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.