At love is respect, we often talk about the importance of having a support system while dating. Whether someone is trying to decide if they’re ready to date, are in a committed relationship, or are casually dating, it helps to have people that you can talk to about your relationship. It allows us to process things that happen, get other opinions about the relationship, and have someone to turn to if things are hard. Being there for a friend is important, especially if that friend or family member is going through an unhealthy or abusive relationship. To best support someone else, self-care for helpers is important. The following ideas are suggestions and not a comprehensive list. Self-care is personal, so find the things that work best for you.
- Safety plan for yourself
A crucial way to support someone who is experiencing abuse is by helping them create a safety plan . This is also a good step for people who are supporting survivors, as many partners who choose to abuse will threaten or intimidate the survivors’ support system to try and isolate the survivor. By having your own safety plan, you can ensure that you are safe and still able to support the survivor in the best way.
- Process what you are hearing
When you are supporting someone in an abusive relationship, you may hear some very scary things. Even if you are not directly witnessing or experiencing abuse, it can still be traumatizing to hear what someone you care about is going through. Secondary trauma is the impact of hearing or witnessing traumatic events and can have a negative impact on functioning and overall mental health. It is important to find ways to process the emotions and mental images that you are experiencing by supporting a survivor. Journaling or meditation can be helpful tools to process complex emotions, as well as art therapy or individual counseling. By processing those emotions, you can make sure that you are not numbed to your loved one’s experiences and can still offer the best support.
- Understand you cannot solve everything and take that pressure off yourself
When someone is experiencing abuse, their partner is controlling most aspects of their life: who they can see, what they can do, how they spend their time, etc. It is important to never take control of the survivor’s situation, no matter how it may seem from your perspective. You are not responsible for rescuing them from their relationship. Realizing that our best help comes in the form of support can help take pressure off helpers and eliminates the stress of “saving” someone.
- Know your limits
There are some things that you witness or hear about an abusive relationship that may be overwhelming. That is normal and does not mean you are a bad person or not supportive. Each person has their own limits and comforts with traumatic information and knowing what you are comfortable with is important. It may be that you are comfortable providing emotional and material support to a friend, but you don’t feel safe offering them a safe place to stay. Or perhaps you want to help with documenting the abuse, but that is all you feel able to do. That is okay. It is important to know your limits so you can offer the best support possible without causing yourself unnecessary stress.
- Have your own support system
An important part of supporting someone is ensuring that you are being supported and cared for as well. When helpers have a support system, they feel better resourced and able to handle the challenges that may come with supporting someone in an abusive relationship. While you may not be able to share everything the survivor is experiencing, being able to spend time with people you care about can do a lot for your own wellbeing.
- Bring joy into your life
Hearing about the abuse or pain that someone is going through can be tough. It can put people in a negative headspace and may cause them to feel that there are no good things in the world. It is important to do things that are joyful and fun to remind yourself that there is still good in the world. This could include watching a favorite TV show, going on a hike, or laughing with friends. This is also a great way to support someone who is experiencing abuse, so they know that there is joy outside of the abuse.
There are many ways to support someone who is going through an abusive relationship. No matter how you choose to support someone, taking care of yourself is important, as it allows you to better support your loved one. Self-care looks different for each person, but everyone can benefit from it. Try some different things to see what works best for you. As always, our advocates are here 24/7 to offer insight and support about how to help someone who is experiencing abuse and how to take care of yourself.