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Supporting Someone Who Is Being Abused

Adapted from safeplace.org

If The Person Reaches Out to You

If someone, let's say a friend, has reached out to you for help, you will need to listen to him/her, talk with them, provide them with support and information, and offer to help in whatever way you can. The goal in assisting your friend should be to help them make the best decisions possible.

Listen first to what they have to say.

Talk to them in private and keep what they say confidential.

Let your friend know why you are concerned.

Stay away from “you” statements such as “you should”. Instead, use “I” statements such as “I’m concerned that," "I feel afraid that..." "I'm worried about you." "I care about you." (See emotional literacy, understanding)

Offer to get your friend information.

Mention other people your friend might talk to - a counselor, a teacher, or someone else they might be able to trust, but don't pressure them into talking to someoen they don't feel safe with.

Allow him/her to tell their story.

Let them know you believe them and want to hear about their experiences.

Let them know you care about them and are concerned about their safety.

Acknowledge and accept all feelings including their need to feel resentful, hostile, angry, hateful, hurtful.

Don’t deny any feelings.

Don't invalidate.

Show understanding for the cultural values and beliefs that affect their behavior.

Remind yourself that the person needs support, not rescuing. (See
Helpers vs. Rescuers below)

Help him/her assess their resources and support systems.

Maintain contact. Physical and psychological isolation are powerful control tactics used by abusers. Also, people who are being abused, or who have been, are often depressed and isolate themselves.

Show that you are a non-threatening, concerned ally who is able to see the reality of the situation and still respect him/her.

Encourage the belief that “You don’t deserve to be treated that way."

Let them know they does not have to endure the situation alone and that they need and deserve support.

Let them know you are available to talk more if they need.

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Remember that it can very difficult for someone to leave an abusive relationship. Don't apply too much pressure or try to force someone to do something they are not ready to.

Supporting does not mean forcing. This is like crossing a high, fast flowing river. Pushing and pulling doesn't help. What helps is supporting as they move at their pace.

The ability to demonstrate unconditional acceptance is crucial. Try to suspend judgment when confronting behaviors and attitudes different from yours, be flexible and accepting without imposing your own values and ideals.

To avoid feeling judgmental, stay aware of your own feelings by silently asking yourself, "How am I feeling?" If you find that you answer "judgmental," remind yourself that feeling judgmental will not help the person you are trying to help. This may help you let go of the judgmental feelings just as you would quickly let go of a snake if you were told it was poisonous.

Remember that judging poisons relationships.

A Helper…

Believes that offering support, information, and resources is the best way to help someone who is being abused.

Listens for requests for help.

Provides what their friend says they need.

Respects the person's boundaries and doesn't pressure or force their "help".

Keeps their own boundaries so they don't get overly-involved or overly affected emotionally in order to avoid becoming co-dependent.

Checks in periodically.


Does most of the listening.

Supports their friend as he or she makes their own decisions and does their own work.

A Rescuer…

Believes the other person is helpless and needs someone to save them.

Gives help even when it is not asked for.

Fails to find out whether the help is welcomed.

Gives advice instead of information.

Gives what they decide their friend needs.

Does most of the talking and working.

One reason not to give advice is because if your friend doesn't follow your advice you are likely to frustrated and rejected on some level. Your friend will sense this and it will hurt the quality of your supportive relationship.

Helpers Versus Rescuers

In trying to be supportive, others can sometimes actually become overprotective to the point that they reinforce feelings of helplessness the abused person is trying to overcome. Doing too much for someone implies that they are incapable of acting on their own behalf. The more you believe your friend is helpless, the more the he or she stays in that role. The more helpless and dependent an abused person feels, the less able they will be to act on their own behalf.