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How to Help a Family Member who is Being Abused by their Partner
[Published in Baltimore OUTloud]
Protecting the Abuser
"Frequent fliers" in emergency rooms often present with lacerations and bruises, attributing their injuries to clumsiness. The nurse might ask "Has anyone punched, kicked or touched your body in a manner that caused injury? But if the victim answers "no," the focus usually turns to the injuries themselves, rather than finding out why the patient keeps slipping in the shower or tripping over gargoyles.
Victims of domestic violence often go to great lengths to hide their abuse due to shame, a desire to protect their abuser, or fear of negative consequences. They often feel ashamed, believing that they deserve the abuse due to perceived and unforgivable personal defects which the abuser is all to willing to reinforce, such as being "ugly," "stupid" or "selfish."
Self-Loathing and Self-Blame
The victim is convinced that the abuser loves them, especially following a serious beating, when a brief honeymoon period ensues characterized by the abuser begging for forgiveness, professing their undying love and promising never to do it again. Predictably, this further reinforces the cycle of the victim's self-perception of worthlessness, shame, and feelings of indebtedness.
Don't Take It Personally
If you have a family member in this type of relationship, don't be surprised if they distance themselves from you or even shut you out of their life entirely. Isolating the victim by convincing them to reject their family and friends is what abusers do.
Give Them What They Need. This is Not Always What You Think They Need
The best way to help is by telling your family member of your specific concerns. It isn't helpful to make general statements such as "he's not good enough for you," or "you deserve better." If you are worried about their physical safety, say so.
Recommending specific resources, such as domestic violence shelters, counseling, self-help books, and offering financial support is important. But do this once and only once. If you repeat the same suggestions, and your loved one isn't following through, that means they aren't ready to take that step. If you turn into a broken record, they will experience you as nagging, and you will become increasingly frustrated every time they tell you of a new episode of violence.
If this happens, your loved one may experience you as rejecting, and the last thing you want is to inadvertently isolate them even further. Express your unconditional love, and let them know you are there for them, no matter what. Sometimes leaving it at that, even though you may feel frustrated, can be more helpful than you know.
For more information, visit us at www.PrideCounseling.net
© Copyright 2013 by Douglas Chay, therapist in Ellicott City, Maryland. All rights reserved.