When you feel that someone is in an abusive and controlling relationship and you want to help them in any way you can, by all means, do so. But you need to know exactly how you can help them effectively, without any harm coming to them.
You may have noticed that your friend is acting differently, and you suspect they are being controlled and maybe even abused by their intimate partner. Learn how you can help.
Coercive Control And Domestic Violence
Coercive control is an umbrella name for the strategy that many abusers use to control their partners—not just the violence. Tactics include isolating, gaslighting, degrading, and economic, physical, and sexual abuse. Each abusive tactic has particular harmful effects. Altogether, the impact can be devastating.
The next section presents ways you can counteract the effects of these tactics to help someone you care about.
The goal: Empower your friend to make their own decisions and regain control over their life.
Here Are 6 Ways You Can Help Someone In An Abusive Or Controlling Relationship
1. Counteract Isolation.
Maybe you have noticed that your friend does not show up for activities they once liked—and it feels odd. Abusers isolate their partners in a variety of ways including by blocking their plans, acting jealous, spreading rumors, and creating tension with their partners’ friends, family, and coworkers. Often, victims end up limiting their own contacts outside the relationship—it just isn’t worth the hassle.
You can counteract isolation by staying in touch or getting back in touch with the person you are worried about, even though the abuser might make this difficult. Through some combination of email, texts, phone calls, gifts, and visits, see if you can maintain contact. Keep the conversations light and do not raise your concerns about abuse too early.
Also, remember that their mail, phone calls, email, and social media may be monitored by the abuser, with or without their knowledge; do not put them at risk by saying anything that could alarm the abuser. Focus on having a good time together.
Encourage your friend to participate in activities outside the home. Almost anything that breaks their isolation is valuable, including going on a walk each day, religious services, even shopping. If you live nearby, schedule regular times to get together. If you live far away, see if you can schedule phone calls.
Know that the abuser may monitor or revoke “permission” to engage in these activities at any point; so the less threatening the pursuit seems to the abuser, the more likely the person being victimized will be able to participate.
2. Counteract Gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a way to make a person feel crazy or seem crazy to others by manipulating the environment and denying reality. Techniques including hiding things, denying that events happened, or blaming victims for things they did not do.
To make them unstable, abusers also spread rumors about their victims, push them to consume drugs or alcohol, file false charges with the police or child protective services, and deprive them of food or sleep.
You can counteract gaslighting by affirming your friend’s perspective. It may also be helpful to recount memories you share—these stories will remind the person who they were prior to the abuse. Resist the temptation to lecture; instead, try to listen more.
3. Counteract Degradation.
Abusers frequently degrade their partners by insulting, criticizing, and humiliating them. Abusers make demands about the most intimate aspects of a victim’s life including sex, eating, bathing, dressing, and even using the toilet. Over time, these degrading tactics cut into a person’s self-esteem.
You can counteract this degradation by showing genuine support and appreciation. Start by using phrases including, “One thing I have always liked about you…,” “I admire how you…,” and “I love it when we…” As long as these comments are sincere, they can help people who are being abused feel better about themselves.
Avoid criticizing or blaming them and remain nonjudgmental about their choices—including and especially choices that concern the abuser. They know their lives and their risks better than anyone else does. Your job is to help them appreciate themselves again; the choices they make are still their own.