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    How To Help Someone in an Abusive Situation

    Heather Phelps, LCSW Therapist, Deaconess Cross Pointe 10/14/2020

    Maybe you know someone who you think is in an abusive relationship, but you don’t know how to help her (or him).  We want to help you know how to help someone you care about….what to do and say, and what NOT to do and say.

    Domestic violence and abuse is a huge problem in our society, affecting not just the abused, but friends, family, coworkers and everyone else around them.  One in three women, and one in four men, will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. Children who are exposed to abuse—even if they’re not abused themselves—suffer in every aspect of their life. Unfortunately, the stress of the pandemic has caused an additional rise in domestic violence. 

    A few important points about domestic abuse and violence:

    • Many people think that abusive relationships only happen to “certain kinds of people.”  But abuse is the “Equal Opportunity Destroyer” and does not have racial, gender, educational, economic or social boundaries.
    • The victim does not choose the abuser, the abuser chooses the victim—often very carefully—and begins the manipulation and abuse process often without the victim even realizing what is happening.
    • There are three major signs at the beginning of a relationship that should always serve as a warning of potential abuse:
      • Isolation—creating distance between the victim and their friends and family.
      • Jealousy—the possessive, irrational, obsessive kind
      • Quick involvement—the intense “love bombing” of complete attention, flowers, promises, etc.  The abuser identifies the “needs” (emotional, financial, etc.) and works over-and-above to meet those needs in the early stages of the relationship.

    What is domestic violence?
    According to the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV), domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.

    Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure or wound someone.

    Domestic violence can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender. It can happen to couples who are married, living together or who are dating. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.

    Types of Abuse
    If you recognize yourself or anyone in any of these situations, it may be an abusive relationship.

    An Emotional Abuser:

    • Calls you names, insults you or continually criticizes you
    • Does not trust you and acts jealous or possessive
    • Tries to isolate you from family or friends
    • Monitors where you go, who you call and who you spend time with
    • Does not want you to work
    • Controls finances or refuses to share money
    • Punishes you by withholding affection
    • Expects you to ask permission
    • Threatens to hurt you, the children, your family or your pets
    • Humiliates you

    A Financial Abuser:

    • Sabotages work by stalking or harassing at the workplace
    • Controls how money is spent
    • Denies access to bank accounts
    • Withholds money or gives an allowance
    • Runs up large amounts of debt on joint accounts
    • Withholds funds for basic needs such as food and medicine
    • Demands a partner’s public benefits

    A Physical Abuser:

    • Damages property when angry (throw objects, punch walls, kick doors, etc )
    • Pushes, slaps, bites, kicks or chokes you
    • Abandons you in dangerous or unfamiliar places
    • Scares you by driving recklessly
    • Uses a weapon to threaten or hurt you
    • Forces you to leave your home
    • Traps you in your home or keep you from leaving
    • Prevents you from calling police or seeking medical attention
    • Hurts your children
    • Uses physical force in sexual situations

    A Sexual Abuser:

    • Views women as objects and believes in rigid gender roles
    • Accuses you of cheating or appears jealous of your outside relationships
    • Wants you to dress in a sexual way
    • Insults you in sexual ways or calls you sexual names
    • Forces or manipulates you into to having sex or performing sexual acts
    • Holds you down during sex
    • Demands sex when you are sick, tired or after beating you
    • Hurts you with weapons or objects during sex
    • Involves other people in sexual activities with you
    • Ignores your feelings regarding sex

    Why People Stay
    Many people don’t understand why someone would stay in an abusive relationship.  They don’t realize that an abusive relationship is all about power and control.  The abuser seeks control and has gradually made the victim emotionally and otherwise dependent upon him or her.  It’s a series of coercive and manipulative tactics to gradually take over the independent thinking of the abused person.

    Some of the effects of this—and reasons victims stay—include:

    • The abuser has made the victim feel like they deserve the mistreatment, and even that they don’t deserve any better, and no one would want them.
    • The victim has become financially dependent upon the abuser, and fears not having shelter, food and basic necessities for themselves and even their children.
    • The abuser has isolated the victim so much from any support system or options that the victim has no idea how to get out.
    • The fear of what may happen once they leave—the abuser will hurt them, someone they love, or even themselves—keeps victims in terrible situations.
    • The hope that things will somehow get better, and they feel they are responsible to help make that happen.

    So overall, the two major reasons victims stay fall into the category of either fear or hope.

    Therefore, when you want to try to help someone who you think is being abused, if you do it in a way that attacks or criticizes either the victim or the abuser, the victim is likely to shut down and shut you out.  He or she has been programmed to do that.

    How To Help
    No matter what, remember that the person being abused is being controlled, and any conversations, support or advice you give—if it’s presented in the wrong way—can push the victim further away.

    From, here are some tips on helping a friend or family member.

    If someone you love is being abused, it can be so difficult to know what to do. Your instinct may be to “save” them from the relationship, but it’s not that easy. After all, there are many reasons why people stay in abusive relationships, and leaving can be a very dangerous time for a victim.

    Abuse is about power and control, so one of the most important ways you can help a person in an abusive relationship is to consider how you might empower them to make their own decisions. Additionally, you can offer support in various ways:
    Acknowledge that they are in a very difficult and scary situation, be supportive and listen.

    Let them know that the abuse is not their fault. Reassure them that they are not alone and that there is help and support out there. It may be difficult for them to talk about the abuse. Let them know that you are available to help whenever they may need it. What they need most is someone who will believe and listen.

    Be non-judgmental
    Respect your friend or family member’s decisions. There are many reasons why victims stay in abusive relationships. They may leave and return to the relationship many times. Do not criticize their decisions or try to guilt them. They will need your support even more during those times.

    If they end the relationship, continue to be supportive of them
    Even though the relationship was abusive, your friend or family member may still feel sad and lonely once it is over. They will need time to mourn the loss of the relationship and will especially need your support at that time.

    Encourage them to participate in activities outside of the relationship with friends and family
    Support is critical and the more they feel supported by people who care for them, the easier it will be for them to take the steps necessary to get and stay safe away from their abusive partner. Remember that you can call the hotline to find local support groups and information on staying safe.

    Help them develop a safety plan
    Check out our information on creating a safety plan for wherever they are in their relationship — whether they’re choosing to stay, preparing to leave, or have already left.

    Encourage them to talk to people who can provide help and guidance
    Find a local domestic violence agency that provides counseling or support groups. Call us at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) to get a referral to one of these programs near you.  Offer to go with them. If they have to go to the police, court or lawyer’s office, offer to go along for moral support.

    Remember that you cannot “rescue” them
    Although it is difficult to see someone you care about get hurt, ultimately they are the one who has to make decisions about what they want to do. It’s important for you to support them, and that they know you’re there for them (today, tomorrow, or months or years from now) no matter what they decide, to help them find a way to safety and peace.

    This same site offers information on helping your teenager or a coworker, as well.
    Additionally, another excellent resource, with a lot more information about helping a loved one, is the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence,  This site not only includes important education for helping to understand an abusive situation, it also shares exit and safety plans, resources for being independent and more.

    Finally, Albion Fellows Bacon Center is a non-profit organization whose mission is to prevent domestic and sexual violence and to empower victims through advocacy, education, support services and collaborative partnerships.

    The center provides services to victims of abuse (emotional, physical, sexual, and financial) in 11 counties in southern Indiana. Services are provided 24 hours a day to the following counties: Vanderburgh, Posey, Warrick, Spencer, Perry, Dubois, Gibson, Pike, Orange, Crawford, and Harrison.

    Full information about Albion’s services, including emergency shelter, the 24 Hour Crisis Hotline (812-422-5622), crisis counseling, legal advocacy, prevention education and more can be found at

    All of Albion’s services are confidential, free of charge and available not only to victims of domestic abuse but to friends, family and those who love them.

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