Your friend calls you at one in the morning and she’s in tears.
“I did it – I finally left, but I’m so scared. I don’t know what to do.”
This call can be one of the most exhilarating because you’re proud of her for getting out. But it’s also nerve wracking because you don’t really understand how to be there for her.
You don’t understand why she’s thinking the way she is or why she’s talking herself in circles. You desperately want to help but you feel SO lost.
As someone who has been in abusive relationships and helps women who got out, I have a perspective on recovery that I felt it was high time to share.
Here are my top 3 things that you can do to help your friend who just got out of an abusive relationship.
Never say they should’ve done XYZ
When someone gets out of an abusive relationship, they’re already embarrassed. There full of anger, sadness, shame, and confusion. They see everything they wish they would’ve done and didn’t do.
The last thing they need from you is “you should’ve just left” or any variation of that.
When someone gets out of an abusive relationship, their brain is in complete chaos. They don’t understand why they do what they do, they don’t understand why they put up with it. Chances are they don’t even believe they made the right choice when leaving.
The thing they need from you is to be reminded of this. To be reminded that their brain chemistry has literally been altered.
They may not believe you, but this plants the seed that needs to grow before they allow themselves to heal.
It helps to relieve some of the guilt they feel. And while it won’t remove it entirely, it may remove just enough for them to see the light.
That light is what’s going to pull them out of the pit that their brain is in.
Prefer to watch and listen? Here’s the video!
Offer support and give them grace
The best thing that you can give someone who got out is support.
Support and so much grace.
Chances are they’re going to talk themselves in circles – be there anyway.
They’re going to be very hard on themselves – remind them to give themselves grace.
They’re going to want to go back – remind them that it’s ok to feel that way, but it’s important not to act on it.
They’ll want to give up – remind them how strong they are.
More than anything, remind them that everything they’re feeling is ok. It’s ok to want to go back, to miss the abuser. It’s ok to grieve the end of the relationship and be fearful of the future. They’re going to be angry at themselves and that’s ok.
But what matters is that they got out and they’re safe.
Help them find resources and figure out their next step.
One of the most important parts of this is to be their accountability buddy. They’re going to want to reach out to their ex. Offer to be the person they text instead. This will give them something to do and make it so they feel so much less alone.
Remind them that recovery takes time
The journey to recovery and healing isn’t easy. It can’t be rushed. Remind them that it takes time and that they’re going to be ok. Remind them that they really can do this, and that you’re there for them.
The more you try to rush it, the more frustrated you get with yourself.
Remind them that there’s no specific date they need to be ‘over it’ by.
I find this in my comments, DMs, clients, and myself sometimes. We all want to be ‘done.’ We just want to rush through it and somehow manage to check all of the boxes.
But the fact of the matter is that unfortunately, that’s not how this works. Don’t be in their face about it. Just provide gentle reminders that you’re always going to be there for them and celebrate their progress in their time.
Abuse recovery is so dang hard.
There’s no way around it. But having a solid support system can make the journey so much less miserable. They may not always seem outright appreciative, but you being there can completely change their life.
Now I understand that it isn’t your responsibility to heal them, so I’m not putting someone else’s mental health on you. But being a good friend and being a support is so important for someone who just got out.
Never tell them what they should’ve done, offer support, and remind them that there isn’t a way to rush this. If you do these three things, you’re going to help your friend go miles faster than if they had to go it alone.
The final thing that you can do for your friend is to guide them to resources that will help. Because it’s not your job to become their therapist, but you can provide them with social media accounts and/or podcasts that will encourage them.
Seeking out help isn’t easy, so the fact that they opened up to you is huge. Help them find help, whether that be a coach, therapist, shelter, etc.
You’re an amazing friend for wanting to help your friend on their journey.
I realize this isn’t easy, but setting boundaries here is important as well. You want to make sure you’re there for your friend without enabling them. Setting that boundary isn’t easy at all.