When your sister, daughter, mother, or friend is suffering from the effects of emotional abuse and betrayal trauma, it may be difficult to know how to support her. While her devastation and pain may seem unreachable to you, you can be an instrument in helping her find a degree of peace and stability.
Believe the Victim
At BTR, we understand firsthand the power that comes from believing the victim. Questioning her on facts, dates, her own feelings, or the reasons behind why she chose to stay, leave, wait, or any other choices that she made, come across as disbelieving her, even if your intent is just to understand.
Rather than ask scrutinizing question, ask empathetic questions.
Empathetic Questions to Ask a Victim of Emotional Abuse
- How did you feel when that happened?
- What is your level of safety today?
- What can we do to make sure that you get rest tonight?
- Are your physical needs being met? If not, what can we do to help you (eat, sleep, exercise) etc.?
- Can you tell me more about that situation?
- Do you want to tell me more about how you felt during that time?
There Aren’t Two Sides: There Is The Truth.
Often, supporters of the victim will fall into the trap of the old saying that “there are two sides to every story” or “it takes two to tango”. In the case of abusive relationships, there are NOT two sides to the story. There is only an abuser and the victim. There is nothing a victim can do to “push” an abuser into harming her and/or her children. By implying that she is somehow even partially responsible for the abuse in her life, you are blaming her for the trauma that she is now enduring.
Abusive Men Lie
It’s a fact. Abusive men are notoriously dishonest while victims of sexual trauma, emotional abuse, and betrayal generally tell the truth. The fog of trauma makes certain facts difficult for women to remember: she may not get every date or time of day that an incident occurred exactly correct. This is a scientifically proven phenomenon with victims of trauma: the trauma itself makes memory-recall of this specific information difficult. Be patient with her and don’t discount the truth because her trauma is blocking her from remembering details of the abuse.
Victims of Emotional Abuse Are in Severe Trauma
Betrayal trauma is similar to Rape Trauma Syndrome and PTSD: it’s severe and can be debilitating. Be understanding, be empathetic.
If You Aren’t Her Ally, You’re His Enabler
When family members and friends choose to stay neutral, by default, they become enablers of abuse. The age-old stand by of “not picking sides” when families are broken apart by separation or divorce simply doesn’t work in cases of abuse. When women and children are abused, they need family and friends to rally around them.
How Can You Be Her Ally?
- Set a no-contact boundary with the abuser. This means that you block him on your phone, don’t read his emails, and don’t invite him into your home. Narcissistic abusers are notoriously manipulative and may try to “turn” you to their side.
- Regularly check in with the victim and reassure her that you believe her and that you are not associating with her abuser until he becomes a safe person (and she is the only person who can make that call)
- Assure the victim that you are not giving the abuser the opportunity to “turn” you over to his side
- If you hear others defending the abuser, putting the victim down, or downplaying the abuse, stand up for the victim and her children and be an advocate for the truth
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Abuse
At BTR, we believe that support is instrumental in a woman’s ability to heal from the scars of emotional abuse and betrayal trauma. Family and friends play a key role in this process.
The Betrayal Trauma Recovery group meets daily in every time zone and offers community, validation, and support to women all over the world. Consider helping the victim in your life join today.
The free BTR podcast offers education and stories of women who have triumphed over abuse and trauma: tune in and learn more about how to be an ally.
Wow! I love how clearly this is laid out for us. The suggestions on how to be an ally are spot on and appreciated. I’ll be sharing this! Thank you.
I have been through this! I was emotionally abused by my Father, Sister and Mother! At 57 I have just realized that I am the scapegoat! I am almost 5 years sober! I’m upset.
I was abused by my step dad growing up. My biological mother did nothing about the abuse. I reached out to extended family (maternal aunts) and they did not intervene. My aunts and extended family still have a relationship with my step dad and mother. It makes me feel me feel angry and uncomfortable to be around my extended family sometimes because of their relationship to my parents. Is this normal and what would you recommend me do about extended family members and my relationship to them?
I’m so sorry. We always recommend boundaries to separate yourself from abuse – regardless of where the abuse comes from.
I love how this is so blunt and to the honest true point. Thank you!!!
The abuser is the one that needs to be worked on. I wonder how many judges ,supposingly handing down decisions on these abused women are abusers themselves. My guess is 60% at least.
What is the appropriate response for family members if she goes back with the abuser?
Just support her. Tell her you love her and that she is brave. Don’t talk about the abuse, but invite her to lunch or dinner or whatever often, take her out and pay for her. Don’t judge, just support, support, support.
I’m going through this now my husband’s family is telling me to work it out and my life will be much easier. I’m getting threats of being sued now I’m a cheater and my underwear is being submitted idk it’s weird and I’m pregnant
Thank you so much for this. Not only am I able to send this without reaching to be heard, I feel validated just reading it alone. May everyone who reads this be blessed and healed.
I have a question regarding this. My son is the abuser. He and our DIL have only been married a year and separated for 3 months of that year. Our Son now readily admits his emotional abuse, manipulation and pornography use. She told us he has never physically abused her or raised his voice. It’s all passive aggressive. He moved out because he knew he was hurting her and needed help. He is seeking help and getting into the Center for Peace. We can find much info on supporting the victim. How do we best Support him, when he is the abuser? How do we best support her. She has wanted to remain I contact with us.
The best way to help him chance is not so much to “support” him, as to hold him accountable and believe the victim. Supporting the victim and letting her take the lead – believing her. That’s the best way to hold him accountable and help him make the changes he needs to make. If he starts blaming her, giving reasons for why she makes it worse, or in any way disparaging her, telling him you won’t tolerate him further harming the victim of his abuse is how to help him. I’m so glad he’s getting into Center For Peace. It’s the only program we recommend for men who have exhibited these types of emotional and psychologically abusive behaviors.
So true on making him accountable. He is doing the damage and the only support he should get is to be made accountable for his hurtful actions. There is no pity for someone who hurts others and does not care what his actions cause in others lives. The only way to know for sure if he has changed is when it is obvious he now puts his wife first and any upset is met with understanding, repentance and that particular act never happens again.
I got out of an abusive marriage almost 25 years ago. I just found out my ex-husband has had a very cozy relationship with a few very important people in my lives, namely parents. The ones who took my pregnant self to the ER when my eardrum was broken during a beating. I don’t know how to handle this without doing more harm to myself.
A close friend died on Fri in her early 50s. She was groomed by her husband, who drugged her, abused her and had men rape her while he watched and took videos. She had been working so hard to get away; she signed divorce papers in Aug and he refused to sign. She was taking legal action etc etc. She was fragile etc etc. He hounded her.
I would like advice on this: they were involved in a particular online fandom community, and he runs one of the larger groups. Many of the friendships from this and people who know them both stemmed from these groups, initially online but expanded to face to face at fandom events etc etc but still very much online. Their drama often played out publicly in his group of about 3000 people, with him posting and deleting things about her, throwing her on and off and on again in the group often within hours. While the majority of the members didn’t see or know about a lot of this, the largely female admins, all of whom were friends with both of them, knew all about it and regularly talked about it among themselves while not once confronting him. (My friend was also displaying erratic difficult behaviour… lying sending messages etc. We all know why.)
In the end, he cut her off from the group. The women stayed as admins and moderators and as things got even more difficult with my friend, essentially walked away from her and cut off contact. They remained on the group as active participants and moderators.
Now she’s gone and I am full of fury at them. To me, by staying on in the group as admins, they continued to feed his ego, never confronting him about anything. I often heard because it’s about the group, not him. And this just grew his narcissism as he continued to abuse his wife. Which many of them still heard “rumours” about. They were enablers to his behaviour. And still haven’t commented publicly although others have and it is out there in other groups.
But these women are angry with me for calling them enablers and I do not know if there is anything I can do to make them understand their part in it.
The man who emotionally and psychologically abused me would always get sympathy because he was sick, and kept abusing me when he got better. If I dared tell anyone about it, I really feel like my family would disown me.
My abusive husband is a narcissist, and also a lawyer. He easily turned my family against me. I’ve spent all my savings trying to divorce him. It’s very hard doing this alone. I also have ptsd from my 1st divorce where my husband kidnapped our 6 yr old. That was the most painful experience of my life. I’d honestly rather lose a limb, then relive that time of my life.
My mother and father were abusive, and my siblings are all messed up. Their judging behavior during my current horrid situation is more toxic than helpful. I’m actually a bit surprised by their ignorance, I’ve always considered the women in my family to be semi progressive . . . but they’re just enablers.