Originally featured on joinonelove.org
Written by Writer’s Corps member Carrie Manner
Knowing a loved one is being abused, whether it’s emotional, verbal, sexual, or physical, can be overwhelming. Anger, guilt, and feelings of helplessness are common, and though we want to help, we don’t always know how. Especially when the person being abused is a parent.
When abuse is happening between people we love, it can be hard to know what to do, but there are steps you can take to navigate this unhealthy situation and provide support to those who need it most.
1. Talk with the Abused Parent
It’s important to understand, people in unhealthy relationships usually have a low self-esteem. Abusers thrive on control, so their partners are made to feel powerless, often living in a state of constant fear and anxiety. The first time you bring up your concerns, your parent may not be ready to talk. Be sensitive and respectful of their boundaries.
Begin by reaffirming your love in a private space, then gently express your concern. For example: “I love you, which is why it upsets me when I see (unhealthy behavior) happen to you. You don’t deserve that, and I’m worried about your safety and wellbeing.” This is more effective than negative, emotionally-charged statements, such as, “I can’t believe you put up with that! What are you thinking?”
Avoid confronting or putting down the abuser. Statements that place the abused parent on the defense or make them feel bad will act as a barrier to establishing trust. Remember, victims of intimate partner abuse (IPV) usually harbor a deep love for their partner; you cannot be dismissive of that if you want to reach them.
2. Listen Without Judgement
After voicing your concern, listen to their response with open ears and an open heart. Ditch judgment and resist the urge to interrupt. Now is the time to show you care by being a stable, calming presence.
This may be the first opportunity they’ve had to open up about their situation- don’t be surprised if they’re resistant or have a strong, emotional reaction. Both are natural. Be kind, and above all, patient.
It may feel awkward or difficult in the beginning, but rest assured, it does get easier. Each time you broach the subject– as this will need to be an ongoing conversation, not a one-time event- be mindful so that you can identify the right approach that puts both of you at ease for next time. And if your parent needs more time before they’re willing to share, respect their wishes. The best thing you can do then is to make yourself available, allowing them the opportunity to approach you when they feel more comfortable. Either way, never give up.
3. Offer Support
Just as the abuse isn’t your fault, it isn’t your abused parent’s fault, either. The partner displaying unhealthy behaviors is responsible for his/her own actions, so while we may want to swoop in and fix everything, this isn’t a realistic expectation. As the National Domestic Violence Hotline website states, “It is not your responsibility to ‘rescue’ your parent(s).” It’s easy to forget this when someone we love is being disrespected.
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