I am asked this question quite often. Unfortunately, there is only one answer:
Whether you wish your child could see their abusive spouse, your siblings could see your parents for the abusers they are… it doesn’t matter what the context is. If someone is not ready or willing to see what is really going on, they simply won’t.
It is a defense mechanism, although that may sound totally counter-intuitive. Coming to terms with abuse is terrifying! Our brain cannot override the short-term safety of the familiar with the long-term gain of not having an abuser in our lives.
Don’t underestimate how frighting it is to acknowledge the abuse. Because acknowledging it, means you will have to act.
Sometimes keeping our heads stuck firmly in the sand, just feels more comfortable.
So, What CAN I Do?
It is utterly frustrating to feel like you are sitting idly by, while the abuser destroys loving, caring, communicative, healthy people and relationships around us. I felt terrible when I witnessed my toxic parents dig their claws into my little niece, because (or so I felt) I could not MAKE my sister and brother-in-law see what they were really like.
Here are a few suggestions that may help in your interactions.
#1 Educate Yourself on Abuse and Recovery
Gain a better understanding of the dynamic of abuse and the effects it has on people. Once your friend or family member is ready to face the music, you will have a wealth of information and resources ready for them. Learning about the nature of abuse helps the survivor understand what has been going on, and validates their experiences too.
#2 Create Opportunities to Talk
Make sure you are easily accessible for your friend or family member. Try and establish a routine where you spend some time alone on a regular basis. That way, once the realisation hits, they can talk to you about what is going on, without having to break their normal routine. Being able to do the first processing and planning without arousing suspicion from the abuser may be a life-saver!
#3 Provide a Good Example
Providing the target with a “good example” can help them realize that their normal is in fact not normal. I learned quite a bit from seeing other families (like my in-laws) interact. It made me realize that my own family was not so much close knit as a ball of sticky stinky twine.
This becomes especially important when there are children involved. The simple fact that I had some very positive role models in my life, has made a huge difference in my understanding and healing!
#4 Make Sure They KNOW You Will Help
Being the target of an abuser is a very lonely place. You are made to believe you can’t do anything on your own AND that there is no-one out there willing to help you. So, make sure that your friend or family member KNOWS you will be there. You don’t have to come out and say it literally. In fact, don’t it will likely make them feel defensive. Helping with “small stuff” now, will build confidence that there is help out there!
If you want to learn more about how you can help your friend or family member, read through these 12 Ways to Support Abuse Victims.
#5 Accept They May Never See It
This is the toughest one! It is hard to see your beloved friend or family member fall apart in this abusive situation, but at the end of the day this is their journey (assuming they are adults) and they are allowed as many twists and turns on that path as they want and need.
Some people never get out, some people only get out after many years. I read a story once of a woman who left her husband of 40 years because she was finally fed up with his abuse. She was 83 but she had finally come to claim her own life again.
I hope this will help you navigate this tricky situation a little better.
Feel free to get in touch for some feedback and support too! Without the support of strong friends and family members it is doubly hard for targets of abuse to escape. So, keep your strength up! We will happily help cheer you on and provide you with valuable information.