1. Let her know the abuse was not her fault. Communicate clearly: "You do not deserve abuse. And it is never your fault."
2. Listen. Don't judge or blame them for the abuse. Research has proven that victims tend to have an easier adjustment when they are believed and listened to by others.
3. Don't minimize or deny what happened. The fact that the abuse was not physical doesn't make it any less painful, and it doesn't make it any less wrong. The scars of emotional abuse are very real, they can run very deep, and they are not to be minimized. In fact, emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse—sometimes even more so.
4. Reassure her that she is cared for and loved.
5. Encourage her to talk about the abuse with an advocate, pastor, mental health professional, law enforcement officer, another victim, or a trusted friend.
6. Encourage her to seek medical attention if needed.
7. Fight on her behalf against the lies that the abuse was her fault, that she is to blame, that she is a failure, or that she deserved abuse because she is a bad wife, mother, girlfriend, woman, or Christian.
8. Take care of yourself. As a support person, you need to be healthy in your caregiving role.
9. Avoid placating statements as an attempt to make her feel better.
10. Take time to notice where she is in the healing process and do not rush her through it. Help her keep moving through it at a pace comfortable to her rather than trying to force progression to a different stage immediately.
11. Say to her, "I am concerned about your safety. How can I support you in creating a safety plan? I'll also support you if you want to call the police or get to a safe place." (Download a Safety Plan here.)
Justin S. Holcomb is an Episcopal priest and a professor of theology and Christian thought at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. He and his wife Lindsey are co-authors of Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence.
Copyright © 2014 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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