By Patrick Bailey
Watching someone you love survive abuse and live in recovery is incredibly emotional and painful. You may feel helpless as a bystander in their struggle, but your care for them can go a long way. Learning how to best be an ally for victims of abuse will allow you to stand by them when they need support and advocate for the safety of all victims in the future. Abuse has lifelong effects for victims and their loved ones, so take the time to understand how they’d prefer your support if you’d like to offer your solidarity.
Understand Their Story
Discussing stories of abuse is intimidating and you may feel like it is a subject you are uncomfortable with. Victims and survivors may also feel confused, as they’d like to share their stories of recovery without feeling the pain of reliving their trauma. You may not need to ask them to share their story to be an ally, in fact, simply letting them know you are there if they need it allows them to take control and share as much as they are comfortable with. By reminding them that they are not alone and have someone there to actively listen, your loved one will feel the solidarity they need to open up.
Ask your loved one questions like:
● “How can I support you best right now?”
● “What do you feel comfortable sharing?”
● “What do I need to know to help you best?”
Educating yourself on resources and best practices will help you support survivors’ mental health as much as you can. They will experience various highs and lows over time as recovering from abuse is full of emotional self-awareness and growth as they learn to move forward. Because of the emotional devastation abuse can cause, your loved one is at risk for mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, and even addiction. Something you can do to protect them is learning the warning signs for major mental health challenges and connect them with professional support if you notice they need it. Being proactive and educated will help you add to the resources available for their wellbeing.
Resources you can arm yourself with include:
● Licensed psychologists
● Helplines and abuse hotlines
● Mental health organizations
Create a Safe Space
Sometimes, being an ally for a survivor of abuse simply means creating a space where they feel safe and accepted for their traumas. Surviving abuse can feel incredibly isolating and even shameful, so do your best to erase any stigma you see in your loved one’s environment. A safe space can look like inviting them to your home to catch up, or making plans with people who are accepting and loving to uplift their mood. If you are an ally for a younger victim of abuse, ensure that their school environment is free of bullying or triggers that may spark trauma.
Other safe space environments can look like:
● Support groups
● Working with a social worker to improve their home life
● Time with counselors
● Quality time with allies like yourself
The last component of being a supportive ally is to spread awareness to end domestic and child abuse everywhere. Millions of families are affected deeply like your loved on is, so show them you stand in solidarity for a cause so dear to their heart. Spreading awareness can be done in singular conversations with people you know who may not understand the severity of your loved one’s trauma. It can also be done in the form of activism where you spread the message of justice and recovery, so survivors everywhere feel inspired and accepted.
Creative ways to spread awareness include:
● Getting involved with organizations that help survivors battle depression
● Organizing a run or walk for a charity for survivors
● Advocating for your loved one in social or societal settings
Becoming an ally for survivors of domestic or child abuse looks like whatever you are comfortable with, and is based on whatever your loved one needs. It is wise to have open and accepting conversations where you can simply ask them what kind of support would be the most helpful. By asking what you can do, you’ll feel confident and motivated to protect the mental health of your loved one, and possibly even other survivors in the future.