Converting statements into questions – a skill for bystanders who want to help victims of abuse
Those who seek to help survivors of abuse often find their well-intentioned remarks fall like lead balloons. The survivors don’t respond with alacrity, gratitude or even (sometimes) civility. What causes this mismatch? Why are so many well intentioned comments received so poorly? What’s the static on the line causing this interference?
Being a survivor myself and having experienced many well-intentioned comments that hurt me, and now being in a place where I seek to support other survivors, I can perhaps make a few suggestions for those who want to support survivors. I believe would-be-supporters stand a better chance of helping survivors if they humbly listen to the person who’s been abused. Following the precept “be quick to listen; slow to speak” (James 1:19) we need also to train ourselves to refrain from jumping down survivors’ throats with advice. If we are burning to give advice, we need to learn how to carefully re-frame the advice into gentle, open-ended questions, allowing the survivors dignity, honoring their responses to the abuse, and keeping the dialogue open.
Can you think of more examples to the ones below?
What are some well-meaning statements that can be converted into questions, or can be recast into a non-judgmental statement conveying information, followed by a question.
(when reading this table, reverse the genders if necessary)
If you are longing to say Re-frame it into a question like this
|Just leave him!||Have you ever thought about leaving him?|
|He’s a selfish person!||Do you ever think he is selfish?|
|Why don’t you just leave?||What are your reasons for staying in the relationship? What might be your reasons for going?|
|You need to submit more.||If you submit more, what does that lead to?|
|You need to stand up to him.||If you object to how he treats you, what does he do?|
|You’re being abused!||The experts would call this domestic abuse. Have you ever thought he is abusing you? Are you afraid of him? Are you walking on eggshells?|
|Why did you marry him?||Was he like that before you married?
When did you first notice him being unkind to you? What he’s doing is not normal behavior; do you know that there is help available?
|You should go to a doctor.||Have you ever told a doctor about this kind of thing? Would you consider doing so? If not, what is holding you back?|
|He’s such a nice man!||Does he have a private face and a public face?|
|But he’s such a good father.||How does he treat the kids? How do they feel about him?|