This month, we’ve been talking about the best ways to love abuse victims. We discussed how victims can love themselves, how to love and develop a healthy relationship with an intimate partner who has been abused, and how parents can show love to their child who has been abused. Today, we would like to speak to friends who know an abuse survivor and are looking for information and encouragement on how to love that friend well during their healing process.
It isn’t easy for a victim to share their situation of abuse for the first time. Even telling their best friend is an incredibly difficult thing to do. It takes an extreme level of courage for a survivor to open up about their story. Sometimes these first conversations can come with a wide variety of extreme emotions and chaos, other times victims may seem cold and detached. If you are on the receiving end of these disclosures, it can be difficult to fully understand what is really going on. It can become even more confusing to comprehend the situation if you also know their abuser. It can be tempting to ask a lot of questions to try and clarify the situation for yourself or maybe you feel the urgency to offer advice. We ask that you hold off on doing that until you are better equipped and informed. The best way to show love during this time is to offer support and compassion. The Healing Model of Compassion is a guide that informs you on the specific steps that you can take to help your friend walk through their healing journey with compassion and to avoid actions or comments that could unknowingly harm them. It is simple, yet requires self-control. When done successfully, it yields an emotional healing balm to victims and survivors.
These steps are designed to help your friend feel seen, heard, and validated. When the model is used successfully, it will create a calm and safe environment for victims to use their voice. By adhering to the Healing Model of Compassion you will create a safe space for your friend to process their experience while preventing an increase in your friend’s anxiety and stress. Your consistent and stable participation in this process will help them gain clarity.
One common but detrimental mistake first-responders and friends of survivors make is pressuring the victim to take a specific step. As the onlooker watching in loving concern, it’s not uncommon to feel a sense of urgency on their behalf, wishing them to take action quickly, such as leaving their abuser, reporting an assault, or finding a therapist. Although your intentions come from a good place, and these steps are sometimes wise and necessary (specifically in physically abusive situations), it is not the role of the friend to push these on the victim. Please know that you shouldn’t stay silent if your friend’s safety is at risk. Express your concern and offer to help them find the support they need. However, your most important role is to show your friend you are supportive and willing to give your time.
To this end, friends may sometimes think they’re doing a good thing by laying down ultimatums. For example, “if you don’t leave them in the next month, I’m not going to help you anymore.” Too often, survivors find themselves being shunned or neglected by their support system for not responding to the abuse in a way that meets outside expectations. Trying to force a change or specific action to occur through demands and conditions can be detrimental to a victim. With friends who have not been abused, setting healthy boundaries may be needed. However, placing conditions on your relationship can be damaging to both the relationship and to those who are trying to heal from abusive situations. While you may think that distancing yourself from the survivor when they aren’t moving forward will force them to change. However it is incredibly isolating for them and can set them back even more. Having even just one supportive person with them along the journey significantly increases their odds of having a healthy recovery.
We are aware that following the Healing Model of Compassion can feel counter to your natural responses and reactions. This is especially true of those who are experiencing abuse for the first time. We at the M3ND Project believe that knowledge is power for both friends and victim in cases of abuse. One thing that you may not know is that victims often experience involuntary trauma reactions that make them behave in ways that aren’t typical. These automatic reactions result from conditions that develop in response to experiencing abuse, like PTSD and Complex PTSD, to name a few. Trauma can lead to more subtle expressions like exhaustion or confusion. It can even lead to experiencing severe anxiety, emotional and mental dissociation, and sleep disorders. Because of this, it’s essential that friends not judge the survivor or hold them to unrealistic standards. It’s these different circumstances that warrant a thoughtful approach.
Most of the time, our friends who have been abused don’t need significant commitments from us – they need emotional support. If you have a friend who is in an abusive situation, one of the best things you can do is let them know that you are there for them, no matter what they feel. Just remember that it can take significant courage to walk alongside someone being abused or leaving an abusive relationship. Consider calling them up once a week to check in on them, or invite them to join you in routine activities like going for a walk or to the grocery store. Sometimes, merely participating in events like these are healing because it takes them out of their abusive situation for a while and may give them more freedom to think and feel. It’s okay if they don’t want to talk a lot during these times or if they don’t want to discuss the abuse at all. It’s far more important that they know they have a committed friend in you if they ever do want to talk through it.
This commitment is not to be taken lightly. While supporting victims can be invaluable and rewarding, engaging with those you care about who have gone through trauma be overwhelming. Burnout and vicarious trauma, trauma that occurs due to mental and physical exhaustion when providing help to victims, are not uncommon amongst first responders, especially friends and family. This is why it is important for you to be honest with yourself about exactly how much you are capable of taking on. It is essential for you to take care of yourself and know your limits. Walking the path of healing with a victim is a long journey, make sure you are prepared and utilizing every resource available to you.
Finally, another way you can support your friends in abusive circumstances is by showing them our site and referring them to our blog. Let them know that we have many resources that can help them feel more understood and gain greater clarity about how to move forward. If, while reading this post, you thought of someone in your life who would benefit from learning about our site, please share it on your social media accounts. It’s a good and safe way to spread the message of hope and healing to victims.