How to Help a Loved One

Top 10 Best Ways to Help A Friend

Be aware of your thoughts and feelings. Acknowledge your perceptions of the issues and your reactions both prior to and during conversations with your friend. Your perspectives and feelings impact how you convey thoughts and are perceived by your loved one.

2. Remain calm. Following traumatic experiences, emotions are often at extreme levels. As someone who cares, it is not uncommon to experience your own emotions. Do not be afraid to express them in a controlled manner. However, if a friend seeks your support, the dialogue should be to empower them. Releasing strong emotions in an uncontrolled fashion may cause your friend to encounter a situation where he/she is out of control, echoing his/her traumatic experience. Rather, consider confiding in a trusted friend, family member, or professional.

3. Listen. The most effective means of support is listening – to what your friend shares, what he/she does not say, and to the silence. Creating a space where he/she can release thoughts and emotions without the confinements of judgment gives control to your friend, something he/she has had taken from them. While your thoughts and opinions are valid, they are not the most important part of the conversation. Let your friend guide the discussion, even if his/her train of thought appears inconsistent.

4. Believe him/her. A common concern of survivors is that he/she will not be believed if he/she shares his/her experience. By demonstrating your belief in your friend, you are reinforcing the path for healing and change.

5. Recognize your friend’s strengths. Building upon your friend’s strengths can help him/her heal. Identify his/her resiliency, willingness to share his/her experiences, optimism, etc.

6. Be nonjudgmental. Identifying how your friend could have acted or should have responded can re-traumatize him/her. Most likely, your friend has these thoughts flowing through his/her head. Furthermore, reinforcing these thoughts can lead to victim-blaming. Stating that he/she should not have been drinking or should have never started dating him/her places blame on your friend. Regardless of your friend’s decisions, he/she did not deserve or cause the violence or abuse.

7. Express your concerns. While your friend is the expert in his/her own life, you also have a distinct perspective of his/her situation. Perhaps you have recognized the impact of violence or abuse in his/her life. It is okay to reinforce his/her reality or to share your concerns for his/her safety. Acknowledge the difficult, scary, dangerous, etc. situation. Trust your instincts. Be prepared: Your concerns may not be accepted.

8. Empower your friend to make his/her own decisions. And accept his/her decisions. Your friend is an adult. He/she knows his/her own experiences more intimately than anyone else can. There may be pieces of his/her story that he/she has not shared with you. You can never fully understand his/her feelings and thoughts. While you should not hesitate to share your concerns, it is ultimately his/her decision how to respond. Remember, your primarily role should be to provide support, not solve the problem. Approach the possible avenues for help as options, not required steps.

9. Reach out for support. Know campus and community resources. Educate yourself. If you don’t have the answer, say you don’t. Providing support to your friend does not have to fall solely on your shoulders. Contact a community resource or Belles Against Violence Office. You are not alone.

10. Be there.  And stay there. Never underestimate the power of unconditional support. Your friend will encounter a roller coaster of emotions. At times, he/she may pull away or display anger or resentment toward you. Other times, she may appear to have returned to normal. It is important to recognize that this reaction is common. While it is essential to respect your friend’s wishes, it is also important demonstrate consistent support.

Key Phrases to Remember

  • I am sorry this happened to you.
  • It is not your fault.
  • You are not responsible.
  • I believe you.
  • What you are feeling is common.
  • I am here for you.
  • Violence is never acceptable.
  • You deserve to be safe.
  • I’m worried about you.
  • You deserve better.
  • What are your concerns?
  • I’m glad you confided in me.
  • Whatever you decide to do is okay.
  • You are a strong person.

Key Phrases to Avoid

Never say:

  • You have to…
  • It could have been worse.
  • Don’t think about it.
  • I know how you feel.
  • I know things will get better.
  • Why didn’t you fight back?
  • If you had only listened to me…

Recommendations to Preserve Evidence

It is the survivor’s decision whether or not to file a report with the police or complete a forensic examination at the hospital. However, if there is the consideration of either, the following recommendations will help maintain evidence:

  • Do not shower, bathe, or douche;
  • If possible, remain in the clothing worn at the time of the assault. Do not throw the clothing away. If it has been taken off, place it in a paper bag, NOT in a plastic bag where moisture can be trapped;
  • Do not brush or comb hair;
  • Do not use the restroom;
  • Do not brush teeth or gargle;
  • Do not put on makeup;
  • Do not clean or straighten up the location of the assault; and
  • Do not eat or drink anything.

If your friend is the abusive partner or offender:

  • Be aware of your thoughts and feelings. Acknowledge your perceptions of the issues and your reactions both prior to and during conversations with your friend. Your perspectives and feelings impact how you convey thoughts and are perceived by your friend.
  • Consider sharing information with your friend’s partner. Being confronted for acting abusive threatens an individual’s power and control. Your friend might lash out at his/her partner following your conversation. Depending on the circumstances, it might be beneficial to speak with your friend’s partner prior to having this difficult conversation.
  • Remain firm. Abuse is about the manipulation of power and control. Your friend is an expert in this area. He/she may use a variety of techniques to convince you that you are mistaken. While this is possible, if you are willing to address your concerns with him/her, chances are that what you suspect is true. 
  • Expect a reaction. Your friend will most likely not accept your conversation well. He/she will be angry, hurt, sad, etc. Be prepared to protect your physical safety (i.e. locating yourself closest to the door) and consider contacting a friend or family member in advance to share your location.
  • Tell your friend it is never acceptable to hurt someone (physically, emotionally, or sexually). Your friend may share reasons why he/she reacted in an abusive way. However, reiterating that there is no excuse for abuse is essential.
  • Give specific examples of behaviors. It is more difficult to ignore or deny specific examples of behavior, particularly if there are multiple examples. 
  • Don’t let the conversation turn into a discussion of his/her partner’s faults. Your friend may provide excuses for his/her behavior based upon how his/her partner behaves. In fact, your friend will most likely try to turn the conversation away from himself/herself.
  • Tell person to take responsibility for behavior. Abuse is a choice and he/she can make the choice to change. Acknowledge that change is difficult, but you’ll support him/her in the process. However, first he/she needs to acknowledge that a problem exists. 
  • If you witness incident of violence, call 911 or local police. Safety should be a priority.
  • Become informed. It is incredibly difficult to have these conversations. Research abuse and violence. Contact a local service provider, such as Belles Against Violence Office, to speak with a professional regarding how to best approach and proceed. It may also be helpful to debrief following the conversation.