How to Be an A+ Supporter
It occurred to me, while creating what would eventually become SAGE, that there wasn’t an outlet for those of you who are supporting someone either in an abusive relationship, or fresh out of one. If we’re being completely honest, I was inspired to include support systems because of Al-Anon. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Al-Anon is a support group for families and loved ones of alcoholics.
As a child my grandmother went to Al-Anon meetings weekly and although we rarely talked about it, I knew having this group of people was a lifechanging outlet for her. She was surrounded by people who knew exactly what it was like to have a loved one destroyed by alcoholism. A few years ago, I found myself compelled to attend an Al-Anon meeting and what I found was a group of people who were supportive, knowledgeable, and nonjudgmental. It was a safe space regardless of what level of impact the particular alcoholic had on your life.
When we created the SAGE group workshops, we wanted to make sure to include a place for supporters where they can educate themselves, build connection and hopefully feel more confident in how to move forward. In episode 3 of The SAGE Advice Podcast, we spoke to Eva about how to be an A+ supporter. Eva was instrumental in helping me work through my own emotions both in and out of my abusive relationship. It’s important to become a safe place for your loved one and to help them work through their emotions.
To help the supporters out there, we at SAGE have put together ideas about How to Be an A+ Supporter:
No One Knows When They’re Done, But Them
In Episode 6 of the SAGE Advice podcast, coming March 2, 2021, we talk in depth about the realities of leaving an abusive relationship. The general consensus is that the average person leaves seven times before it sticks, however that statistic could be significantly higher. Victims often leave for days or even years and still get sucked back into the relationship. Abusive relationships are very powerful and should not be underestimated.
There was a scene in the miniseries Dear John where the mother and daughter went to a hotel after the mom, Debra, left her husband. The daughter stayed with her mother for awhile and made sure that she was settled in. She was so relieved her mom had finally left the toxic, abusive relationship she was in and her mom finally saw John as the liar he was. The daughter had dinner plans and the mom assured her she would be fine, so the daughter left for her date. I instantly got a pit in my stomach.
If I could say one thing to the daughter it would be,
“Are you insane! Don’t LEAVE her! She is so confused, she still loves him, she thinks she is strong BUT she is lying, and she doesn’t even know it!! Stay with her, hide her phone, cancel your plans!”
Those first few hours/days/weeks will be crucial for a supporter. Whatever you do, try to prevent your loved one from talking to or communicating with the abusive partner. During my victim’s advocacy sessions, they told me “Don’t see him. Don’t talk to him. Definitely don’t look him in the eyes.” Advocates know the true power of an abusive relationship and they know that even one look can have damaging effects. Communication makes it that much more likely that your loved one will return to the relationship.
My friends held me accountable but if we’re being honest, I cracked a few times. He got to me and I got sucked right back in. However, I knew enough to confess to my friends, and they helped me talk through it. I was so used to keeping secrets for him, it was hard to keep myself accountable. But telling someone was how I got through the first few months. THIS is why it is so important for supporters to provide a safe place to land.
Aggressive is Not the Answer
“You can’t understand chaos!”-Eva, Episode 3 SAGE Advice
The key to an abuser’s success is chaos. To a supporter the chaos can be overwhelming so imagine what its like for your loved one to live with the ups and downs day after day, hour after hour. You may listen to the frustration it causes from time to time, but you’re not in it. If you’re tired of listening to the stories, imagine how tired your loved one must be.
The easy answer is to just sit back and say, ‘leave already!’ and sometimes that is absolutely the appropriate response. But a lot of times it will have the reverse effect. You will be seen as aggressive, that is not the place you want to be. Trust me.
Does your loved one really need more than one angry, aggressive person in their lives? Do they really need to feel like they have nowhere to turn? What your friend or loved one needs is a safe place to land. You both need to learn how to set boundaries and how to have good communication that ensures that they know you are a safe place to land, even if they don’t say it.
Cling on Effect
“The more we have to defend our partner, the more committed we are to them”- Eva. Episode 3
This is a very tough problem to navigate for a friend or family member of a person who is in an abusive or toxic relationship. It is human nature for you to want to protect your loved ones when you sense something isn’t right. But it is also human nature that makes us defend our partner when they are being attacked. Can you honestly say it ever went well when you criticized a loved one’s partner?
The more you push them to leave, the more they will want to stay. That action feeds directly into the abuser’s playbook. They will be able to twist your words and actions to prove that they are the only one who is caring, loving, and understanding. Its a cautionary tale. The next time you think addressing the situation with judgment and anger is the right path, stop. Figure out how to come to the table with love. Ask questions that give your loved one space to think. Stop asking questions that are accusatory in nature.
One of my closest friends and I had a very honest conversation about this after I left. I was staying with her and she asked me one day why I didn’t feel like I could open up to her during my relationship. While I was in the relationship, it was obvious that she hated my boyfriend. She had every right to hate him, he was a jerk to her. It was an awkward place for me to be. I spent most of my time trying to keep my ex from getting mad so I tried to keep her separate and I didn’t share anything with her. I didn’t want her to hate him more than she already did, so I kept it to myself. I was happy that she and I had that conversation because not only was it an eye-opening moment for me, it was eye opening for my friend as well.
“Love doesn’t Isolate! If you have to cut off good friends and family to please your partner, you’re not in a relationship.” -Tony Gaskins
The Cling On conversation lends very well into a discussion on isolation. One of the classic abuser tactics is to put wedges between you and your friends and family. Abusers will insist on always being number 1 in your life. It usually happens slowly at first. The couple hangs out with friends and the abusive partner makes comments like, “Your friends seem pretty selfish, how could they treat you like that.” Little notes or comments like this start to get in the victims head and are designed to make them question who has their back and who doesn’t.
If someone told you to drop all your friends at the beginning of the relationship, you would tell them to hit the bricks. However, love bombing can be so powerful at the beginning of a relationship that the victim might be isolating themselves in the name of young love, not realizing that it’s the beginning of abusive behavior.
At its extreme, victims may find that they are years into a relationship and have very few friends or family that they can talk to. Again, this is all designed to keep them in the relationship and to make them feel like they have no place to go.
As a supporter, it is your job to try the best you can to stay in your loved one’s life. Don’t lecture and try to refrain from judgment. Listen, without saying anything. Become a safe place. You can’t push them into leaving but you can be there to help them when they’re ready and they need to feel safe with you.
We hope you learned a little more about how your loved one feels inside an abusive relationship and what you can do to help them. We created the SAFE to also build a community of helpers. It can be gut wrenching and lonely to watch your daughter, son or friend continue to live in an abusive relationship. Instead of taking your anger, frustration and worry out on others, find some camaraderie here at SAGE. The whole idea of the SAGE Community is to lean on each other and build relationships. We don’t have to do it alone.
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