Yesterday faithful reader Sara A wrote:
Two days ago one of my dear friends was beaten up by her long-time boyfriend. Two days ago I lived in a world where that only happened to other people. How do I talk to her about this? How do I reconcile that I now live in a world where partners hurt each other? At an intellectual level, I understand that I always lived in a world where this happened.
My friend is debating the merits of pressing charges, but she’s not entirely blameless and she’s not entirely mentally sound. I’m worried about what his lawyers would do with that and what trial prep would do to her mentally and emotionally. Not to mention the ordeal of a trial. The bottom line is that I’m her friend and I will support her no matter what, but I don’t know where to start.
First of all, I’m sorry. Not just for your friend, but for you. It’s one thing to know academically we live in a sometimes violent world; it’s another entirely to have a dear friend look at you through a blackened eye. I went through this with a friend of my own a few years ago, and it sucked for everyone involved. Of course I’m just a yahoo with a lifestyle blog, not a licensed counselor, so I can only tell you what I’ve found effective.
Provide a safe place for her to land
I mean that figuratively and, if necessary, literally. You want to do as much as you can to create an environment that makes success as easy as possible. My friend lived with and was financially dependent on her abuser. Our church helped her find a place to sleep at night and several of her friends and I made sure she had groceries and utilities covered. This wasn’t because we’re such great people (although I admit we’re pretty swell), but because we wanted to create an environment where she didn’t feel she needed to go back to him so she could eat.
Once your friend’s physical needs are taken care of, the best thing you can possibly do is listen and provide honest support.
Don’t offer your opinions
Or at least be judicious when you do, just listen (even if it kills you). Ask questions instead of offering advice. If she’s thinking about going back to him, matter-of-factly tell her you think it’s a bad idea, but try your dardnest not to get overheated about it. Trust me, there have been times I’ve bitten my tongue so hard I’ve nearly made blood shoot out my nose, but you don’t love him, she probably still does. The last thing you want to do is put her in a situation where she’s defending him –either aloud or internally– against your badmouthing.
Don’t dissect it just yet
We both know that although physical violence is never okay, it’s rarely one-sided or without provocation (no, this doesn’t mean anyone deserves to be hit, and I’m not blaming the victim) so I understand it when you say “she’s not entirely blameless”. At this point it doesn’t matter whether she threw the first punch, was blindsided or gave just as good as she got. You want to get her out of the situation. You’re still doing triage at this stage, give it a little distance before you start analyzing behavior.
Do as much of the legwork for her as you can
Your friend is likely to feel overwhelmed right now, and we’ve all felt paralyzed by having so much to do. Sit down and figure out a plan. If she needs to get a new mailing address asap, call the post office and find out how much a PO box is, or do the research online and send her the link. This isn’t to say just let her sit back and wallow while you take control of everything, but lend a hand and offer your support.
And now the sad truth:
You can’t help someone who won’t help themselves. You’ve got to be emotionally prepared for her to go back to her boyfriend, for her to lash out, for her stability to decrease. This hurts. It REALLY hurts and it REALLY sucks and unfortunately it REALLY happens.
For more (and doubtlessly better) advice. Click here to see what the National Domestic Violence Hotline has to say about helping a friend. I’ll keep you and your friend in my thoughts and prayers. Good luck to you both.
Comments to this post will be very strictly moderated and shut off if necessary, this is not a place for debate. -Ed.