, if you are wrong and the relationship is not abusive, all you've done is guide your loved one toward greater self-empowerment (and that hurts no one).
Help Someone Leave an Abusive Relationship Without Forcing It
When showing a friend how to leave an abusive relationship, you have to make sure they know how to separate themselves from their partner. Abuse fosters a type of codependency in which the victim forgets to separate who she is from who her abuser is.
You can test for this by asking a question like, "How was the picnic yesterday?" If your loved one tells you all about what her partner did, said or felt but very little about her thoughts on the picnic, then she is probably having a problem separating her thoughts from her partner's thoughts.
The idea you could try to get across to her is this:
In love relationships there is a healthy amount of we involved. When two become we, each person is capable of discerning things like what we may like for dinner or what movie we would be most interested in seeing. When there is a healthy dose of we in a relationship, each individual also knows their own individual preferences and pays attention to what their partner prefers. In other words, healthy relationships include three factors: we, me, and you. We work together to create a life that benefits both me and you with the understanding that it takes two separate people to make a we.
However, in an abusive relationship, the abuser sees only me and expects we and you to dissolve into me. The post Path Into Abuse describes how abuse victims buy into the one-way relationship presented by the abuser. So, in order to free an abuse victim, the victim must first separate themselves from their abuser and the abuser's warped version of reality.
Help Someone Leave an Abusive Relationship by Showing Her a Different Reality
1.) Educate Yourself: You have to know what abuse is before you can help someone out of it. Here are some pages to get you started:
2.) Set boundaries: Everyone needs to develop personal boundaries to protect themselves from ugliness in the world. Some things should not be tolerated because repeated exposure to them causes susceptibility to them - you may become enact the behaviors you despise most.
The best way to encourage your loved one to set personal boundaries is to set them for yourself and then share them with the abuse victim. By showing your loved one that it is natural and okay to separate yourself from certain behaviors, you will plant the seed that it's okay for them to do it too.
3.) Recognize the Fine Line: There is a paradox involved with abusive relationships that many people just don't understand. Your friend, the victim of abuse, either loves or believes she loves her partner even if she feels terribly hurt or describes her partner's behavior as abusive. If you suddenly call the partner an abuser, the idea may be too painful or foreign for your friend to bear. Your friend may dismiss you completely, tell her partner that you're a kook, and not speak to you for awhile or forever. This is why you must be careful in deciding how to help someone leave an abusive relationship.
Do your very best to call attention to the elephant in the room without naming the abuser or labeling the partner's behaviors as abusive. Say things like, "Wow! If someone said those things to me I would think they were trying to make me believe a lie" or "You are smart and intuitive! What would possess someone to call you an idiot?"
Think of abuse as a separate entity. When you advise your friend how to react to abuse, make sure you're telling her how to react to the abuse, not the partner. Remind her to protect herself from abuse - period. Bottom line: it may be easier for the victim to separate abuse from their partner than to separate themselves from their partner (at first).
4.) Create A New Reality: Over time, with education and empathetic concern, the victim's self separates from the complex situation surrounding her. She is able to say "I do not like how my partner treats me" instead of "Our relationship has problems." The difference may appear subtle, but the fact that the victim is able and willing to voice a personal opinion about her partner or the relationship is huge. At this point, the victim has separated the relationship into we-me-you and is better able to objectively decide if the we is worth preserving.
Families, when your loved one comes to you with this new understanding, remember the new reality is fragile. If you jump on the chance to verbally bash the partner (oh sweet release!), you run the risk of putting your loved one back on the defensive and possibly enabling the new reality to crumble. Instead, respond with statements like, "Oh sweet heart, I had a sense that something was wrong! Tell me about it" or "I believe you, baby. What can I do to help you?" (see also What To Say To A Victim Of Domestic Violence)
You could refer your friend to this Detaching From Verbal Abuse Hypnosis MP3 when she complains about her abuser's voice or the outburst she received that morning constantly distracting her. It helps abuse victims shrink the abuser down to size so then can stop ruminating. Additionally, there is a safety plan that will keep your friend safer whether she stays or leaves the abusive relationship. You can find it here (scroll to the bottom of the page to download the plan for free).
Separateness is crucial to the ability to leave abuse. Without it, there is no reason important enough to leave. Remember that your friend may not leave the abuser immediately after becoming mentally and emotionally separate. It took some time to get into abuse, and it could take some time to get out. Nevertheless, after separateness is accomplished, it becomes easier for your loved one to reach out to other friends, family, support groups, therapists and community organizations that can help her leave for good.
*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so please do not take my pronoun choices as an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized.
Jo, K. (2012, January 19). How To Help Someone Leave An Abusive Relationship, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, February 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2012/01/the-path-out-of-abuse