Condensed from guest blogger, Misty Dawn, at Shakam Boqer
You can be a safe place.
You can be a safe place for the victim. Being a safe place means allowing their feelings and hurt to be fully expressed and regarded as valid in the face of the emotional, verbal and physiological, or even physical, sexual or financial abuse they have endured.
Simple questions like, “What happened?” “What are you thinking?” “How do you feel?” will help show your support. Reflect back what they’ve shared so they will know their feelings and hurts are valid.
It’s okay to say, “I hurt for you.” “This makes my heart hurt.” Or “This makes me angry for you.” This validates the victim’s sense of anger. However, be careful not to overstate your own emotions to the victim. Simple statements that make the victim feel cared for, validated, and heard are best.
Don’t make them feel like they have to take care of or protect you or themselves from your emotional response. Hold your anger until you can express it away from the victim.
Support people may need to call the abuse what it is. Even as an adult, I needed the words. I needed short, simple, declarative statements such as:
“Calling someone names is verbal abuse. It’s not okay to be called idiot, stupid, quitter, coward…. It’s never okay to be cursed at. It is verbal abuse, and I understand why you feel hurt.”
“Taking sex by force, even in marriage, is rape. It’s not love. It’s sexual abuse. You have permission to be hurt and angry.”
“Punching or shoving in anger is physical abuse. It’s inappropriate behavior and not okay.”
“Discipline of children doesn’t include a balled up fist, regardless of the child’s age. That’s abuse. You have a valid reason to be angry.”
“Being told you are damned to hell for ending the abuse cycle is spiritual abuse. It’s okay to be upset by those words.”
“What you experienced is trauma. It’s okay to have a trauma response, to have panic attacks, a hard time breathing, or talking, or putting together sentences. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself those responses.”
Support people can give the victim permission they deeply need. They can give permission to the victim to be angry. To be hurt. To cry. To wail. To vent. To get help. To find a counselor. To say hard things. To hold boundaries. AND most importantly, give them permission to leave the abuse.
Giving permission to leave is different them telling them to leave. Don’t tell them to leave. I heard, more than once, “You need to leave his sorry ass.” But that wasn’t helpful. I needed permission, not advice. Give them permission to leave, to be done. They have to make the choice on their own, and they need to know that you will support their choice.
I once saw a child who had been given the permission by professionals around them, to hold boundaries with their abuser. I’ve never, in my life, seen a child run and play as freely and largely as that child played that day! I swear if they’d had wings, they would have flown! As it was, they climbed higher, spun faster, ran more swiftly, skipped more exuberantly than I’ve ever seen that child or any child play. I will never forget that day.
Give the victim permission to have and hold boundaries. That’s often all they need.
Lastly – speak life! Speak to the victim’s value. Speak to the love of God for them! Compliment their character, their creativity, their passions.
Victims have most often been told and therefore internalized some massive lies about their worth, value and beloved-ness. The effects of this verbal and emotional abuse was recently described as a “weighted blanket of negative words” that holds the victim down. It feels all warm and cozy because that’s all the victim knows, but their psyche is dying. They are likely depressed and may even be suicidal.
Your words of life are the antidote. They will help lift the blanket off.
The Lord your God is in you midst. A Warrior who saves. He will rejoice over you with joy; He will be quiet in His love [making no mention of your past sins]. He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.”Zephaniah 3:17 AMP