You find out that your friend or loved one is a victim or survivor of domestic violence. What should you do?
This blog will take you through some basic steps and concepts to be aware of while helping your friend or loved one. This is only one resource, and the strategies will likely need to be supplemented with other resources. Remember, you are not alone in your desire to help end systemic domestic violence. An excellent resource is Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse, which is located in Tucson, Arizona. They may be reached at 1.888.428.0101.
In beginning this process and journey to help your friend or loved one, you must recognize that your friend is in a state of crisis, and you may be, or are likely to be, entering a state of crisis. When in crisis, we enter survival mode – fight, flight, or freeze. If your friend or loved one is sharing with you, they are most likely in the fight stage. You will most likely also be in the fight stage, ready to defend your friend or loved one.
The goal is to help your friend or loved one out of crisis (survival mode), and into a place where they can think.
Be sure to take time while with your friend or loved one to do a self-check on your frame of mind. When you find yourself becoming upset about the situation, say so. You can be transparent about your emotions, and then turn the focus back onto your friend or loved one (remember, this is not about you, but also remember that emotions are what make us human). For example:
“You are my <friend or loved one> and this situation makes me so angry! I am sorry you had to go through this. I am here to help you. What <name of offender> did is not okay. And it is not your fault.”
As a crisis responder, you will learn that it is a good idea to use the bathroom anytime you see one, because crises can occur at any moment, and leaving a friend in need may cause greater trauma.
There are several processes you can use to help your friend or loved one. Remember throughout this process that it is not your fault for not knowing about your friend’s or loved one’s situation. Victims are adept at hiding the violence, and often at making excuses or blaming themselves for the violence.
If you begin blaming yourself, or feeling guilty, you will be entering a state of crisis, and useless to your friend or loved one. If you have been trained in as a first aid/CPR responder, you understand that if a person is drowning, and you jump into the pool, they are likely to grab onto you, and drag you into the waters. Situations where people who are in crisis are no different. The crisis responder can be dragged into the crisis.
STEP ONE: Get your friend or loved one to a safe place. Ask your friend or loved one if they feel safe, while you check for safety. Look for more than one exit, weapons (or items that can be used as weapons). If your friend says that they feel safe, but you notice dangers, or potential dangers, tell your friend about them, and suggest an alternative place; example:
“I am happy you feel safe, but we are <pretty close to the street>. Could we move over to the <_______>?”
Ask permission, and empower your friend or loved one with the ability to respond. It is likely that your friend or loved one may feel safe, simply because you are present. While this may be an ego booster, remember – this is not about you. Your friend or loved one needs to be empowered. Becoming dependent on you simply changes the point of control externally; your friend or loved one needs to exit the crisis helpless stage, and enter the empowered personal control and responsibility stage.
Friends or loved ones who have not been faced with the process of helping to end systemic domestic violence may also be entering crisis. Your responsibility is to facilitate the process of helping your friend or loved one exit the crisis state, and enter the process of ending domestic abuse.
STEP TWO: Listen to your friend. Now that you and your friend or loved one are safe, listen to your friend. [Remember, you may be one of the first persons your friend or loved one is sharing with, and your reactions may help, or hinder, your friend or loved one in their journey on ending their cycle of systemic domestic violence. (No pressure!!) **On the lighter side, appropriate humor helps break tension. On the serious side, it is important to remember that there are no “expert answers” on how to help your friend or loved one, and yourself, through this process.]
It is necessary for you and your friend or loved one to recognize and remember two very important truisms: (1) People typically do the best that they can; (2) People don’t know what they don’t know. These truisms apply to you, your friend or loved one, and their offender.
Crisis shows itself in the form of fight, flight, or freeze.
Use active listening skills. (Click here for more information on active listening skills). Remember, your friend or loved one needs time to be silent to think. Here is the tricky part: Recognizing if your friend or loved one is starting to self-blame, and regress into crisis mode. A good way to check in with your friend or loved one is to simply ask: “Doing ok?” Then wait.
Also, remember that your friend or loved one may be in fight mode, and may say unkind things to you, or blame you. While these will be difficult to accept, remember – your friend or loved one is doing the best that they can. Don’t get defensive. There is nothing to defend. You were all doing the best that you could.
Remember these truisms: (1) People do the best that they can. (2) People don’t know what they don’t know.
Now that you have this additional information, you can move to Step Three.
STEP THREE: Create an Action Plan.
The action plan will look different, due to your friend or loved one’s unique situation. Each situation has different challenges, so keep in mind the desired outcome – ending the cycle of systemic domestic violence — taking your friend or loved one, and their offender, out of crisis, and to a place of personal responsibility.
The action plan may change as you and your loved or friend learn more. Let it change. Your friend or loved one was in a situation caused by their offender’s need to control someone or something. Your friend or loved one became the victim of their offender’s crisis. They don’t need you to try to control them, or the action plan.
Your friend or loved one may have developed layers of defensive mechanisms, and they may have solidified unhealthy habits as coping mechanisms. Realize and recognize that it takes 30 days, with constant attention and re-direction to change a habit. You are most likely unable to be with your friend or loved one 24/7, so give yourselves time to heal.
Consider the following flowchart, which demonstrates the neverending cycle of systemic domestic violence:
Now, consider a possible action plan:
As a friend or family member of a victim or survivor, you have the power to suggest ways that break the cycle of systemic domestic violence. Understand that restorative practices must also be coupled with acceptance of personal responsibility, and forgiveness (which is not the same as forgetting).
Recognize that you, your friend or loved one, and their offender may re-enter the state of crisis during the healing journey.
Understand that there may be fear and resistance. It is important to stop the shaming, and stop the blaming, because our children are watching.
If cycles of systemic domestic violence are not broken, our communities will continue to experience varying levels of domestic violence, which may impact others at a deeper and greater level.
Thank you for embarking on this journey with your friend or loved one to help them end their cycle of systemic domestic violence.
Healthy relationships include personal responsibility, courageous conversations, and boundaries. The opposite of love is control.
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Viva! (la revolucion),
For more information about ending systemic domestic violence, visit www.feliciachew.com/dvssarticles
“We are each a piece of the puzzle of life. Without each of us, our picture is incomplete.”