Ten Best Ways to Help a Survivor of Domestic Violence

Your sister, brother, best friend, or another special person in your life has shared they are in an abusive relationship and come to you for help. Now what? Learning your loved one is a survivor of domestic violence is a terrifying reality. For those with limited knowledge who may be feeling helpless, we’ve compiled a list of ways to ensure you’re helping your survivor do what’s best.

 

  • Believe the survivor. This is number one for a reason. A prevalent concern felt by survivors is fear of not being supported when they seek help. Knowing they have someone in their corner who believes them helps solidify their decision to get out.
  • Stay calm. Easier said than done, as you are likely experiencing many strong emotions at once. Revealing those emotions will impact the conversation and cause the survivor to feel more out of control than they already do. Have someone outside the situation to confide in, such as a counselor, so as not to heighten the trauma felt by your loved one.
  • Be aware of your own thoughts and feelings. The way you convey your thoughts and perspectives impacts how the other person receives them. It is important to be constantly aware of your thoughts, reactions, and even body language when you’re in an emotional conversation involving domestic violence.
  • Listen. This is the most effective means of support, especially in the beginning stages of helping a survivor. Listening involves what is said, what is not, and even the silence. Allow the survivor to guide the conversation and express what they need. Doing so gives them control of their life; something they haven’t experienced in a long time.
  • Do not pass judgment. Don’t allow the survivor to accept blame. Regardless of the situation or decisions made in the past, they did not deserve this or cause the violence or abuse. The survivor likely already has ideas of this floating around in their head, and having them reinforced by someone else can retraumatize the survivor.
  • Express your concerns. Although it is important to realize every person is the expert in their own life, you also bring a unique perspective on the situation. It is okay to reinforce their reality or share concerns for their safety. Acknowledging the aspects of the situation which are difficult, dangerous, and scary out loud can help your survivor acknowledge them, too.
  • Recognize their strengths. See him or her as a person, not as their experience. Encourage your survivor to view themselves this way, as well. Identify their resiliency, willingness to share, and courage. Be as specific as possible. Building upon their strengths can help a survivor heal.
  • Empower the survivor to make their own decisions. Help them form a plan moving forward and accept their decisions. They know their experiences in a way no one else can ever understand. There may be pieces of their story they’ve not shared for some reason. While we’ve already said you shouldn’t hesitate to share your concerns, it is ultimately the decision of the survivor how they respond. Your primary role should be to provide support, not solve the problem.
  • Reach out for additional support. If you don’t have the answer, it’s okay! Educate yourself and do research to connect and refer your survivor to resources. Providing support does not fall solely on your shoulders. You are not alone.

 

  • Be there. Survivors will experience a variety of emotions. They may pull away in anger or resentment towards you at times, and then appear to return to normal not long after. It is important to remember these reactions are common. Still, you must recognize your own limitations. The power of support is immense but carries a great burden. Being present for your survivor is the most important piece you can provide.

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