Talking to someone about their abusive behavior

Let’s be real, most of us think of an abuser as an easy-to-spot evil monster. So it’s hard to admit or even recognize when someone we care about is being abusive. When we do start to see it, some of us want to vote them off the island and some of us want to stick our head in the sand.

But what if we want to continue to be in community with folks who have done harm? What if they are our family? What if they are our friend? What if we love them?

How do we convey that we won’t tolerate this behavior while staying connected and asking them to change?

We believe the answer lies in having conversations and being real. We hope to encourage you to talk with a person in your life who is struggling in their relationship, who maybe isn’t their best self, and who has the will to change.

It might seem kind of scary and it might be uncomfortable, but YOU CAN DO IT. Think of yourself like a farmer; no matter what happens, you planted the seeds and gave it your best shot.

Here are some strategies that will help you to have the conversation that you want:

  • Address their behavior privately. Be direct but loving as you challenge their actions, words, or violence.
  • Focus on the behavior. Talk about the behavior and how it impacts you. Be clear that you don’t think they are a bad person.
  • Ask a question, listen up and stay connected: “Hey, I’m worried about you… is everything ok?” “Things don’t seem right in your relationship. What’s going on?” “Sometimes I’ve noticed… How do you feel about that?”

Remember, it’s not your job to change someone. You can’t make someone change, but you can hold up a mirror and support them. You can also get help! Talk to your trusted people and reach out to experts.

You can do it!

Help! My friend is being abused and I don’t know what to do

Girl on phoneI’m a member of a local Facebook “For Sale, Wanted or Trade” group. Recently, someone posted that they are concerned about a friend, who they believe is being abused. They asked for advice about what to do.

I was struck by how many people said, “There’s nothing you can do; your friend will have to realize it for herself.” While there is some truth to that, I also think there are some really, really important things that friends can and should do. Even though you can’t rescue your friend from a bad situation, you can:

  • Stay connected as much as you can (in person, text, social media).
  • Continue inviting them to things. It’s harder for your friend’s partner to be abusive when there are witnesses.
  • Check out these tools for talking with folks about their relationship (whether you think they are being hurt or are the one who’s doing harm).
  • Remember that it takes time for most people to figure out if their relationship is not working. And even more time to figure out what they want to do about that. Most folks will try different things to see if the relationship can be saved before deciding to end it.
  • Know that leaving an abusive relationship doesn’t necessarily mean the abuse will end. In some cases, the abuse escalates. If your friend is being abused, encourage her to talk with an advocate at her local domestic violence advocacy program. Advocates will talk to her about how to stay as safe as possible whether she plans to stay or leave.
  • Listen to what your friend says she wants, and help her figure out how to do that. Her abusive partner is trying to control her, so resist the urge to tell her what to do.
  • Take care of yourself. It’s hard to watch a loved one be mistreated!

 

Can you talk to a friend about their abusive behavior?

Yes, you can! But it’s not easy and you could probably use some advice, right?

It’s hard to admit or even recognize when someone we care about is being abusive. When we do start to see it, some of us want to vote them off the island and some of us want to stick our head in the sand. But what if we want to continue to be in community with folks who have done harm? We’ve got a new guide How’s Your Relationship? Conversations with someone about their abusive behavior that will help you talk with a person in your life who is struggling in their relationship, who maybe isn’t their best self, and who has the will to change.

 How’s Your Relationship? Conversations with someone about their abusive behavior

 

Wisdom from the Biebs?

Sometimes, when I’ve been working on a particularly challenging project, I like to reward myself by watching a video from Urban Dance Camp . (Seriously, if you have not checked them out, do it now, I’ll wait.) That is how I came to love the dancing couple and choreographers Keone and Mari Madrid. So when I heard that they did Justin Bieber’s new video, I had to check it out. No surprise I loved the dancing but I was also struck by the lyrics. They are actually pretty wise.

Love Yourself lays out a pretty solid checklist of when you might consider walking away from a crappy relationship:

Lyrics Takeaway
For all the times that you rain on my parade Not cool – you want your partner to throw you a parade, not rain on it!
My mama don’t like you and she likes everyone When people who love and care about you don’t like your partner that may be something to listen to.
And when you told me that you hated my friends
The only problem was with you and not them
Honestly if your partner doesn’t like your friends, they may not actually like the real you either. And why would you stay with someone who doesn’t like you or wants to keep you away from your friends?
And every time you told me my opinion was wrong
And tried to make me forget where I came from
Having differences of opinions is fine, but telling someone they’re wrong or to forget their roots isn’t great.
For all the times that you made me feel small
I fell in love. Now I feel nothin’ at all
Your partner should build you up, not break you down. No wonder you fell out of love!

 

When your relationship makes you feel this way, it’s a pretty good idea to move on. And “you should go and love yourself” is a pretty good way to end things.

Way to go, Biebs!

Some advice

List from Excellent to The Worst with a checkmark next to The WorstThe moment I announced my pregnancy it began: the crazy comments from close friends and strangers alike. What I should do, what I should eat, and how my body looks. Like when my friend leaned across the table and whispered in my ear, “You shouldn’t eat that ceviche because it might kill your baby.” This was one of the first things she said to me after I told her the news!

I like to believe that it all comes from a well-intentioned place. When people don’t know what to say, sometimes they say things that are wrong and unhelpful. I’ve had to deal with this for seven months and it’s infuriating.  It makes me think about survivors I’ve worked with in the past. When they tell their friends and family about the violence in their lives,  they don’t always get the best response or support. The unfortunate outcome is that people walk away from conversations feeling further isolated, misunderstood, or judged. Not the end result either party wants.

So here are some tips on how to support your loved ones in good times and bad:

  • Acknowledge what the person told you and what they are experiencing.
  • Ask how you can provide support.
  • Tell them you are there for them no matter what.
  • Ask if they want advice before you give any.
  • Think about what you are about to say. Is it helpful? Will it come across as supportive?

It’s okay to not have the perfect response. Being a good listener is sometimes worth a thousand words.

Who’s the expert on your life?

On March 22nd my home flooded. Suddenly I lost my safe haven and my life became a ball of chaos and stress.

It was hard for me to focus at work, I was constantly on the phone with the insurance company, I forgot to pay my credit card bill twice, and I broke down crying about a dozen times. This was my experience despite having a loving partner by my side, a flexible job, and friends and family to offer their support. Which made me think about how much harder it is for those who don’t have support or resources.

Photo by Jett Loe
Photo by Jett Loe

Like this story of a survivor who was forced to choose between her housing and violence. Her abuser isolated her from friends, family, and social networks. She left with literally $4 in her pocket. She had nowhere to turn and wound up in shelter. She’s not the only one; domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness for women and children.

The survivors I’ve worked with tell me that folks tend to jump to problem-solving without taking the time to acknowledge how stress and trauma is impacting their lives. It is often the case that survivors are given lists of places to go and people to call, asked to identify goals, and then to “follow through” on them. I don’t know about you, but I would’ve been annoyed if someone told me to go to a support group to deal with my house flooding when I didn’t know where I was going to be sleeping that night. When we take more time to sit and listen we discover that survivors have the best solutions for their problems and that they are experts in their own lives, just like you are an expert in your life and I’m an expert in mine.

I won’t be asking permission

tattooI always knew that I wanted a tattoo. They are a beautiful and unique way of expressing one’s self. I’m sure that anyone who’s gotten inked has their own story of the why, the where, the when.

I got my first tattoo ten years ago, shortly after I moved to Seattle. I didn’t tell my family or many of my Indian friends. It was an act of rebellion only because of my assumptions of what others would say. I also knew that it was what I wanted.

My tattoo has gotten a lot of responses. I’ve heard: “I didn’t think you were the kind of person who got a tattoo.” or “Why did you get a tattoo there?” or “What did your parents say?”

Last week I got a new one:

Dude: Would you get another tattoo?
Me: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it.
Dude: What would you get?
Me: Maybe a half sleeve.
Dude: Don’t you think you should wait until you get married?
Me: No, why?
Dude: Wouldn’t you want to get permission from your husband? What if he’s not attracted to it?

Seriously?! I was so mad I can’t remember exactly what I said, but (1) I have never gotten permission for any of my tattoos or what I do with my body and I am not going to start now, (2) if someone is not attracted to me because of my tattoos or thinks that I need to ask their permission for the choices I make, then they have no business being with me, and (3) it’s 2015, buddy, do you really want to be saying that kind of thing?

Women are under an incredible amount of pressure to meet other people’s expectations. Women are judged for their tattoos and people make all sorts of weird assumptions about them. But I do not plan on ever asking for permission from anyone about what I do with my body; I may decide to get other people’s opinions, but ultimately it’s my choice.