Common Sense Ways to Stay Friends With a Victim
Are you frustrated with someone you care about who appears to be the victim of a perpetrator? Do you find yourself getting angry for this person?
We all have examples of these situations and we often struggle with what to say, how much time to spend with the victim, and how to continue being their friend. Some common examples of these situations might be:
- Your best friend keeps bailing out his/her partner from the consequences of his/her addiction.
- Your parents keep giving money to your clearly addicted sibling.
- Your child rationalizes the emotional abuse he/she is receiving daily from his/her spouse.
- Your best friend always has a story for why she can’t do things with you and/or might have questionable bruises.
- One parent continues to rationalize the abusive behavior of the other parent.
What are some steps to take if you do not want to tell these people you never want to see them again? Let me first say these situations are not easy. Remember, even with these tools, every situation is different. It takes wisdom and patience to figure out which conversation might be the best one to use, in what situation, and at what time.
Depending on which situation you are in, give yourself time to develop compassion. Compassion, for this discussion, is the ability to be concerned for someone’s suffering with kindness and tolerance.
If you suffered consequences as a child because of abuse that was not stopped (e.g. one parent denying the abuse of another), anger will be the easier emotion for you. When you are safe and not at the effect of the abuse, you begin to find a way to understand how some people either cannot ask for help, think they have everything under control, may not see the behavior as abusive, and/or do not think they have the right to stand up to another’s bad behavior.
When you only hear about the abuse and you are not being abused, it will be easier for you to develop compassion. Understand the normal reaction will first be the anger – “Why do you let that happen to you? Why can’t you see how you are being used?” Once you have some form of compassion, the other interventions will be easier.
If you don’t have some caring for this person, it may be best for you to walk away. If you don’t mind listening to someone tell you how they are a victim, you probably won’t say anything. However, if your heart is hurting for this person and you feel there is a conversation you must have, here are some examples of what might work for you.
We will assume if you are still reading, you do care for this person, as difficult as that may be during this time. By listening to the stories with compassion, you are being loving. You want to just listen until you have determined that there is a pattern that your loved one/friend is a victim. When you see that the stories include your friend/parent/child rationalizing bad behavior and cleaning up the consequences of someone else’s bad choices, you will probably get angry. Remember to be compassionate and, from that place, there are different phrases you can use to interject some honesty into the conversations. Think about what words sound like you and might fit the situation best:
- What are your thoughts about what is going on in this situation?
- Do you think it is your responsibility to pay for his/her choices?
- Were you offended by his/her comment?
- Do you think the situation is going to change?
- What would you tell me if I gave you the same report?
You will probably get pushback on any of these statements, but the comments are honest. You may not say anything more on the pushback except “interesting”, but you have planted a seed. When people don’t say their truth, they are at risk for building resentment and leaving. Remember, this article is to help you be a friend to someone who is choosing to be a victim.
As you feel comfortable, you can add some more honest comments. Again, you must realize you are planting seeds, not harvesting. Some examples of those honest comments might also be:
- I find myself getting angry for you.
- Remember when you wouldn’t let people get away with any bad behavior?
- I wonder what would happen if you didn’t bail him/her out?
- Are you afraid you might be hit if you say “No” or “Don’t speak to me that way”?
- What would be the worst thing that might happen if you let him/her be responsible for their own choices?
Obviously, if someone tells you he/she might be hit, you need to intervene, report your concern for safety, and give him/her the numbers of organizations that are trained to help people get out of dangerous abusive situations. He/she might not do anything, but you want to be the person who says “this is not right and there are people who can help you.” Don’t be startled if you are stonewalled or shut down. Again, you are planting seeds.
As you can see, this process is going to require a huge amount of patience on your part. People have blindnesses, and it takes time for them to begin to see the light – if they even want to see the light.
Patterns get developed over time and it takes time to break these patterns. Tell yourself you are not adding to the problem by abandoning your friend. Many people will say nothing and just disappear. You are doing something and hopefully, at some moment, the person will allow all the seeds you planted to flower.
It is important for you to forgive yourself and the person you are trying to help. Forgive your anger; it is normal. Forgive the victim’s blindness; they are not ready to see. And, eventually, you will need to forgive the perpetrator as well.
You may also have to limit the amount of time you spend with the victim, but forgive yourself. It is best if you have quality, honest, authentic short periods of time with your friend/family member, rather than lots of resentful time. These are important boundaries to take care of yourself and yet still help your friend.
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