It is difficult to know what to say when someone shares that they are in an abusive relationship.
Whether it be a friend, family member, or client, there is this moment of pause~the thought of, “How I respond right now will really matter.’
Here are some tips on what to and not do to/say when someone discloses this vulnerable fact of their lives.
What to say:
- “I’m sorry this has happened (or is happening) to you.”
Acknowledge you have heard what has been said, that you heard it and are listening. Acknowledge the courage it takes to disclose abuse and the strength it takes to survive. This is your opportunity to empathize.
- “No one deserves to be abused.”
This is a universal statement and an opportunity to connect with the survivor.
- “It’s not your fault.”
Don’t minimize the violence or blame the victim. The batterer is accountable and responsible for his/her choices and behaviors.
- “You are not alone.”
Violence in relationships is a widespread social problem, yet the victim often feels very alone. By generalizing, we can help the survivor understand that the abuse is not about who they are or what they did but about their partner’s attempt to maintain power and control.
- “There is help.”
Empower the survivor by offering information choices, safe space and support.
What not to say/do:
- Give advice.
- Change the subject.
- Ask trivial questions.
- Intellectualize the problem.
- Become emotional.
- Make decisions for them.
- Be evasive or elusive.
- Handle everything yourself.
- Ask ‘why’ questions.
- Pity them.
- Indulge in silly witticisms.
- Become insensitive or cold.
- Cut communication.
- Be judgmental or rejecting.
- Don’t blame. The survivor is not at fault for the violence. It is never okay for one person to use force against another. Avoid questions that may sound blaming, such as “why don’t you just leave?”
- Don’t participate in the denial. Violence does not change on its own; it often escalates. It will not simply ‘get better’.
- Keep in mind: Battering is against the law.
- Don’t ignore the danger. Is there a gun in the house? Are there children in the home?
- Don’t focus on leaving if this does not seem to be a safe option. Help the survivor find ways to be safe.
- Encourage developing a safety plan.