Most of us have known someone who has been in an emotionally abusive relationship or have been in one our ourselves. It’s tragic, but it’s true. These types of relationships are difficult beyond words. They affect the abused individual so profoundly that they often have ramifications in all facets of their life.
If you’ve ever been in an emotionally abusive relationship or have been close to someone who has, you are aware that it can be exceedingly difficult to stand on the sidelines and watch it all unfold. Often individuals in abusive relationships are unaware of it or unwilling to admit it to themselves (let alone to others). This is one of the many reasons that it’s so challenging to relate to them. People become hollow versions of themselves in abusive relationships or change entirely. Additionally, their partner may be actively trying to distance them from their other loved ones.
As a bystander, there’s certainly no lack of forces pushing you away, but it is important beyond measure for you to stay by their side, even if they’re unlikable, unkind, unreliable, or not relatable.
1. Indicate That You’re Not Going Anywhere
When someone is the hardest to be around, they are likely the most in need. Though they might be actively pushing you away, indicating that you support them always and will always be there might just give them the power to leave when they are ready. Think about it this way: wouldn’t you be far more willing to leave a relationship if you knew you had a support system to fall back on? This is why abusive relationships are so dangerous, the individual becomes isolated and then feels as if they don’t have the resources or support to leave.
2. Let them Vent
I know how hard it can be to listen to someone repeat their problems like a broken record when they are seemingly doing nothing to solve them. It’s to only hard, it can actually be excruciating at times. This being said, the benefits of talk therapy are very real. Though you may not love being a sounding board, they might be subconsciously trying to talk themselves through something, or they might just really need to feel heard (something they may not be feeling in their partnership). Take it as an opportunity for growth, for both you and them.
3. NEVER Say “I Told You So”
Abusive situations are often very cyclical, so you’ll likely give the same advice time and time again only to see them not take it and end up in the same reoccurring situations. Though you’re more than welcome to think it, saying “I told you so” is never productive and never feels nice to hear. They know it, you know it, it’s better left unsaid.
4. Give Words of Affirmation
Emotionally abusive partners often make someone feel small, unworthy, insignificant, weak, and undeserving of proper treatment. People stay in abusive relationships for long periods of time, often because they feel that no one else would love them. Remind them that you love them, all of the things you love about them, and all of their unique qualities that make them wonderful and just so deserving of the most love in the world. There’s no bigger tragedy than someone feeling unloveable. You don’t have to tell them they what they deserve or what their partner isn’t giving them, just tell them that they are special to you, that they are appreciated, and that they are loved. Though you may not feel like your words are making a difference, words of affirmation never hurt.
5. Don’t Force Your Opinions
Constantly telling someone what to do, giving unwanted advice, or chastising them for their decisions is unproductive and can create tension between the two of you. This is not to say you can’t give advice, just be mindful of their headspace and try to be supportive without forcing your views.
6. Recognize That You Can Validate Their Feelings Without Agreeing
You probably don’t agree with everything their saying, and that’s okay! You don’t have to compromise your values by agreeing with them, but you can validate their feelings by saying things like “I understand why you would feel that way,” “I see what you mean,” “I see where you’re coming from,” or asking questions.
7. Don’t Take Their Actions Personally
In the deeper stages of emotionally abusive partnerships, the individual is commonly not acting like themselves at all. They may be unhappy, struggling with self-esteem, pushing people away, or perhaps struggling with trusting others. As I said, these individuals can be difficult to be around, they can hurt the feelings of their loved ones, they may come off as selfish or like they don’t care about you, or they may turn into someone you hardly recognize. Know this: it’s not you. And actually, it’s not them. Don’t take it personally. Be there in whatever capacity you are able, and try to empathize as much as possible.
8. Encourage Honesty
Though there really isn’t much advice to give (though you probably just want to scream “leave!” or “you deserve better!”) Though, there really isn’t much advice to give (though you probably just want to scream “leave!” or “you deserve better!”), one thing you can always promote, no matter the situation, is honesty. Abusive relationships are often founded on lies, and people in abusive relationships often feel compelled to lie to avoid conflict of please their partner. No one likes the way they feel when they’re being dishonest. So, encourage honesty, it might have more of an effect than you think!
9. Promote Self-Love
Again, it isn’t always best to tell someone how to live. But, what you can do, is passively show them by adopting the behaviors you want to encourage in them. Create spaces of self-love when you’re with them, celebrate yourself, and celebrate them. People are more likely to practice self-love if you’re encouraging it through your own actions.
10. BE POSITIVE
Positivity is KEY! Be as positive as you can in everything you do. Rather than slandering their partner, celebrate them. Rather than telling them to stop doing something negative, encourage them to start doing something positive. The more positivity someone takes in, the less space they have for negativity.
At the end of the day, follow your intuition. If you think someone is in a dangerous situation, always seek help. Promoting honesty, positivity, and self-love is a phenomenal way to live, no matter the situation, so give it a try! Also, if you’re supporting someone who’s in an abusive relationship, never hesitate to seek help for yourself. It can be very emotionally draining, and you need to look out for you too!