Helping a Friend Who is Being Abused

If a friend or loved one confides in you that they are in abusive or possibly abusive relationship, it’s normal to experience a range of emotions. You may be angry with the abuser, frustrated at your seeming inability to help, disappointed in your loved one for staying in that relationship or confused as to how the relationship traveled in an abusive direction.

It is critical that you support your friend while finding your own source of support due to the impact this may have on your personal wellbeing. Some tips to help you navigate this difficult situation can include:

  • Let your friend know that you believe them. It may be difficult to rectify the image your friend is painting of the abuser with your personal experience/knowledge of this person, but many abusers are charismatic, friendly and endearing to the outside world.
  • Refrain from “why” questions or blaming your friend for staying in an abusive relationship. Leaving is incredibly difficult and it takes time; in fact, it takes a victim an average of 6-8 attempts to leave an abusive relationship. When an individual makes the decision to leave, they are at the highest risk for severe abuse so it is important to make this decision with preparation and care.
  • Reassure your friend that the abuse isn’t their fault and they don’t deserve to be treated this way; abuse is never OK. Many abusers employ language and tactics that place blame on the abused person and this belief can become internalized.
  • Respect your loved one’s privacy. While it is natural to want to share this personal information with others to garner their support, doing so may damage the trust your loved one has with you and further victimize them. Allow them to disclose the abuse to the individuals they want, at the time that they feel comfortable doing so. 
  • Thank them for feeling comfortable sharing with you. Even though this information may shock you or you may feel unprepared to talk to them about domestic violence, they likely trust you a lot to disclose this part of their life with you. Talk to them about their support system and who else they might feel comfortable relying on for support.
  • Focus on supporting your loved one rather than speaking poorly of the abuser. Bashing the abuser can drive a wedge between you and your loved one; remember, your loved one and the abuser likely share happy times and commonalities together and despite the abusive relationship, it can be hard to hear negative things about someone they love.
  • Help your friend plan for safety, whether that means safety while remaining in an abusive relationship or safety in leaving an abusive situation. Refer to the safety planning webpage.
  • Refer your loved one to the local domestic violence agency for confidential resources and supports. Ensure that before they make that connection, the abuser does not have access to their phone records, internet usage, etc. Encourage them to take small steps, even if it’s just looking at a domestic violence-focused website.
  • If your friend begins making statements that sound suicidal (I would be better off dead, I can’t handle this pain anymore, I just want to end it all, etc.) outwardly ask them if they are thinking of killing themselves. You will not “give them the idea” by being direct. If they disclose to you that they are and they have a plan in place, listen to their concerns and fears but call 911 immediately.

Naperville Police Department Victim Advocate