A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Thursday Thought — How to Support an Abuse Victim

If you would like to make a significant difference in the life of an abused woman you care about, keep the following principle fresh in your mind:  Your goal is to be the complete opposite of what the abuser is.

The Abuser:  Pressures her severely

So you should:  Be patient.  Remember that it takes time for an abused woman to sort out her confusion and figure out how to handle her situation.  It is not helpful for her to try to follow your timetable for when she should stand up to her partner, leave him, call the police, or whatever step you want her to take.  You need to respect her judgment regarding when she is ready to take action — something the abuser never does.

The Abuser:  Talks down to her

So you should:  Address her as an equal.  Avoid all traces of condescension or superior knowledge in your voice.  This caution applies just as much or more to professionals.  If you speak to an abused woman as if you are smarter or wise than she is, or as if she is going through something that could never happen to you, then you inadvertently confirm exactly what the abuser has been telling her, which is that she is beneath him.  Remember, your actions speak louder than your words.

The Abuser:  Thinks he knows what is good for her better than she does

So you should:  Treat her as the expert on her own life.  Don’t assume that you know what she needs to do.  I have sometimes given abused women suggestions that I thought were exactly right but turned out to be terrible for that particular situation.  Ask her what she thinks might work and, without pressuring her, offer suggestions, respecting her explanations for why certain courses of action would not be helpful.  Don’t tell her what to do.

The Abuser:  Dominates conversations

So you should:  Listen more and talk less.  The temptation may be great to convince her what a “jerk” he is, to analyze his motives, to give speeches covering entire chapters of this book.  But talking too much inadvertently communicates to her that your thoughts are more important than hers, which is exactly how the abuser treats her.  If you want her to value her own feelings and opinions, then you have to show her that you value them.

The Abuser:  Believes he has the right to control her life

So you should:  Respect her right to self-determination.  She is entitled to make decisions that are not exactly what you would choose, including the decision to stay with her abusive partner or to return to him after a separation.  You can’t convince a woman that her life belongs to her if you are simultaneously acting like it belongs to you.  Stay by her even when she makes choices that you don’t like.

The Abuser:  Assumes he understands her children and their needs better than she does

So you should:  Assume that she is a competent, caring mother.  Remember that there is no simple way to determine what is best for the children of an abused woman.  Even if she leaves the abuser, the children’s problems are not necessarily over, and sometimes abusers actually create worse difficulties for the children post-separation than before.  You cannot help her to find the best path for her children unless you have a realistic grasp of the complicated set of choices that face her.

The Abuser:  Thinks for her

So you should:  Think with her.  Don’t assume the role of teacher or rescuer.  Instead, join forces with her as a respectful and equal team member

Notice that being the opposite of the abuser does not simply mean saying the opposite of what he says.  If he beseeches her with, “Don’t leave me, don’t leave me,” and you stand on the other side badgering her with, “Leave him, leave him,” she will feel that you’re much like him; you are both pressuring her to accept your judgment of what she should do.  Neither of you is asking the empowering question, “What do you want to do?”

(excerpt from Lundy Bancroft’s book, Why Does He DO That?* pp370-372.)

***IMPORTANT NOTE:  While we endorse Lundy’s writings about the dynamics of domestic abuse, we do not recommend anyone attend the ‘healing retreats’ Lundy Bancroft offers or become involved in his ‘Peak Living Network.’ See our post, ACFJ Does Not Recommend Lundy Bancroft’s Retreats or His New Peak Living Network for more about our concerns. 

*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.

 

15 Comments

  1. Joe Godal

    I just finished reading the book. Should be required reading for every counselor. I am an experienced counselor & much of this material was eye opening to me. Bancroft knows what he is talking about. His book is an exciting read. Hard to put down once you start but almost overwhelming when you consider how much work needs to be done to reverse the oppression of domestic abuse. I am thankful we have Christ as our leader in the fight.

    • Joe Godal, thanks for your comment and welcome to the blog. Sorry for the belatedness of my reply. I’ve been busy caring for my elderly father.

  2. Lisa

    The wrong help described above pretty much sums up what I experienced in the way of support and help. It’s awful because if you don’t take this “help” politely and quietly, if you get defensive, protect yourself from being pushed around, get called a co-dependent or some other label (my favorite: you don’t do anything about your situation because you don’t want to…”), then you are dismissed as not “wanting” help. Or labeled angry. I finally didn’t bother with “help” anymore, that includes most therapists, pastors, family and even most friends, and did what I wanted–and sometimes they didn’t like what I chose. This post contains wonderful advice I wish would be more widely published in this era of pop-psychology and though love. To it I would add one thing, especially for the Christians reading this post: Do not make meaning out of your friend’s suffering–it is up to them to make their own meaning out of it and it may not be today that they get the “meaning.” Nothing worse than hearing: “God is bringing this into your life because you need to grow in such-and-such area.” and the like.

    A coach I once received training from said this about getting support: “It is easier to qualify your support than to convince anyone of anything.” Meaning: If you find yourself expending energy trying to convince someone that you need the support you say you do, move on before you expend any more effort and find people who believe in you and will support your goals with more ease.

    I wish I had had this advice before I spend decades trying to get help from people who where “supposed” to be knowledgeable or be caring–people I “should” have been able to go to for help and support. It is now a rule I live by every day, whether it is something concerning my marriage or my business or anything else. I am intelligent, I know what I need and I deserve better,

    • Very good point about making “meaning out of your friend’s suffering”. Isn’t that exactly what Job’s three friends did, and God called them on it! Job never really knew why he suffered the way he did and Paul never really understood his thorn, but what they did understand was to trust God. By trying to tell someone what the purpose of their situation is, we put ourselves in the place of God in their lives and that is not anywhere I want to be.

  3. Reblogged this on The Shepherd/Guardian and commented:
    This also applies to churches, pastors, elders and every other busybody who pridefully thinks they know “what’s best”.

  4. joyisnowfree

    What really helped me move forward with my constructive decision to break free, was that all the experts and friends gave me suggestions on what to read instead of telling me what to do. Not that I’m unteachable, but my pain was great ( Still recovering) and standing by my side gave me the reassurance that I wasn’t overeating and that my opinions and feelings are valid.

  5. joepote01

    Very good post! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Amy

    Reblogged this on Life Inspired Thoughts and commented:
    Excellent advice!
    I was fortunate that a majority of friends and family supported me in this way after my ex left almost 6 years ago after a 20 year abusive marriage.
    Re-posting on my blog!

  7. Denise

    This is great.

  8. lauralee

    most of my “Christian” supporters have turned their backs on me, I guess I wasn’t doing it to their liking or fast enough, or whatever, so now, my support comes from “pagans”….the world….yep, so much for the loving, caring church people…..gotta love it! I am grateful for the resources available to keep my head on somewhat straight while I go through the court system and closer to the divorce.

    • joyisnowfree

      Lauralee, I have also lost support from the church, but I’ve experienced that God will use anyone He sees fit as an instrument to help His children (even perfect strangers) There is still a faithful remnant out there. So hang in there sister, it will get better.

    • Lisa

      Bless you. I sympathize with your losses, not only of the hope of support but also true Christian fellowship. Even if you still attend church, being a full member of the body is not possible when people are not safe.

  9. Jane

    I wish I had read Bancroft’s book first BEFORE we tried marital counseling with a “Biblical” counselor whose overarching desire for us (note…*his* desire) was to save our marriage at all costs! My abuser was easily able to dupe this counselor. I felt victimized again while in counseling. If I ever have a chance to offer advice to an abused spouse, it will be to read Bancroft’s book first.

  10. Reblogged this on reneerobertskopp and commented:
    A MUST READ for ANYONE who may at ANY TIME IN THEIR LIFE have a conversation of ANY length with a victim of verbal/physical abuse. (Note: verbal abuse always proceeds physical abuse in a relationship but verbal abuse doesn’t always evolve in to physical abuse. I lumped them together to be inclusive of all victims).

  11. paperjesus

    Thank you for this post and especially the information in the side bar.

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