Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Your Friend is Abusing Their Partner - How Do You React?

Consider these facts:  
  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.1
  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.1
Not only is it likely that you know someone who has been abused, but it is likely that you know someone who abuses.  

We often see articles about what to do if a friend or family member is being abused.  But what do you do if a friend or family member is abusing their intimate partner, child or elderly parent?  Below is part of an article by Kai Cheng Thom, republished from Everyday Feminism.  Thom’s approach is two-fold:  how to react to finding out your friend is abusing their partner and how to confront an abusive friend.  Today's post will just focus on how to react when you hear that your friend (or family member) is abusing their partner.


How to React to Finding Out Your Friend Is Abusing Their Partner

1.  Acknowledge the Evidence and Believe the Survivor

Perhaps the hardest thing to do is admitting that someone we care for and trust is capable of hurting someone else. There’s the temptation to ignore the signs of intimate violence, or even deny outright someone’s assertion that our friend, or mentor, or elder, has been abusing them.
I’ve known him for years, and he would never hurt anyone,” we want to say. Or “She’s been an amazing activist since forever, and she would never do anything like what you’re claiming.”
We struggle, naturally, to resist the possibility that the image we’ve constructed of someone we like or admire might be shattered.
But one of the most important things that contemporary feminism has taught us is that people don’t often lie about abuse – that we must learn to believe survivors, that anyone is capable of violence.
Let me repeat that: Regardless of how good or intelligent or well-intentioned they are, anyone is capable of violence.

2. Sit with Your Own Feelings

Part of the reason why abuse is so difficult to discuss is that it’s a massively emotionally charged topic.
Many of us also have personal histories around abuse and intimate partner violence. It’s enormously important to acknowledge our own feelings, memories, and biases as we move into any discussion of abuse happening around us.
So sit with your feelings: If you can, name them, one by one. Resist the urge to judge your emotions as positive or negative; try to allow yourself simply to have them.
Move through the whole cycle of denial, anger, bargaining, despair, acceptance, if you need to. There is real grief in losing the image of a “perfect” friend or acquaintance. Allow yourself room for grieving.

3. Talk to Someone About It

Abuse is most terrifying and overwhelming when we confront it alone.
This is true whether we’re experiencing or witnessing it. If you can, find someone to support you through the process of confronting your friend’s abuse. 
Sometimes you may feel like it’s necessary to protect your friend’s safety or privacy while debriefing with someone else. Do you what you have to. This isn’t about gathering a mob to gang up on your friend’ it’s about making sure you have the emotional support you need.

4. Decide What You Want to Do Next

Review the options available, decide how you want to proceed, and make a strategy (see the list below for more on this).
Remember: You don’t have to do anything that you don’t feel safe doing or that might endanger someone else. Not doing anything, or waiting to do something, can be completely valid strategies in the right context.
Take your time. Work with your community behind and beside you.  Love and accountability should be the basis of any action you take.

5. Remember What You Love About Your Friend

Your friend is still your friend, even after you discover that they’ve abused someone. The fact that they have hurt someone makes them human, not evil. They’re still your friend – the person who taught you to skateboard, bought you your first drink, stood up at your wedding, introduced you to feminism, or whatever else you treasure about them.
There is a tendency, after the phase of denial that someone in our communities might be abusive, to immediately reject the abusive person as despicable, unforgivable. You may indeed decide that you need to pause or end your friendship with them.
However, this is your choice to make. You are not obligated to stop caring about someone because they have been violent.
And to be totally honest, I very much believe that unconditional love is one of the most important supports in enabling abusive individuals to bring an end to the harm they’re causing. 

Next week, we will focus on how to confront your friend (or family member) who is abusing their partner.

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