How To Talk To An Emotionally Abused Friend
I’ve seen two close girlfriends wind up in emotionally abusive relationships. One got out of it. I am proud to say that I played an integral part in that, and became someone she reached out to multiple times a day during the process of realizing her partner was abusive, and then taking steps to leave him. Emotionally abusive partners are also often controlling partners, and they won’t let women go easily. But, I ultimately know it was my friend’s own inner strength that got her out of there, and I’ll always be proud of her for that. Sadly, I was not able to help my other friend get out of her emotionally abusive relationship. I tried to intervene. In fact, everyone in our friend group attempted an intervention. Ultimately, this only drove her closer to the emotionally abusive partner. They are still together, and she no longer speaks to any of her old friends. Sometimes you can help. Sometimes you can’t. But you have to try. Here is how to talk to a friend who you suspect is emotionally abused.
Tell her she is strong
There is temptation to point out that the person is being weak by allowing the emotional abuse to happen and by not standing up for herself. But, how would you respond if someone told you that you were weak? You’d be insulted, and you’d no longer listen. Remember, right now, that she is, truly, strong. That strength is just struggling to come out. But tell her she is strong. That’s what she needs to know to get out of this.
Say you’ve noticed subtle differences
You can mention small changes you’ve noticed, like she doesn’t come out as much anymore, she’s quieter, she doesn’t dish it out as much as she used to in witty banter. It’s important for her to know that what is going on at home is showing on her exterior, and to the rest of the world. It’s important that she hears this relationship is changing her.
Ask if she is happy
It’s such a simple question and for that very reason it’s a good one. The answer should be an instant, uncomplicated, enthusiastic and resounding YES. That is what it means to be happy. If she has to think about it, she isn’t. And if she realizes that, she may realize much more.
Say you hope she feels celebrated
Highlight the idea that you just want to make sure that whomever she winds up with, that that person really sees all of her wonderful qualities, and that he encourages her to nurture those.
Show assertiveness in your own relationship
Practice what you preach and be assertive in your own relationship. You can even take little opportunities to do this in front of her. For example, if you’re having lunch with this friend, and your partner calls asking you to come home, you can say, “I’m with a friend right now so please don’t rush me.” Do things in front of her that you suspect she may not be doing in her own relationship. If your partner is critical of you, give it right back to him (teasingly, of course). Show her what being open equals looks like.
Bring her into the light
Continue to invite her to fun things. Continue to bring her around people who are happy and in emotionally healthy relationships. The more she is around the light, the more obvious it will be that her relationship is dark.
Remind her of her best stories
Walk down memory lane and talk about all of the times you’ve spent together when she’s been outgoing, adventurous, and even raucous. Get her smiling and laughing about those memories. She may realize she’s fallen far from that person she once was.
Don’t ask if her partner is abusive
Do not ask her if her partner is being abusive. Individuals who are in abusive relationships A) rarely realize it for a long time and B) will not say so when they do realize it, for fear that it will get back to their partner. Instead, ask if he treats her well. Her own hesitance to answer may show her a lot.
Don’t bad-talk her partner
Sadly, even though she may be coming to terms with the fact that her partner is emotionally abusive, she may still feel protective of him. So do not talk badly about him. This could actually make her feel that it’s unsafe to spend time with you.
Admit times you were controlled, too
Have you ever been in a controlling, emotionally abusive relationship? If so, you likely have a lot of stories and wisdom to share. Just talking about your past—not even suggesting she’s in the same boat—could show her the similarities in her situation.
Avoid the word “Help”
It can be scary for someone to see herself as a victim, or as someone in crisis. Avoid saying that you are here to help, as the very idea that she needs help could make her shy away from it.
Instead, just let her know you’re around
Instead of saying help use language like, “I’m around if you need to talk” or “I’ve been through some sh*t myself so, just know I’d never judge you—no matter what.”
Remind her that she’s young
Emotionally abusive relationships consume one’s thoughts so much. It can be difficult for someone to remember that she really has a lot of life ahead of her to live. But reminding her of that poses the tough question, “So. Do you want to feel like this forever?”
And that there really are plenty of fish
It couldn’t hurt to bring her around some eligible bachelors. I’m not saying you’re encouraging her to cheat, but, if she’s around men who are happy and emotionally stable, she will quickly see that her partner isn’t.
If it turns physical, give her a resource
It is a very terrible thing, but emotional abuse is usually the precursor to physical abuse. If you suspect that your friend’s relationship has become physically abusive, make sure she knows there are resources. You could even just write them down and hand her that note. Thehotline.org and Crisistextline.org provide discreet assistance in these situations.