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Support, Healing, and Advocacy

How to Respond to an Intimate Partner Violence Survivor

Intimate Partner Violence (including Domestic Violence and Dating Violence) can take many different forms: physical abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, intimidation, financial deprivation, or threats of violence.

Victims of intimate partner violence may feel confused and alone as a result of the abuse. They may worry no one will be believe them or may fear the abuse will get worse if they speak up about it.

It can be hard to know how to help a loved one or friend experiencing abuse. It is important to recognize there may be many reasons why a person chooses to stay in an abusive relationship.

Pressuring a person to leave the situation may not be helpful; it may be interpreted as having an accusatory, judgmental tone. It is never as simple as encouraging a person to “just leave” the relationship.

How to be Supportive

In Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, Lundy Bancroft offers advice for how to support an abused person. He states, “Your goal is to be the complete opposite of what the abuser is.”

Engaging in active listening skills can help you know how to be the complete opposite of what the abuser is.

Consider the following information from Lundy Bancroft:

If the Abuser Applies Severe Pressure

Be patient. It takes time for abused people to work out the confusion and figure out how to handle the situation. Respect their judgement regarding when they are ready to take action—this respect is something the abuser never does.

If the Abuser Talks Down to the Victim

Address abused people as equals. Avoid having a condescending or superior tone of voice. If you speak to abused people as if you are smarter or wiser than them, then you inadvertently confirm exactly what the abuser has been telling them, which is the abused people are beneath others.

If the Abuser Knows What is Best for the Victim

Treat abused people as an expert on their own lives. Don’t assume you know what they need to do. Ask them what they think might work, and without pressuring them, offer suggestions while also respecting their explanations for why certain courses of actions would not be helpful. Don’t tell them what to do.

If the Abuser Dominates Conversations

Listen more and talk less. If you talk too much, you communicate that your thoughts are the most important, which is mirroring the treatment from the abuser. If you want abused people to value their own feelings and opinions, then you have to show them that you value them.

If the Abuser Believes He/She Has the Right to Control the Victim

Respect abused peoples’ right to self-determination. They are entitled to make decisions that are not exactly what you would choose. One of these decisions could include staying with the abusive person or choosing to return to that person after a separation. Stay by abused people even when they make choices that you don’t like.

If the Abuser Assumes an Understanding of the Children and their Needs More than the Victim Does

Assume that abused people are competent, caring parents. There is no simple way to determine what is best for children in an abusive household. Even if an abused person leaves the abuser, the children’s problems are not necessarily over, and some abusers actually create worse difficulties for the children post-separation than before. To be more helpful, you need to have a good grasp on the complicated set of choices that abused people face.

If the Abuser Thinks for the Victim

Think with abused people. Don’t assume the role of teacher or rescuer. Instead, join forces with abused people as respectful, equal team members (Bancroft, 2002).

What if YOU Are the Abused Person?

An abuser distorts the life and mind of the abused partner, making the focus on the abuser. If you are experiencing abuse, you need to reorient your thinking so that you can devote your attention to yourself and to your children, if you have children (Bancroft, 2002).

Lundy Bancroft offers the following information about how you can helpful yourself if you are experiencing abuse:

  • Get support for yourself. Find someone who can understand what you are going through, who can be trusted with confidence, and you can help you hold on to your sense of reality. Reach out.
  • Keep a journal to document your experience. When your partner is making you crazy with mind games or with sudden “good” behavior, you can look back through your writings and remember who you really are and what your partner really does.
  • Stay away from people who aren’t good for you, who don’t understand, and who say things that push you down into self-blame.
  • Do anything you can think of that’s good for you, anything that nurtures your soul.
  • Keep your abusive partner out of your head as much as you can.
  • Don’t blame yourself when you don’t reach your goals right away. For example, if you leave your abusive partner and then get back together, pull yourself together and try to leave again (Bancroft, 2002).

For more information about abusive relationships, see the Relationship Red Flags page. 

Further Resources: