You don’t have to be employed in the domestic violence field to be affected by it—domestic violence touches everyone. It can be hard to know how to handle a friend, an in-law, a co-worker or child seeking support for an abusive relationship. It’s easy to fall into “shoulds”, decide to solve the situation yourself, or pass judgment on the decisions she has made thus far.
The first step, as always, is to step back and remind yourself that she knows best. She came to you. She has survived this far. She best knows the dangers of her situation. She is capable of making choices to keep herself safe. This can be a hard idea to grasp, especially if there are children involved, substance use, or mental health issues, such as depression. Survivors often need some urging in acknowledging their intuition—and encouragement in listening to it—but they know.
This approach bolsters self-esteem and self-determination, while also taking much of the pressure off of you. You no longer have to come up with the answers or determine the direction. You are free to support and encourage, to point out progress, offer praise and practice positivity. This role is mutually beneficial and will ultimately allow you both to “work” together better, and longer.
You are likely wondering why helping is bad. To assume you can help someone implies that you have some kind of power or expertise that they lack. It erects a power structure that complicates the relationship and may constrain the ways in which you can support or she can confide. Helping strips her power and augments yours, as if you are leaning over a ledge offering a leg up. Utilizing your own strength may seem the easiest way, but it will exhaust you in the end and can leave her dependent and still unable to trust in her own intuition and abilities.
Similar caution must be offered against trying to fix the situation. Once again, such a stance is dangerous in all that it implies. Most glaringly, it implies that she, or her life, is somehow broken. Fixing discounts her many positive attributes and all the hard work she has put in thus far, focusing only on the wrong, the negative, or the [perceived] broken. It also presumes that there is an available and obvious answer to her problem that she was somehow unable or unwilling to see. Fixing does nothing to empower her, in the present or in the future, and embarking on such an endeavor will likely create distance between you two that will exist for a long time to come.
Release yourself from the burden of helping her out of abuse or fixing the violence in her life. Concentrate instead on supporting her where she is at. This collaborative approach assumes no power and implies no lacking; it will strengthen you individually and together.
For more information on this concept or approach, read Helping, Fixing or Serving by Rachel Naomi Remen.