“If we are to fight discrimination and injustice against women we must start from the home for if a woman cannot be safe in her own house then she cannot be expected to feel safe anywhere.”
― Aysha Taryam
Maybe it’s your sister. Or your best friend. Or a co-worker. Studies suggest that more than 35% of women will experience a violent domestic assault at some point in their lives, many more will suffer verbal and emotional abuse. And even after these toxic partnerships end, many women struggle to trust – or love – again. Here are some things you can do to help a friend regain her faith in humanity.
Help her identify what attracted her to her abuser. Abusers don’t often begin a new relationship showing their true colors, and this is precisely what makes them so dangerous. The Christian Broadcast Network lists charm as one of the most dominant traits of abusers. This charisma can turn dangerous very quickly when jealousy and control begin to emerge. Many women are flattered by their lover’s initial displays of protectiveness and they hold on to this feeling long after the jealousy has turned to rage.
Remind her that it isn’t her fault. Abusers don’t mistreat a woman because of something she has done. She is not at fault but may hold on to some lingering questions about her role in the situation. Feelings of guilt and shame are common but help is available. LoveIsRespect.org — part of the National Domestic Violence Hotline — is a great resource for women of all ages and stages of abuse recovery.
Get her to list behaviors that won’t be tolerated in her next relationship. No relationship is perfect; however, there are a number of behaviors that should send up immediate red flags. A loving partner will never be critical of a woman’s weight or put her down for any reason; he will never forbid her from communicating with her family and friends or intentionally break promises.
Show her how to get in touch with her own needs. Women leaving an abusive relationship need time to reflect on themselves and their needs. For many, this starts with the need to feel safe. One of the most non-threatening ways for women to do this is through canine therapy. The Daily Treat blog by Rover.com notes that therapy dogs can help people overcome many issues, including anxiety and depression. Dogs also provide unconditional love and a sense of security that she may truly need while she learns to reconnect with humans.
Prove to her that she has a strong support network. There is a good chance she has been denied contact with loved ones for some time. Many abusive partners use isolation as a way to control their victims. She may feel like she has no right to ask for support from family or once-close friends. Show her that you all care by including her at gatherings and by maintaining open lines of communication. A quick text message just to say hello can go a long way toward helping her take back her life…and the people in it.
Encourage her to be candid with her past abuse to new partners. The Huffington Post says it best, “Having honest conversations about each other’s relationship history is key to building trust…” This is especially true when one partner has experienced emotional and/or physical trauma at the hands of another. While she doesn’t have to divulge her history on the first date, encourage her to share her past with prospective partners.
Reassure her that her gut instincts don’t have to be ignored. Gas-lighting is a technique abusers employ to make their victims feel like they are going crazy. She may question her every decision, wondering if she even knows how to make good choices. Reassure her that any off-putting behaviors by new suitors should be cause for concern and openly discussed. If the new partner is anything other than empathetic and understanding, she will know she was right and can move on.
It takes time to recover from abuse of all kinds. Be patient with your loved one. She will need you more than ever, first as a shoulder to cry on then as part of the foundation upon which she will rebuild her life. Eventually, she will learn to love, and trust, once again.