Listening means that instead of retreating, tell your loved one that you are there to listen only. Then, listen, listen, listen. No judgments, no suggestions, no interpretations. Often when a victim is listened to she may begin to hear herself and become more open to a later offer of intervention. Remember that her position did not occur overnight: she may feel it’s become the norm, or be so terrified that any thought of action is overwhelming. She is vulnerable and must be approached with empathy and compassion, not pity. Listen with big ears and a closed mouth. Do not even blame the Alleged Perpetrator or try to hold him accountable to the victim. She may rise to his defense.
Once that first step of listening opens even a slit in the door, you can move to the other five steps:
Accepting means to believe her, that what she says is true of her experience. This does not mean approval or blind acceptance of what she may or may not have done. It means that you accept that she is in a highly compromised position without knowing what to do and she needs you to accept her veracity, her pain, her fear, her indecision, her confusion for what it is: the story of her suffering.
Empathizing is the act of being able to put yourself in the other’s shoes, enough that you can feel what she is experiencing. Being able to feel empathy in current time with her situation will guide you in communicating your deep understanding, without negative judgment, evaluating, or telling her what to do. Empathizing will also guide you in offering her compassion, patience as she processes and makes her own decision, and an emotional companionship along her journey to health and well-being.
Validating consists of mirroring back to her what you are understanding about what she is saying, not in a parroting way, but so that she can hear that you truly do comprehend not only the content of what she is saying but the meaning her experience has for her.
Identifying is the act of assisting the abused to name her experience: this interaction helps her find her voice and her words to narrate what has been confusing. Identifying the abuse supports her in speaking her truth to those who can intervene and help her heal. Sometimes, it can be illuminating for you to name your own parallel experiences as examples, as long as when you use these examples the primary focus remains on developing her narrative instead of shifting to yours.
Encouraging is not a set of directives but your communication that you believe in her, that you will walk beside her, and know that with the right supports she will have the courage to work her way out of the morass.