Friday, September 30, 2016

What Not to Say to Abuse Victims

I asked my Facebook friends what were the dumbest and most thoughtless comments they received when they disclosed they had left their abusers. I was stunned at the level of cruelty. Some intentional, some just from lack of understanding.

Most all of us encountered surprise from family and friends. Abuse is typically done in the privacy of the home, not out in public. To the general population, abusers are often charming and charismatic, the very persona that drew their victims to them. However, behind closed doors their cruel and controlling personalities come out.

Understanding our friend's and family’s lack of knowledge regarding our situation doesn’t mean the comments hurt any less. Victims reported many knee-jerk responses: “I can’t believe it. He’s such a nice guy.” “Are you sure?” “You have such a great life, why screw it up?”

Then there was the shaming and blaming statements: “Why did you stay so long.” “It couldn’t have been that bad, you stayed.” “Other women have had it worse.” “Don’t say anything that could ruin his career.”

When you toss religion into the mix, the comments were more along this line: “God can heal  anything. You need to pray harder about this.” “Divorce is a sin.” “The church frowns on divorce.”

While we expected angry and cruel reactions from our former partners, the most hurtful comments often came from family members: “You’re making a big mistake.” “You didn’t try hard enough.” “What did you do to make him so angry that he hit you?” “You’ve always been a loser.” “There’s never been a divorce in our family.”

Every story is different, all are painful. It’s humiliating to admit you were taken in by a controlling person. Telling someone takes great courage. Victims need the people around them to believe them and listen more then giving opinions. They especially need others to know that domestic abuse is complicated and it’s difficult to leave an abuser. (See blog post: Why Victims Stay or Return to Their Abusers, January 12, 2012)

Should someone share this personal information with you, the best response is, “I’m sorry that happened to you. You don’t deserve that kind of treatment.” Then let her/him talk. 

If she is not sure what to do next, offer to help your friend connect with a shelter in the area. If there is no shelter, give her the number of the Domestic Violence Hotline (800 799-7233). An advocate can talk with her about available options. Encourage your friend to join a support group or connect with a therapist trained to work with victims of abuse. 

October is Domestic Abuse Awareness Month. Through Facebook I’ve met some remarkable women. Some of them have offered their thoughts on this topic. I will be posting them throughout October.

Meanwhile, you can share your thoughts by clicking on the comment button below.