“I Would Never….”
Last February, I drafted an article about “What Not to Say to the Abused” during February’s Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. This article was written for women who have girlfriends who are experiencing partner violence. Until today, this article sat in my draft files. Though this is a topic that deserves year-round attention, in honor of October’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month being right around the corner, it is now being published. If you have a friend or family member who is in a violent relationship, please consider the following:
5 Things Not to Say to a Person Being Abused
1.) “You should respect yourself more than to allow someone to abuse you.” Instead, try saying, ” You deserve to be respected.” By making this change, the abused is not left feeling as if the abuse is her fault because she does not have enough self-respect. The statement also does not put her on the defensive by feeling you are attacking her partner. Persons suffering abuse can be very protective of their abuser despite how they are being mistreated. It is, therefore, important to choose your words wisely and not put the innocent in a place of offense.
2.) “Why don’t you leave?” This statement is loaded with judgment and may cause the abused to become defensive and start making excuses for her partner’s behavior. Try saying, “You are welcome to come to my house today or call me if you ever need a place to stay or help finding one.” This statement does not cast blame on either the abused or the abuser. The victim is more likely to accept your words as coming from concern rather than judgment and open up more to you about her situation. It’s possible she may accept the offer.
3.) “If it were me….” Stop. It is not you, and the sentiment is very likely to be considered as judgmental by the abused. Along those lines, saying, “If I were you…” and “I would never…,” also should be avoided.
4.) “I know how you feel.” No. You do not know how she feels. Even if you are a victim or, or survivor, of family violence, you will never know exactly how she feels. While you may say these words out of an attempt to comfort her and show her that you understand, the person on the other side of this comment may be angered by what is taken as an invalidation of her unique experience. Instead, try saying, “How are you coping with everything?” This is an open-ended question that will allow your friend to express herself more freely.
5.) “It will be okay.” In the eyes of someone being abused, it will never be okay. She cannot see beyond her present reality to a life of peace. Your good intentions aside, when she hears something along these lines, it may cause her to feel resentment and shut down. Instead, try saying, “I am here. We will get through this together.”
Concern is greatly appreciated, however, be careful with what you say, how you say it, and when you say it. Your good intentions could backfire and cause the abuse victim to shut down. For more information about helping a friend in a violent relationship, contact your local violence prevention advocacy group or 1.800.799.SAFE.
Other posts in the Domestic Violence Awareness Series: