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How To Be There For Someone Who’s Been Abused

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How to Be There For Someone Who's Been Abused

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,”
—James 1:19

When you first learn that someone you love has been abused in some way, primal emotional responses often flare up. You might crave justice, feel nearly uncontrollable anger or have a desire for vengeance.

Fight those feelings. In this moment, you have one role: Support them. Let them tell their story. As they do, listen intently, validate what happened to them and sympathize with what they’re going through.

If they’re safe:

Thank them for trusting you enough to tell you, and thank them for being brave by revealing this painful reality to you. Nothing needs to be solved in this moment. It’s okay to be still and just sit with them.

The conversation might be uncomfortable, and you’ll probably still feel angry. That’s a perfectly natural reaction to news like this. While it’s best to try not to show that anger in the moment, we urge you not to completely suppress it. In fact, you can consider counseling for yourself if you need help reconciling those emotions.

In your interactions over the next few hours or days, make an effort to return them to normalcy. Don’t treat them like a victim or like they’re broken; instead, do what you’ve always done. In these moments, it can also be wise to float the idea of counseling. For abuse recovery, there’s no set timeline. Professional help is simply recommended for as long as it’s needed.

If the abuse is ongoing:

Often, these are domestic violence situations. They’re heartbreaking and dangerous, and knowing what to do about it isn’t easy if you aren’t ready. First and foremost, listen and be supportive. womenshealth.gov has some excellent additional tips, which we encourage you to read in their entirety. Here are a few of the standouts:

  • Use “I feel” and not “You need.” Say “I feel scared thinking about what might happen to you” instead of “You need to leave.”
  • Be specific about the help you can give. Maybe you can offer child care, provide transportation or even take a couple days off of work to help make a plan.
  • Encourage them to talk to helpers. Offer to go with them to see law enforcement, or encourage them to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE, the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE or the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline at 866-331-9474. All are available 24/7.
  • Help them craft a safety plan. This can include packing a “gotta go” bag and establishing a safe word they can give to you to tell you they’re in danger without their abuser knowing.

There is always hope.

The recovery process after abuse looks different for every person, but professional counseling is universally helpful. The right counselor can aid in abuse recovery by offering a listening ear and an expert voice. If you’ve read this far, we commend you for being someone your loved ones can trust with their unthinkable story. Listen to them, love them and eventually, guide them toward healing.