What I’ve Learned from Helping My Friend Leave an Abusive Relationship
By: Mandy B. Anderson
In the last six months, I’ve learned more about domestic abuse than I ever dreamed I would in my lifetime. Helping my friend leave an abusive relationship was never something I thought I would be doing when we set out on this journey of helping other women live Beautifully Whole™.
To be honest, I never thought about domestic abuse before June of this year.
That confession might make me sound a little naïve but let’s be honest here: it’s much easier to ignore this topic and pretend it doesn’t exist than to stare it in the face and talk about it. At least that’s how our society has been for most of my 3.5 decades on this earth.
Not anymore. Not from me. I refuse to close my eyes and ears on this issue anymore. Why? Because over the last few months I have watched my best friend rise up, speak the truth, and find freedom from the abuse she has lived through for over 16 years. During this time, there has been a mantel of loyalty and fierce protectiveness that has been rising up inside of me, too.
Psalm 15:4 says, “They will speak out passionately against evil and evil workers while commending the faithful ones who follow after the truth.” (The Passion Translation).
The word EVIL means:
- Morally wrong or bad; immoral; wicked
- Harmful; injurious
- Characterized or accompanied by misfortune or suffering; unfortunate; disastrous
- Due to actual or imputed bad conduct or character
- Marked by anger, irritability, irascibility, etc.
According to Psalm 15:4, my mandate as a Beautifully Whole™ woman is to shine a light on and speak out against the morally wrong, harmful behaviors in this world. It is my responsibility to give a voice to God’s Word so that freedom can reign! So here I go…this is what I’ve learned about abuse victims, the road to recovery, and the sheer foolish responses of others as I’ve helped my best friend overcome this horror and step into freedom:
YOU MIGHT BE SHOCKED WHEN YOU LEARN THE TRUTH: But this isn’t about you. It’s about HER.
Abuse is not “one size fits all.” Many of us make the mistake of thinking that abuse is only physical. I’ve heard several abuse survivors say they wished their abuse had been physical because then it would have been seen! Mental, emotional, financial, sexual, spiritual abuse – they are all just as wicked and just as damaging. They are also harder to spot.
I was shocked when I first started to hear the truth of what my best friend had gone through. Some of it I had known about, but I had also come to believe that things were improving because we were all praying for restoration in her marriage. Yes, there were some seasons where it looked like things might get better…but then again, that’s easy for me to say when I am on the outside looking in.
What I just said is very important. You might have a friend right now going through abuse. She might be leaving you clues with her words. And your ears might be plugged and your eyes might be blinded because you are praying for healing and restoration, trying to “be positive” instead of digging in to the uncomfortable topic.
What I know now is this:
I wish I would have asked more questions. Looking back, I realize that many times I misconstrued what was really PTSD and anxiety as just chaos because of her then husband’s work schedule. I wish I would have stopped to notice more. I wish I would have asked more questions, but instead, I made it about me. I made it about what needed to be accomplished that day because we worked together, instead of taking the time to validate her feelings and press in to find the truth.
You might be shocked when you learn the truth of what kind of abuse someone has been going through. But this isn’t about you. It’s about HER. If you truly desire to be a beautifully whole woman that stands up for truth, then you must get comfortable with the idea of having uncomfortable conversations. You must get your head out of the “Christianese-religious-mindset-cloud” and recognize that sometimes God’s people experience horrible things…even when they live in a “Christian home.” That’s why evil is so sneaky – it has learned to wrap itself in religious words so it looks normal.
SHE IS BRAVER THAN SHE REALIZES: Remind her of this and help her to find herself again.
My best friend is one of the bravest women that I know. She was brave when she stayed and she was brave when she left. Her bravery was never on trial. Yet, in the staying, she was fading away. It happened so slowly that many of us around her didn’t even realize it. That makes me so incredibly sad. Not just sad for her, but sad for all the victims who are losing themselves in this situation.
As a friend to someone who is leaving an abusive situation, or to someone IN one, I want to encourage you to be the one who SEES her again. Remind her of her worth. Of her value. Give her space to find herself again, and know that it might be a bit messy in the process! She might try on a lot of different things as she uncovers the woman she buried just so she could survive. That’s okay. In fact, it’s a beautiful process to be a part of if you can find the humility to go through it with her.
She is not lost; she just needs someone close to her willing to speak up and speak life back into the deadened areas of her soul.
BELIEVE HER: She didn’t say anything for so long, because she was afraid she wouldn’t have your support.
This one really angers me. Not once have I thought my best friend was lying about what she has gone through. Why? Because I saw it all unravel with my own eyes. I saw the emotionally abusive and manipulative text messages when she finally found the strength to leave. I saw the tears and held her as she cried when she experienced something so horrible that no woman should ever have to go through or explain to people when she’s not ready to.
I saw it.
But before I saw it, I chose to believe her. She is a woman of integrity and she always has been, even when she couldn’t speak the truth for all those years. Her heart yearned for integrity and she stood up for the injustices other people were going through long before she stood up for herself.
She didn’t say anything for so long because she was afraid she wouldn’t have my support. Or the support of others around her.
It blows my mind that some people think that women lie about domestic abuse just because they didn’t tell someone sooner. Refer to my first point: It’s not about YOU!
Believe her! When a friend finds the courage to speak up – believe her! Do not make it about yourself and your pity party that she didn’t tell you sooner! It’s not about YOU!!!
She needs your support, not your judgement. Yes, you will have a roller coaster of emotions to go through yourself as her friend. Expect it and welcome it. The more you are open to talking to her about her experience and listening to her, the more you will have the type of friendship where you can talk to her about what you’re going through as you process this as well. But please hear me – judgement won’t get you there. In fact, judgement will drive a wedge between you faster than you can imagine. I’m going to be bold enough to say it like this: get over yourself and your small-minded opinions and believe her. It really is that simple.
“Oh Mandy, I can’t believe you would say that!”
I would. I did. I’ve said it to myself, even. Being on a religious high horse will not help your friend, it will not help your friendship, and really…it will not help you. There is so much to learn in situations like this! You just have to be willing.
“Helping my friend leave an abusive relationship” is not an easy topic.
It is not an easy situation. And oh how I wish it wasn’t real. But it is. And if it is happening to a friend of yours, then I urge you to apply what I’ve shared here and be the friend she needs. Learn how to offer her the support she needs. Do your own research so you can be informed.
This world is desperate for people who will carry the mandate and message of Psalm 15. It’s time for the Beautiful Wholeness Warriors to arise. I pray that you’ll be one of them.
Disclaimer: I realize that domestic abuse is not something that only affects women. Yes, there are men who experience this too. This article was written from a female perspective because most of our readers are women, and because the friend I helped IS a woman. However, this can be applied to men in abusive situations as well.