Whether you are an adult or child reading this and whether it is for assistance with Bullying, Teen Dating Violence or Domestic Violence, the absolute wrong thing to do is nothing at all. At the very least, if you suspect someone is having a hard time with their relationship(s), ask the questions that may get them to open up and confide in you. Even if they choose not to, just knowing that you cared enough to ask once may comfort them and may open you up as someone they can come to in the future, if and when they are ready to tell their story.
Ask questions, such as those provided below, privately and as neutrally as you can (without emotion, presumption or assumption).
About Bullying: "Do you Feel Safe at School?", "Are you ever afraid to go to or at school?", "Are you having a hard time with some of your friends?"
About Teen Dating Violence: "Are you ever afraid of your boy/girlfriend?", "Has your boy/girlfriend ever forced you to do something you didn't like, weren't comfortable with, or that hurt you?", "Do you ever worry that your boy/girlfriend will hurt you?"
About Domestic Violence: "Are you safe in your home?", "Are you afraid to go home?", "Are you ever afraid to go home?"
Listen Without Judgment
If and when they do decide to confide in you, maximize the opportunity by withholding your opinions and assessments of the situation – be sure to let them completely tell their story. Now that they have the chance, it may come pouring out, so maintain eye contact, let them know you are listening but let them talk. Some of what they may tell you may be very hard for you to hear but try to contain any reactions that may end up making them feel self conscious or finding themselves no longer wanting to share.
Believe Them Absolutely
Again, some of what you hear may be very hard to hear, particularly if the person confiding in you is very close to you. Some of it may be hard to imagine based on your assumed knowledge of the abuser – do not let these thoughts interfere with being there for your friend/loved one. Stay in the moment and affirm their experience, even if it seems nearly impossible for you to imagine.
Respect Their Feelings
Someone telling their story of abuse may show erratic swings in their emotional state while telling the story or seem to have none at all. Being abused, no matter the source, is a traumatic experience and reactions to trauma can vary widely. However they feel is right for them and should not be dismissed or admonished, but acknowledged.
Tell Them They Are Not To Blame
Again, regardless of the mode of abuse, it is NEVER the victim/survivor's fault that this has happened to them. They are constantly told they are to blame, not only by the person who is abusing them but possibly by others as well. It is important to continually reiterate that it is not their fault.
Discuss Their Safety & Encourage Development of a Safety Plan
Chances are if they have chosen to confide in you, they are not ready right this minute to resolve the situation. The most important thing now is to get them to develop a safety plan so that they can stay safer in their particular situation.
Do Not Advise or Make Choices
Resist the urge to jump right in the middle of the situation and "take care of things" – this may cause a very strong reaction from the victim/survivor (again/still rendering them powerless over their own life) but may very well put them in danger. Rather, using a safety plan, create a plan to address the situation with the victim/survivor in the driver's seat to resolve it. This is where calling New Choices to assist would be very helpful.
Keep Mindful of Your Own Safety and Do Not Confront the Abuser or Otherwise Directly Intervene
People who are abusive need their secret to stay that. Finding out that you know may put you in harms way or, again, put the very person you are seeking to protect in harm's way. It is very important to step back into the role of supportive advisor, even if you are a parent, so that the victim/survivor has the opportunity to reassert their power and control over their life by taking the lead on solving the issue.
Helping someone out of any type of abusive relationship can be emotionally and mentally draining for the person trying to help and support. It's important that you also seek out help to keep yourself in the game and on the right track. Please always feel free to call us at New Choices for help in assisting someone as well as getting helpful resources for you. The process out of an abusive relationship can be long and heartbreaking – but it's SO important that you stay committed to seeing it through – it could be the difference between life and death.
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