Getting Out of an Abusive Relationship
You walk into your friend’s house to pick her up for a PTO meeting just as her husband shouts down from the top of the stairs, “I told you that I needed my shirts on hangers, not boxed! Why can’t you do anything right?! I’ll look terrible at my meeting tomorrow, and it’s your fault!”
She quickly pushes you out the door and says, “Just ignore him. He’s had a rough day.”
According to the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health, it can be hard to know what to say to someone whom you think is being abused, but talking about the abuse can be very helpful for her.
“When it comes to mental or emotional abuse, women often are unsure of what’s unacceptable,” says psychologist Michelle Alberti, PhD. “A woman in a relationship without physical violence will say, ‘Well he doesn’t hit me.’ That’s a big red flag that she needs help.”
Sometimes, women get married and stay with abusive men because they’re the first men that pay attention to them. As time passes, they blame themselves for their spouse’s behavior and even think that they can change them. They may not leave abusive relationships because they feel unworthy and think: “Who else is going to love me and where am I going to go?”
In cases of domestic abuse, the abuser often tells the victim that she’s crazy, stupid, lazy or a bad parent. The abuser may also use threatening ideas, such as ‘no one will believe what you say’ or ‘you are the one with the problem, not me.’
What you can do
If a friend confides in you that she’s being abused, the most important thing you can do is listen. Assure her that you care and that you want to help.
- Remind her that abuse is not her fault
- Remind her that she doesn’t deserve to be abused
- Acknowledge that talking about it takes a lot of strength and courage
- Ask how you can help
The truth is that there is always a way out. “The first step in leaving an abusive situation is to have a support system in place – a counselor, family, friends, or a crisis center. The first few weeks and months are particularly crucial because the abuser may apologize and promise to change if you return home. Having strong supporters who stand by you is essential when you may be tempted to fall into old patterns and go back,” notes Dr. Alberti.
The scars of mental abuse may not be visible to the naked eye, but they’re just as damaging as the blows of physical violence. Taking care of yourself is a sign of strength, not weakness.