“Should we say anything?”
My friend didn’t use the word abuse, still her gut knew something wasn’t right. It was both unsettling and uncomfortable. “Did you see that?” she blurted, looking over to her husband. He nodded in affirmation. “Should we say anything?” she asked, unsure how to process what they had just witnessed.
Between our stories and laughs that afternoon, they couldn’t help but notice that my demeanor changed each time my husband put his hand on my arm. The bubbly me quieted as though on cue. It was but one subtle yet very real sign of my toxic relationship – one that would ultimately end several years later with me and my two children running for our lives.
She didn’t say something all those years ago. But, it is one of the questions I get asked more than any other from people who know something is “off” with one of their family members or friends. What should I do? What should I say?
It should be no surprise that it is such a common question because statistics say that 75% of us know someone who has dealt with abuse or is dealing with it. Abuse isolates while instilling paralyzing fear. Breaking free from an abusive relationship can be extremely difficult, but it is possible. How you intervene could save the life of a family member or friend.
3 Things you can do to make a difference:
1. Know the Signs of Abuse
(Each of these can equally read his or her. They apply regardless of gender.)
- Does her personality change when her partner is around? (She goes from bubbly to quiet, withdrawn, anxious, or much more conservative.)
- Does she cancel plans at the last minute?
- Has she changed her appearance? (less makeup, dresses differently, etc..)
- Does her partner constantly call or text?
- Does she seem to need to “check in” frequently?
- Has she given him access to her passwords and social media accounts?
- Does she make excuses for his behavior?
- Does she have unexplained bruises?
- Has she stopped spending time with many friends, even those who were once close?
- Does she seem less confident or more withdrawn?
- Has she given up her dreams, goals, and or hobbies?
2. A few common misconceptions:
- But he seems so nice. Abusers are often master manipulators with incredible charm, charisma, and generosity. Behind closed doors behavior can completely change. Such Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality changes are common with abusers.
- If it’s that bad, wouldn’t she just leave? Leaving isn’t a simple effort. 75% of deaths from domestic violence occur after she has left.
- I don’t think he’s actually hit her. Is emotional abuse that serious? Yes, it is. Domestic violence escalates over time. Emotional abuse can not only leave deep emotional scars, but it can also lead to physical violence over time.
- She’s gone back to him so I don’t need to help? It takes the average woman eight attempts at leaving before she stays away. Emotional and financial ties can run deep. She may have doubts that she can make it on her own, or that anyone else would ever love her, or that the abuse was that bad. The psychological put-downs damage her self-esteem and denial clouds judgment of abuse. Don’t withdraw your friendship just because she’s returned. Your friendship will be even more important to her long term success.
- But my friend is a guy. Guys can’t be abuse, can they? One in Seven men will experience abuse in a relationship. Everything listed here, applies to men and women. If you suspect a male friend is in an abusive relationship, your support is equally needed!
3. What can you do to help?
- Have the tough conversation. (example of how follows this section)
- Be a consistent friend, even if she often cancels your plans.
- Reinforce her strengths. An abused person’s self esteem suffers from constantly being torn down. By reinforcing her strengths, she can gain courage to face the situation.
- Don’t berate the abuser to your friend, doing so can cause her to defend him and draw her closer to her abuser.
- Encourage her to spend time with friends and family. Isolation in abusive relationships is strong. Encourage her to reform connections and expand her sense of community.
- Encourage her to speak to a professional resource such as a domestic violence advocate at a local agency or the National Domestic Violence hotline (1-800-799-7233 or thehotline.org), a counselor, or the police.
- Offer to allow her to use your phone to call the hotline.
- Help her make a safety plan. The plan should include someplace to go should she need to leave quickly. An example of what should be included in a safety plan can be found at: http://www.ncadv.org/protectyourself/SafetyPlan.php.
- Share this post with your friends and relatives. You never know who’ll witness abuse and wonder “Did you see that? Should we say something?”
What to say:
So what can you say? Tell your friend that you are concerned for them. Let them know you’ve seen or heard things that are unsettling to you. Share a few things that you’ve noticed but don’t give them a long drawn out list. Let them know that you are there for them if and when they ever need someone to talk to. It is better to plant a seed of support so that your friend will know they have someone to turn to when they are ready. As the person who has been on the other side of this equation, it is much easier to share with someone who already knows something is wrong than to call a friend who may not be aware at all.
As for my story, we’ll never know how my path may have changed if my friends had spoken up. But I can tell you that I have broken free and am no longer in my abusive marriage.
Now it’s your turn to speak up…Spread the word. Share this information. Abuse affects 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men. Your friends need you to speak up!
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Thank you, Susan. This is a very helpful article, especially since it’s written by someone in the know.
Thank you Sandra. It is truly one of the most common questions I get… “What should/can I say?” And, hearing the stories that return months later have proven that saying something helps. It leaves an open door for the individual to say “Do you remember when you said if I ever needed anything?” or “You were right.” It makes the next step feel possible.
Gosh, Susan. This is riveting and powerful. So sorry for the pain in your story. But so thankful you got out and are in a more healthy place in your life. The content here is really informative from your personal story. I pray it touches many and leads us to help victims of abuse.
Thank you Karen! I’ve been thankful to be able to use what I’ve been through to help others. Unfortunately it is way too common!
I work in a domestic violence shelter and oftentimes we have people call in asking what they can do to help someone dealing with abuse. Thanks to this post I now have more insightful responses. Great post!
Shawneequa, Thank you for the work you do! Abuse is far more common than people know. Having resources available is so critical. I have heard success stories from friends who were concerned. A few have had friends in life threatening situations. When they voiced their support, the friend in danger didn’t immediately leave or acknowledge the abuse. It planted seeds that turned into hope and a path out for their friends ultimately. Praying for your continued success in your work. Blessings, Susan